Imagine there was one simple activity you could cut from your daily schedule that would save you time, money, water and energy and help keep countless plastic bottles out of the ocean. With all of these gains in the face of climate change, most people would probably consider it. But what if that simple activity you could cut from your daily schedule was . . . showering?
James Hamblin, a medical doctor and staff writer for The Atlantic, knows exactly what it’s like to give up showering for good. In his provocative book Clean: The New Science of Skin, Hamblin explains why he stopped showering five years ago. Although he admits that this course of action isn’t for everyone, he argues that our modern idea of extreme hygiene has gone a little overboard. In this entertaining and deeply researched book, he suggests that our addiction to soap and skincare is creating more problems than they solve. Along the way, he discusses Dr. Bronner’s, Gweneth Paltrow’s Goop and soap making, and he speaks to dermatologists, biologists, allergists, peddlers of snake oil and a paraphernalia-collecting soap historian.
Many people will be horrified at the idea of not showering for a prolonged amount of time, but according to Hamblin, our dedication to sterile cleanliness is relatively new. Following the Industrial Revolution, theories about germs and infectious diseases led to the explosion of the soap industry to promote good hygiene, but it also gave birth to the marketing ploy that clean, germ-free skin equals good health. What if we need those “germs” on our skin that we lather and wash away every day? Hamblin examines the discovery of beneficial skin microbes that live on our skin and in our pores. Wash the microbes away, and the immune system goes haywire, causing allergies, eczema and other skin conditions. What if an industry that claims to keep us healthy is actually harming us?
Organized and thorough, the research and history Hamblin presents are uncomfortably compelling. This is a fascinating, rich mix of science, marketing and culture that will have you questioning everything you think you know about your daily skincare routine.