Clean Book Summary - Clean Book explained in key points
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Clean summary

James Hamblin

The New Science of Skin

4.2 (174 ratings)
25 mins

Brief summary

Clean by James Hamblin is an investigative book about the health and hygiene industry which exposes the myths and marketing strategies around products like mouthwash, shampoo and hand sanitizer. It encourages a simpler, less obsessive approach to cleanliness.

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    Clean
    Summary of 8 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 8

    Modern ideas of “cleanliness” have led us to overwash ourselves.

    Five years before he started writing Clean, author James Hamblin quit showering. He still washed his hands and occasionally got his body wet, but otherwise, he ditched all personal care products. This was part of his “existential audit.” Hamblin had just left his secure, well-paid job as a doctor to become a journalist, and he wanted to try giving up certain habits to save money and time.

    It took a few months for his body to become accustomed to the change. And when it did, he noticed that his skin became less oily, and that he now had fewer eczema breakouts. His aroma wasn’t that of a field of daisies, but, as his girlfriend put it, he now smelled “like a person.” 

    And what’s more, he found that most skin researchers he spoke with also took a minimalist approach to showering habits.

    The key message here is: Modern ideas of “cleanliness” have led us to overwash ourselves.

    Developments in medicine and technology mean we spend more time indoors and clean ourselves more often. We are far less likely to die of an infectious disease. But rates of chronic disease have skyrocketed. 

    Some of these chronic conditions may well be linked to washing ourselves too often. One example is atopic dermatitis, or eczema. It makes the skin red and itchy. 

    Sandy Skotnicki, a dermatologist and professor at the University of Toronto, advises patients who experience eczema flares to forgo hot showers and throw away soaps and gels. These products are, after all, mostly made of detergents that can be harmful to the skin. She recommends that patients simply wash their armpits, groin, and feet. 

    This “soap minimalism” helps the skin do what it does best: maintain equilibrium. It has evolved to do this over millions of years. Scientists are now studying how microbes which inhabit the skin – its microbiome – work with our environments. 

    New research has revealed more about the role of the apocrine sweat glands. They sit in the groin and armpits and produce the oily secretions that cause body odor. But they also do something incredibly useful: they sustain the trillions of microbes that live in and on us. 

    It might sound gross, but these microbes may actually act as an invisible top layer of our skin. They foster its dynamic relationship with the outside world.

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    What is Clean about?

    Clean (2020) explains why overwashing is harmful. It damages our largest organ: the skin. Medical doctor and journalist James Hamblin explores the reasons why we have become so radical about personal hygiene, and explains why we might need to rethink our approach.

    Clean Review

    Clean (2020) is a fascinating book that delves into the world of cleanliness and hygiene and why it matters more than we think. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It offers a fresh perspective on cleanliness, challenging common misconceptions and shedding light on the impact it has on our health and well-being.
    • Through solid scientific research and captivating stories, the book explores various aspects of cleanliness, from personal hygiene to environmental cleanliness, making it informative and eye-opening.
    • With its humorous anecdotes and relatable storytelling, Clean manages to make a topic that could be considered dull, engaging and thought-provoking.

    Best quote from Clean

    It was no longer sufficient to simply avoid appearing or smelling physically repulsive; a person was to smell actively good.

    —James Hamblin
    example alt text

    Who should read Clean?

    • Anyone who wants to learn more about skin care and immune system health
    • People interested in how advertising has influenced modern lifestyle choices
    • Hygiene minimalists looking to be vindicated

    About the Author

    James Hamblin is a staff writer for The Atlantic, a lecturer in public health policy at Yale University, and a physician specializing in public health and preventative medicine.

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    Clean FAQs 

    What is the main message of Clean?

    The main message of Clean is that our modern obsession with cleanliness may be doing us more harm than good.

    How long does it take to read Clean?

    The reading time for Clean varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in 15 minutes.

    Is Clean a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Clean is worth reading as it offers thought-provoking insights into our relationship with cleanliness and how it affects our health.

    Who is the author of Clean?

    James Hamblin is the author of Clean.

    What to read after Clean?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Clean, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Skincare by Caroline Hirons
    • Immunity by William E. Paul
    • The Beautiful Cure by Daniel M. Davis
    • Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg
    • The Body by Bill Bryson
    • SuperLife by Darin Olien
    • When the Body Says No by Gabor Maté
    • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
    • Read People Like a Book by Patrick King
    • Meditations by Marcus Aurelius