Forgoing a shower, even for a day, makes some people want to hide from society and double up on the deodorant. For Dave Whitlock, this is simply life as usual.
The chemical engineer and MIT grad decided back in 2003 to stop showering after discovering that animals harness bacteria in mud to stay odor-free. Called Nitrosomonas, these bacteria break down ammonia, producing nitrite (a powerful antibacterial) and nitric oxide (a beneficial gas). Speaking with LiveScience, Whitlock said he theorized that colonies of Nitrosomonas on the skin could potentially reduce body odor and keep other nasty bacteria in check.
The biggest problem with these ammonia oxidizing bacteria (or AOB) is that they take a long time to colonize on the skin and are extremely susceptible to many modern soaps and shampoos. Whitlock also discovered that modern humans are the only animal that does not harbor this particular bacteria — a likely result of our clean-obsessed lifestyles.
Consequently, he decided to isolate the bacteria into a spray and stop showering completely. Twice a day, he would apply the odorless spray to his body in an effort to build up a concentration of the bacteria on his skin. To his surprise, he discovered that not only did he not smell as time passed, but that his lack of showering had no ill effect on his health. Now 12 years later, he's still continuing the regimen –– but with a focus on only those parts he's recently washed.
"I only wash my hands," he told Motherboard. "In terms of the rest of my body, it’s basically already in a steady state. The bacteria on my skin are in a very stable, long-term state. I only need the spray on the parts of my body that I wash with water, because there the good bacteria gets washed away. If I took a normal shower, I’d have to use the spray all over my body after."
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Armed with more than a dozen years of evidence that his spray harbors benefits for human skin, Whitlock recently helped launch a skin microbiome company called AOBiome. The startup's first products under the brand name Mother Dirt include not only the AO+ Mist (containing the live, beneficial Nitrosomonas bacteria), but also a biome-friendly face and body wash and shampoo.
"AOB were once a crucial part of the skin's ecosystem, but they've been lost due to modern chemistry in today's products and our lifestyles," Jasmina Aganovic, president of AOBiome, said in a statement. "With Mother Dirt, we're creating products that enhance and protect the skin biome."
According to Aganovic, users who incorporated the daily spray into their cleansing routines reported less dependence on deodorants, moisturizers and other personal care products. "They also found their skin was calmer, more hydrated, less oily, and generally more balanced," she added.
As for Whitlock, he says he's experienced another big benefit in the form of a better outlook; something he says may have something to do with the Nitrosomonas bacteria's production of nitric oxide.
"Well this is a bit speculative, but, according to science journals, nitric oxide is a very important psychological parameter," he told Motherboard. "It controls a lot of brain functions, for example. Stress is the result of low levels of nitric oxide. So if you have higher levels of nitric oxide, then it acts as an anti-stress mechanism."
The company is quick to add that you don't need to eschew showering to enjoy the benefits of a healthy skin biome.
"It’s not necessary that people stop showering or give up their soaps and shampoos," they state. "Our research shows that daily application along with normal showering in regular tap water produces a sustained level of AOB on skin. We recommend applying AO+ Mist daily as part of your usual personal hygiene routine."
Check out Aganovic speaking about AOBiome's breakthrough products at a recent IDEAS Boston conference below.