• Clean

  • The New Science of Skin
  • By: James Hamblin
  • Narrated by: Barrett Leddy
  • Length: 7 hrs and 11 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (345 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Named a Best Book of 2020 by NPR and Vanity Fair

One of Smithsonian's Ten Best Science Books of 2020

“A searching and vital explication of germ theory, social norms, and what the modern era is really doing to our bodies and our psyches.” (Vanity Fair)

A preventative medicine physician and staff writer for The Atlantic explains the surprising and unintended effects of our hygiene practices in this informative and entertaining introduction to the new science of skin microbes and probiotics.

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 listeners to the emerging science that will be at the forefront of health and wellness conversations in coming years. 

©2020 James Hamblin (P)2020 Penguin Audio

What listeners say about Clean

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • DT
  • 08-02-20

Pretty topical

I was super excited to get this book and bought it right after it came out. I was curious about the skin’s microbiome and how to build and support it, especially in light of Covid-19. Unfortunately, I felt like this book was too topical (pun intended). He interviewed a bunch of experts and people working in the skin business, which was interesting, but he ultimately didn’t answer many of my questions. The biggest takeaways are that the cosmetic industry is shockingly unregulated and that the microbes on our skin serve some purpose, but we still have a lot to learn about them. There is a lengthy discussion on the history of soap, which I didn’t find very compelling or interesting, though other people might. A lot of topics (too many?) were touched upon, but none analyzed deeply enough for my taste.
On top of my disappointment about the shortfalls of the content, I found the narrator’s voice super annoying.

28 people found this helpful

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What constitutes "Clean"

Read this book and save a ton on worthless and potentially harmful products. Very enlightening!

7 people found this helpful

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Great Read!

I so loved this book. As an esthetician, this book deeply resonated with me and has caused me to re-evaluate a lot of what I do and products I use in my practice and home.

4 people found this helpful

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Healthy entertainment for the curious among us!

Another insightful book by Munster native.
Provided me insights on common hygiene facts and myths.
Looking forward to James' next book.

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Very good

Thank you for writing about how we are damaging our microbiome and some ways to help it!

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Have you ever wondered about....

what's in your soap and lotion?
the historical context of hygiene and grooming?
where our societal grooming standards come from?
regulations of the health and beauty industry?
how to empower yourself with your self-care routine?
If yes to any of the above - must read!

The reading of this book was well done and enthusiastic. The content was very intriguing and thoughtfully considered with ample research and a discerning eye. Very enjoyable and enlightening way to spend 7 hours!

2 people found this helpful

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Delightfully informative

I enjoyed the literary voice of the author, and Mr. Leddy's voice-- although a few of his pronunciations seemed off: 'aforementioned' and 'menstruation', among others; but overall, excellent.

2 people found this helpful

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Depends on your interest in reading

I've enjoyed watching James Hamblin when doing his online videos for The Atlantic. When I bought this book I was hoping for more of a practical book along those lines. This book is closer to dissertational. It goes into extended sections on the history of cleanliness, social attitudes about cleanliness, the science of cleanliness, various experimental practices around the world, and other observational type diversions. I would guess that much less than 20% of the books deals with practical issues.

So, I probably wouldn't have read it had I known this before, but I gave it 3 stars to account for the possibility that I misunderstood his purpose in publishing this book. If I were reading it for academic stimulation I would have given it 5 stars because it was well-written, thorough, and quite interesting at times. It just wasn't what I was looking for.

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Decent read, I would re-read it

It was not a bad read it was not good and as informative as some of the other books that pertain to pro-biotics. Also, there were times when the book deviated from the topic and went into the background of things. Learning history of soap was kind of interesting

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Worth your time

So much good information in this book. I have cut down and eliminated soaps for the most part

1 person found this helpful