Clean Book Summary By James Hamblin

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The book Clean (2020) provides an in-depth look into how overwashing can be detrimental to our health.

Written by medical doctor, journalist, and author James Hamblin, this work delves into why we have become so extreme when it comes to personal hygiene and the possible consequences of this approach.

Hamblin explains the importance and necessity of protecting our skin; the largest organ we possess.

He also uncovers derogatory information about the past before going in-depth on how and why we must rethink modern approaches to cleanliness.

Through his research, Hamblin provides readers with valuable insight and knowledge that educates as well as entertains.

Clean Book

Book Name: Clean (The New Science of Skin)

Author(s): James Hamblin

Rating: 4.2/5

Reading Time: 25 Minutes

Categories: Health & Nutrition

Author Bio

James Hamblin is a well-known personality in the public health world.

He's an experienced staff writer for The Atlantic, and works as a lecturer of public health policy at Yale University.

In addition, he has his own practice focusing on public health and preventative medicine.

With decades of experience working in the field of public health, it's safe to say that James Hamblin is an authority on the subject.

We May Be Too Clean: The Health Benefits Of Microbiomes, Soap Operas, And Smelling Like A Dog

Health Benefits

Our modern idea of extreme hygiene is something that we take for granted in today’s society, but it turns out that this may actually be doing more harm than good.

In Clean, James Hamblin takes an in-depth look at the history of scientific and medical knowledge surrounding our individual cleanliness.

He explores the rise of soap with marketers convincing us to “fight germs” nearly two centuries ago and how skin care products have become much more advanced since then.

It’s not just about washing our hands either – research has shown that having a diverse microbiome on our skin is crucially important for our health.

This diversity can’t be built up when we are overly reliant on soap and other hygiene practices.

Hamblin goes on to explain why the Amish have been found to have such low rates of allergies and asthma, and why dogs might even be able to detect diseases simply by changes in our skin microbiomes.

By reading Clean, you’ll understand much more about how our modern obsession with immaculate cleanliness might actually be making us sicker rather than healthier!

We’Re Overwashing Ourselves: How Taking Shorter Showers Can Improve Health

We live in a world where there is a great emphasis on cleanliness.

We shower everyday and use soap and other products to keep ourselves clean.

It’s something that many people take for granted, but James Hamblin, author of Clean, explores a different perspective.

In his “existential audit” five years before writing Clean, Hamblin stopped showering entirely – except to wash his hands and occasionally get himself wet.

Surprisingly, he noticed that his skin became less oily and fewer eczema breakouts appeared.

Doctors he interviewed advised against hot showers and soaps as well as gels which could damage the skin.

This minimalist approach to hygiene sends an important message: modern ideas of “cleanliness” have led us to overwash ourselves – more than what our bodies actually need.

The result? Chronic conditions like atopic dermatitis or eczema due to excessive washing can occur over time.

The Meaning Of Cleanliness Has Evolved Over Time, From Spiritual Purification To A Symbol Of Social Status

Throughout the ages, the reasons for why we clean ourselves have been constantly evolving.

In ancient Rome, bathing was mainly done for leisure and relaxation and hygiene was not a priority.

At this time, there were no water circulation systems so it couldn’t have been very efficient in preventing illness or contamination.

The Hebrews observed hand and foot washing before entering the temple and washing their hands before meals to remain spiritually pure.

Islam also requires ritualistic washing to take place five times a day before each prayer.

This requirement led to Complex water systems being built in Arabic cultures long before Europeans constructed similar infrastructures.

When Christianity gained popularity, excessive bathing was viewed as sinful luxury.

Jesus instead believed in inner purity over religious ceremony which created more lax attitudes towards cleanliness in European countries.

This lack of concern towards hygiene proved quite deadly when the Black Death hit Europe in the 14th century and killed one out of three people living at that time.

The Soap Industry Revolutionized Advertising By Using Media To Create A New Perception Of Cleanliness And Expand Product Lines


When it comes to developing a new perception of cleanliness, the soap industry utilized ground-breaking advertising techniques.

Lever Brothers, one of the biggest soap distributors in the world at the time, was an early adopter of these methods.

Their ads boasted that Sunlight Soap was a life-saver and William Lever even went so far as to dredge up a media empire – founding both the Sunlight Almanac newspaper and Sunlight Year Book health guide.

They were one of the first to recognize that mass production methods drove down prices and created universally affordable products for all households.

Soon other companies were following suit by also creating clever sponsored content and hocking their merchandise on radio and later TV shows with adverts posed as entertainment programs such as ‘soap operas’.

Colgate & Company went even further by using marketing jargon claiming Cashmere soap was “hard milled” and therefore ‘safer’ without any scientific proof to back it up while Palmolive did not shy away from referring to doctors believed in their products without any names involved.

Last but not least skincare products followed suit as these companies wanted customers to buy more than just soap; they wanted them entangled in a full product line bypassing obstacles like dry skin through moisturizer reversing previous impacts made by soap itself.

As seen this created empires out of nothing thanks solely to ingenious marketing campaigns forming what we know now today as our current perception of cleanliness!

The Rise Of Indie Skin Care Brands: Treading The Line Between Medicine And Cosmetics

Skin care products are increasingly embracing scientific terms and techniques that make them sound like medicines, but without the rigorous levels of testing and regulation required for drugs.

For example, some indie brands adopted the term ‘collagen’ which has been thought to firm up the skin, make it smooth and plump.

Although applying this directly to your face would not work as the molecules are too large to penetrate the skin.

Retinoids derived from vitamin A is an example of something that is approved as a drug yet sold over-the-counter as a cosmetic product.

There is strong evidence showing it stimulates the production of collagen however it’s up to consumers to verify this information.

In contrast pharmaceutical companies must spend years trialing new medicines for safety and efficiency before introducing them into the market.

Yet despite this thorough process when it comes to skincare many people tend to be trusting without properly researching the products claims first.

This may be due in part to frustration with medical establishments and an increased focus on gathering experiences by talking online with peers.

Skincare provides a sense of control that was missing from other aspects of wellness care previously which could have also lead to its ascendancy in recent years.

How Early Exposure To Microbes Can Build A Stronger Immune System

We have been conditioned to think that exposing our skin to bacteria is a bad thing, when in fact it has many benefits.

This was illustrated in a study from 2016 which looked at two groups of people – the Amish and the Hutterites.

These communities are very similar but with one key difference: in the Hutterite community children do not accompany their fathers to the communal farm whereas the Amish children do and interact with soil, animals and microbes on a daily basis.

The results showed that childhood exposure to these microscopic creatures can be beneficial for our immune systems as far fewer Amish children suffered from asthma and allergies compared to Hutterite children.

This result is believed to be caused by training the immune system early in life with contact with bacterial particles thereby helping it recognize foreign particles more easily and leading to less false alarms and thus no inflammation or diseases such as autoimmunity.

The first exposure starts even before birth when babies travel through their mothers’ birth canal picking up some of her bacteria, followed later by breastfeeding which also passes along microbial cells from adult immune cells.

Plus everyday contact from family members, dirt, animals and other kids’ toys all contribute towards building up an individual microbiom.

All this goes to show that exposing yourself (or more accurately your skin) to bacteria isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in fact it can actually help protect us against illnesses like asthma, allergies and autoimmunity as well as strengthen our immune systems for future battles!

The Lever Brothers: Pioneers In Fear-Based Marketing And Early Contributors To Our Widespread Use Of Antibacterial Soaps

Lever Brothers

The overuse of antibiotics has been linked to a number of adverse health impacts, and these include everything from harm to the environment to weaker immunity.

This is because excessive use of antibiotics can disrupt our microbiome, leading to long-term damage.

At the same time, recent research suggests that overly vigorous levels of hygiene could also be having a negative impact on our health.

For example, products such as deodorant soaps used to contain compounds like hexachlorophene and triclosan which have been linked with higher risk of cancer formation and altered hormone functioning.

So even though we may think that using antibacterial soap is helping protect us from infectious illnesses, it turns out that it could actually be compromising our long-term well-being more than anything else.

And washing with plain old soap and water may well be enough for most practical purposes!

The Awe-Inspiring Ability Of Dogs To Detect Illness Through Our Skin Microbiome

As we’ve become increasingly aware of the importance of our skin microbiome, research has suggested that it may contain essential information about our health.

This is certainly the case when it comes to dogs–Claire Guest, a scientist researching how dogs could possibly detect cancer, believes that their highly developed sense of smell can detect subtle changes to the complex chemical cocktail each person emits.

These changes may be associated with illnesses like high blood sugar levels and Parkinson’s disease.

Guest and many other researchers believe that these smells from disease are produced by the skin microbiome itself, meaning if we can understand this microbiological cycle deeply enough, doctors could catch illnesses much earlier than otherwise thought possible.

To prove her theory, she gathered socks from Gambian schoolchildren who were being tested for malaria and sent them in to London for medical detection dogs.

Amazingly, these dogs were able to accurately identify seven out of ten children with the disease based on their sock scent alone.

It’s clear now more than ever that instead of trying to scrub away our skin’s full potential, researchers should try to better understand it and its vital role in health diagnostics before it’s too late.

The Balance Of Hygiene And Microbes: How We Can Improve Global Health

Florence Nightingale’s revolutionary approach to hospital care in the 1800s proved that maintaining a balance between hygiene and exposure to microbes was essential for good health.

She arrived at a military hospital in Crimea, where 10 times more soldiers were dying from infectious diseases than battle wounds.

When she opened up more doors and windows to allow air circulation, death rates reportedly fell by 40%.

The germ theory eventually replaced her approach as modern hospitals returned to small unventilated rooms with windows shut tight.

However, research has shown that we need a equilibrium of cleanliness and environmental microbes for best health outcomes – evidence which is highlighted in Nightingale’s story.

A 2017 study found that people who cohabit, have pets, drink less alcohol, exercise outdoors and engage in communal living all have greater microbial diversity – showcasing the varied benefits that the natural environment can bring to our wellbeing.

Wrap Up

In conclusion, it’s important to remember that basic hygiene practices like washing our hands with soap and clean water can prevent the spread of diseases.

However, it’s also necessary to recognize that going overboard with cleaning can be more harmful than helpful.

Fostering a diverse microbiome by exposing ourselves to the great outdoors is infinitely more beneficial than vigorously scrubbing ourselves from top to bottom every single day.

Finally, one of the best ways to break down any rigid standards about personal hygiene is to talk about those beliefs and practices with others.

Most people will be more than happy to share their own routines, making for an ideal icebreaker and providing you with different perspectives on which you can base your decisions.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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