If there’s one phrase in the English language that I hate more than any other, it’s “beauty and brains.” The alliterative pairing implies there’s something special about having both beauty and brains, as if the two are usually mutually exclusive. But ask anyone who’s skincare-savvy to explain the ways in which the 27 ingredients listed on the back of a new bottle of Vitamin C serum work together, and you’ll see that beauty enthusiasts excel at reading comprehension (and chemistry).
As someone who’s passionate about writing, reading, and beauty — not to mention writing and reading about beauty — I put together a quick list of five must-read books for anyone who’s really, really into skincare. Some of these have literally changed my life; I hope they have just as much of an impact on yours.
Skin Cleanse by Adina Grigore
I never stop talking about this book. I found it when I was at my most desperate point with dermatitis: taking over-prescribed steroids, finding out my skin had become immune to them, and not knowing where to turn next. Grigore had been through something similar with dermatologist-prescribed medications, and ended up healing her skin on her own through detoxing and reintroducing only natural products into her routine. Skin Cleanse is the story of her personal journey (which made me feel less alone), along with an easy guide on how to attempt your own “skin cleanse” and adapt your lifestyle to support your skin’s long-term health. Even if you haven’t been through the depths of dermatology hell, this is a must-read.
Renegade Beauty by Nadine Artemis
More like a book of skincare-focused poetry than anything else, Nadine Artemis’ Renegade Beauty teaches readers how to care for their skin completely naturally (which is the renegade way, according to her). It’s a little, uh, over-the-top, let’s say; including a discussion on the philosophy of Vitalism and a list of skin-saving positive affirmations; but it’s incredibly well-researched and offers scientific insight on the skin’s natural function and the ways in which our current chemical-filled products interrupt it. Artemis also divulges her DIY skincare recipes — which have become the basis for her own skincare line, Living Libations.
The Beauty of Dirty Skin by Whitney Bowe, MD
I love that The Beauty of Dirty Skin — which is written by a practicing dermatologist — works to undermine some of the staid, stale, and just plain wrong ideas that form the foundation of modern dermatology. For instance, dermatologists used to be taught that food had no effect at all on the skin, based on a single, decades-old, not-properly-controlled study that made its way into textbooks. (Obviously, we now know that how we eat has a huge effect on how we glow.) Dr. Bowe also dives into the gut-skin-brain connection, and offers actionable ways to make your body and skin “dirtier” (aka, teeming with healthy bacteria) instead of stripping the body clean with antibiotics and harsh cleansers.
Woman Code by Alisa Vitti
My copy of Woman Code is worn and torn, because I use it as a reference volume at least once a week. The bulk of the book is centered around decoding your hormones throughout your menstrual cycle, and healing any issues — from hormonal acne to PCOS — with a diet that supports healthy hormone function. Vitti wrote this for women who have menstrual, fertility, or menopausal problems in particular; but I found it to be a huge help in treating my skin from the inside out.
Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women by Renee Engeln, PhD
In my opinion, this should be required reading for anyone who has an above-average obsession with beauty and skincare (um, hi). Beauty Sick is a psychological study of the effects that our culture’s standard of beauty has on girls and women: “We have created a culture that tells women the most important thing they can be is beautiful. Then we pummel them with a standard of beauty they will never meet. After that, when they worry about beauty, we call them superficial.” All I can say is that waking up to the cultural and societal implications of our collective beauty obsession is sobering and thought-provoking and heartbreaking and hopeful.
Ready? Set? Fill your Amazon carts — and get ready to spend a weekend in the bathtub with a good book.