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Clean: The New Science of Skin

Updated: Aug 13, 2020

In our August 20/20 Book Club selection, Clean: The New Science of Skin, James Hamblin, a preventative medicine physician and staff writer at The Atlantic, explains the surprising and unintended effects of our hygiene practices in this informative and entertaining introduction to the new science of the skin's microbiome. Read the book this month and then join the author for a book talk on August 26 (3:00-3:30 ET) to discuss the life and times of our skin.

About Clean: The New Science of Skin:

Keeping skin healthy is a booming industry, and yet it seems like almost no one agrees on what actually works. Confusing messages from health authorities and ineffective treatments have left many people desperate for reliable solutions. An enormous alternative industry is filling the void, selling products that are often of questionable safety and totally unknown effectiveness.

In Clean, doctor and journalist James Hamblin explores how we got here, examining the science and culture of how we care for our skin today. He talks to dermatologists, microbiologists, allergists, immunologists, aestheticians, bar-soap enthusiasts, venture capitalists, Amish people, theologians, and straight-up scam artists, trying to figure out what it really means to be clean. He even experiments with giving up showers entirely, and discovers that he is not alone.

Along the way he realizes that most of our standards of cleanliness are less related to health than most people think. A major part of the picture has been missing: a little-known ecosystem known as the skin microbiome—the trillions of microbes that live on our skin and in our pores. These microbes are not dangerous; they’re more like an outer layer of skin that no one knew we had, and they influence everything from acne, eczema, and dry skin to how we smell. The new goal of skin care will be to cultivate a healthy biome—and to embrace the meaning of “clean” in the natural sense. This can mean doing much less, saving time, money, energy, water, and plastic bottles in the process.

Lucid, accessible, and deeply researched, Clean explores the ongoing, radical change in the way we think about our skin, introducing readers to the emerging science that will be at the forefront of health and wellness conversations in coming years.

About the Author:

James Hamblin, MD, MPH, is a staff writer at The Atlantic, a lecturer at the Yale School of Public Health, and a specialist in preventive medicine. In his writing for The Atlantic and daily podcast "Social Distance", he covers health, science and, this year, the coronavirus. Hamblin is the author of If Our Bodies Could Talk and hosted a video series of the same name. He's based in Brooklyn, New York. He only uses soap on his hands.

Book Talk:

Join James Hamblin for an Aspen Ideas: Health book talk on Wednesday, August 26 (3:00-3:30 ET) to discuss what it really means to be clean. The 30-minute conversation will include time for Q&A, so please come with your questions for the author.

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