How to Take Care of Your Skin Microbiome, With Physician James Hamblin

This week, we’ll learn how to take better care of our skin with the help of Atlantic physician and staff writer James Hamblin. Tune in to hear James explain to Alice and Jordan why less washing might be better for your skin, how skin care brands are fooling us, and the new science of the skin microbiome.

James is the author of If Our Bodies Could Talk: A Guide to Using and Maintaining the Human Body, and his most recent book is Cleanliness: The New Science of Skin .

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Highlights from this week’s series

From an interview with James Hamblin:

About the skin microbiome:

[We] trillions of microbes are everywhere. Just like we have them in the intestines, and there they do not cause problems. You know, if there is a coronavirus among them, yes, it definitely causes problems and you want to get rid of it. But most of them are normal. It is an ecosystem that is essentially a part of us. The best you can do is optimize it so that it works in your favor … we know for sure just trying to kill them all the time … we haven’t evolved. become repulsive to other people unless we go through some elaborate purification ritual every 24 hours. Right. It looks like what we are doing is a bunch of real short-term fixes instead of thinking about how you will create a healthier biome in the long run that works for you.

The difference (or lack) of skin care products:

Soap is essentially a very similar composition. We can customize these products by adding specific flavors, colors, and different concentrations, so you may have slight preferences. But the idea that you need a different product for all these things and that actually everyone in your family needs a different product and then you need a lot of different soaps and detergents for different parts of your body, I think that’s the basic idea … And, you know, if you have a preference, great … But I think a lot of people think the idea of ​​using shampoo to clean their clothes or whatever is just stunning, when in fact they are almost identical products.

On the hygiene hypothesis and the confusion between “cleanliness” and health:

When you talk about washing, you know hand washing, applying deodorant, teeth whitening, as if you were really talking about indicators of social status, class and personal preference, and they are not related to health. There is something in the book that I will go into more detail … this is the hygiene hypothesis, because we think it is necessary to say “wash your hair.” If you remove oil from your hair, you will become a healthier person. This is a really interesting idea that ties into the tricky and problematic lessons of history and marketing. But when we think it’s better to just do more, we overdid it in some cases and allow ourselves to isolate in our immune system and become hyper-reactive. And, as you know, our lifestyles have played a role in the myriad allergies and autoimmune diseases that we see now, because we live mostly indoors, away from biodiversity.

To learn more about the new science of skin health, we recommend listening to the full episode!

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Episode transcript


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