Welcome to Reading Lists, comprehensive book guides from the Strategist designed to make you an expert (or at least a fascinating dinner party companion) on hyperspecific or newsworthy subjects, like North Korea or wine. Here, we’ve found the best skin-care books, according to beauty brand founders, editors, and skin-care professionals.
For this primer on skin care, we consulted a range of enthusiasts who have made skin care and beauty their livelihood. Our informal panel includes Jean Godfrey-June, the executive beauty editor at Goop; Tara Foley, founder and CEO of green beauty emporium Follain; celebrity aesthetician Renee Rouleau; beauty editor and columnist Jane Larkworthy; Tata Harper, founder of Tata Harper Skincare; Victoria Tsai, founder of Tatcha and author of Pure Skin; Jina Kim, co-founder of Circumference; Kirsten Carriol, founder and CEO of Lanolips; Tara Pelletier, co-founder of Meow Meow Tweet; Jana Blankenship, founder of Captain Blankenship; and plastic surgeon Melissa Doft.
We asked each expert for a short list of their favorite and most essential skin care reads. The bulk of the ones recommended here were mentioned by at least two experts, but because the landscape of beauty books is vast, we added some of our own suggestions that were too good not to include, too.
The best all-around books on skin care
Journalist and former beauty editor Sali Hughes got her start in beauty as an assistant to makeup artist Lynne Easton, eventually moving on to features writing and columns for publications like The Guardian. It’s unsurprising, then, that her book Pretty Iconic — which comes recommended by two experts — is thorough, chronicling over 200 skin care and beauty innovations of the past and present, from Nars’ Orgasm blush to Sunday Riley.
Larkworthy calls it a “rather addictive” who’s-who of beauty heavyweights, “peppered with [Hughes’s] personal opinions, relatable memories and industry-wise facts.” It can be dangerous for beauty fanatics, though. Carriol — whose Lano 101 Ointment, full disclosure, was included in this book — says, “I have bought many things from this book, from AHA acids to eyelash glue. It’s great for people who want their research done for them.”
This year’s High Vibrational Beauty is both a photo-laden coffee table skimmer and an informational primer: it was another popular choice suggested by two experts. Written by the founders of CAP Beauty — the wellness store and spa that sells adaptogen-heavy tea, mineral bath soaks, and probiotic powder — the book offers up plant-based wellness recipes and rituals, that come illustrated with lush food flat-lays and colorful spreads. The book, some would say, has a mood-altering effect. Blankenship calls it a “feast for the senses,” while Larkworthy says, “I feel my blood pressure decrease any time I leaf through this tome—from the comforting and clarifying tone with which they present each topic and chapter, to the empowering knowledge they impart, to the very chic still-lifes.”
Three of our experts recommended Plant-Powered Beauty, a book for the DIY-er who wants to mix up skin, hair, and aromatherapy salves at home. It was co-authored by New York Institute of Aromatherapy founder Amy Galper, whom Foley calls “the foremost expert on essential oils” and who Doft considers a personal mentor for her own skin care line. The book contains over 50 DIY recipes, breaking down the benefits of each botanical ingredient involved. And there’s nothing too earthy that you’d actually have to scavenge for: “The easy-to-make recipes contain many ingredients that are probably already in your kitchen,” Blankenship says. “It is a celebration of the beauty and efficacy of plant-based ingredients.”
This Gwyneth Paltrow book, which was recommended by two of our experts, taps Goop’s network of experts and editors for detox recipes, skin care and hair advice, plus fitness routines (there’s one specifically for “tech-necks”). Goop certainly has its critics, but Larkworthy says, “No matter where you fall on the GP applause-meter (to Yoni or not to Yoni?) this book is undeniably enticing.” And despite her yoga-shunning, red meat-eating habits, she still finds it an insightful read: “I’ve dog-eared about every other recipe and hear myself utter ‘Huh’ just about every time I turn the page.”
Godfrey-June’s a bit biased since she had a hand in the book, but suggests it for the person who’s truly confounded on how to lead a non-toxic lifestyle: “There’s hardly a product on the market that isn’t labeled with ‘natural’ stickers all over it. This book sets out some standards to live by.”
An illustrated coffee-table book for a skincare person or a budding botanist, this one takes an encyclopedic look at beauty-enhancing botanicals — apricot oil, jojoba, jasmine, argan oil, and many more — and their many uses. An Atlas of Natural Beauty was written by the founders of Paris’s famous apothecary L’Officine Universelle Buly and released this past November (so it would make a timely holiday gift). It earned high praise from Larkworthy, who deems the book “just as chic as their iconic beauty boutique” and “a must-have for any beauty-curious person who can’t resist a DIY recipe or a gorgeous font.”
In addition to being a beautiful book, Kim finds it informative, too: “Understanding the root of how your skincare products work through their ingredients is often more important than your routine itself. This book is a beautiful exploration of the many powerful natural ingredients that are used in beauty today.”
If you’re the type of person who has the Environmental Working Group bookmarked on your browser, No More Dirty Looks is one to know. “This book was one of the original catalysts for me to start my very own clean beauty journey,” says Foley. Written in more of a muckrake-y style in 2010 — when the green beauty movement was really taking off — it discusses the poor regulation in the beauty industry, the lack of transparency in ingredient lists, and how to responsibly source-clean beauty products. Pelletier calls it the “OG for green beauty books” and adds that “every person thinking about switching to clean products should read it.”
Renegade Beauty, written by essential oil guru Nadine Artemis, also topped our list: it’s all about simplifying your self-care routine by turning to nature, and makes specific plant-based recommendations for treating skin conditions like keratosis pilaris. “Poetic and full of wisdom, Artemis’s writing is passionate and she is the perfect guide to take you to the heart of botanical beauty,” says Blankenship. And the book’s breadth — which covers topics like diet, dental care, and general body care — really impressed Foley, who deems it “one of the best books yet on holistic beauty.”
Additional picks from our experts
Wendy Rowe’s a makeup artist — her clients include Cara Delevingne and Sienna Miller, who writes the foreword for the book — but she’s also skilled in the kitchen. Her new book, Eat Beautiful, is a collection of recipes of sumptuous, skin-enhancing foods like banana popsicles and quinoa salad, plus a skin care guide: ingredients like pomegranates are highlighted for their skin benefits, and the book also shares recipes for DIY masks, scrubs, and cleansers. It’s been praised by fashion friends like Cristopher Bailey and Victoria Beckham, and even by skin care experts like Tsai, who says: “Eat Beautiful reminds us that our skin is simply our body’s largest organ, and reflects our diets as well as our lifestyles, sleep habits, and more.”
Beyond topical creams, your gut health and lifestyle can also factor into why your skin looks so good (or not so good), which is the central case in dermatologist Whitney Bowe’s book The Beauty of Dirty Skin — we’ve looked to her for expert advice on topics like retinol, pore shrinking, and double cleansing before. Referencing scientific studies on the connection between gut health and skincare, plus her own observations from the field, Bowe suggests a 21-day blueprint for incorporating probiotics, exercise plans, and topical products into your daily routine. It’s been a validating read for Rouleau, who says, “I’ve always believed that just topically treating your skin with products will only get you so far and this book supports that theory.”