Clean Up Your Skin…With Bacteria?

Cleaning with dirt sounds counterintuitive, but with what we’re learning about our complex microbiomes, there might be something to it.

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Just a few years back, health-conscious women would think twice about leaving the house unless they were armed with a little bottle of hand sanitizer in their handbags, ready to take on the big bad germs out in the world with just a squirt. Now, more and more of people are intentionally spraying bacteria directly onto their skin.

Bacteria does not necessarily equal “bad.”

The skin is the largest organ of the human body, covering a surface area of about 22 square feet. And while that measurement is impressive, it might be even more helpful to think of your skin as its own ecosystem, for all across the creases, folds, and pores of your elastic epidermis live millions and millions of microorganisms. Yes, your skin is home to massive colonies of bacteria, fungi, viruses, mites—the very sorts of tiny biota we usually think we want to wipe out.

Not all bacteria are made equal, though. As many of us reaching for another serving of kefir and kale know, the presence of certain bacteria in our guts promotes digestion, metabolism, and nutrient uptake. These bacteria can also defend against disease. Similarly, scientists have been finding that many of the microorganisms on our skin—or skin flora, as they’re called—aren’t just harmless. They’re actually keeping us healthy.

Some cutting-edge research suggests, for example, that the cutaneous bacterium Staphylococcus epidermidis helps boost our immune response to dangerous pathogens. Overuse of antibacterial soaps and sanitizers can kill off too many S. epidermidis, making it easier for harmful microorganisms to colonize our skin and harder for our body to fight off infection.

Mother Dirt is rethinking what it means to have clean skin.

Such findings have been compelling some to rethink their entire approach to skincare, which supports the sustainability of product lines that are compatible with our skin flora. Enter Mother Dirt.

Mother Dirt is a line of “biome-friendly” products for the skin developed by the biotechnologists and probiotic evangelists at AOBiome. According to the company, modern hygiene—from synthetic deodorants and moisturizers to over-showering and shampooing—have annihilated the ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) our bodies need. AOB abound in soil and water and once naturally populated human skin. They break down ammonia, a major component in our sweat, and yield nitrogen-rich byproducts that may improve skin health.

As a response to the hypothesized deficit, AOBiome developed AO+ Mist, a patented and clinically tested spray containing those perspiration-hungry little AOBs.

Now, some hardcore AO+ Mist users have tried foregoing bathing altogether. AOBiome’s founder, David Whitlock, famously—or infamously—hasn’t showered since he was inspired to create his company after seeing some horses roll in the dirt well over a decade ago.

But don’t fear any BO bogeyman or greasy-hair gremlins: AOBiome recommends users spritz the product as a daily part of their hygiene routine, targeting the scalps, pits, feet, hands, and groin—you know, our sweatier crevices. And many misters have reported some seriously positive results: clearer, less oily and better-moisturized skin alongside reduced use of skincare products, which can be toxic to the environment in addition to having a harsh impact on our bodies.

The AO+ Mist runs around $50.00 and lasts about four weeks. It’s best kept in the fridge. Other Mother Dirt offerings include a face and body cleanser and shampoo.

For healthy skin, look to your lifestyle, too.

The science behind skin-based probiotics is young but promising. And more and more probiotic-enriched products are making it to market. Gallinée’s creams seek to return the skin to its natural pH levels, Tula’s serums and moisturizers incorporate superfoods like blueberries and turmeric, and the all-natural Crude hopes you’ll say sayonara to soap—and your acne, eczema, and rosacea—altogether.

Yet as with any new health trend, proceed with caution. In the last few decades, just think of the revolving cast of villains in our dietary drama: fat, carbs, gluten, sugar. Just as Mother Dirt wants to balance out your biome, aim for a balanced, holistic approach to your skincare. To help your skin flora thrive, you don’t need to rip out your shower and roll around in the dirt with Whitlock’s horses.

Revisit your diet and reach for skin-nourishing foods like strawberries, tomatoes, almonds, and fish. Rearrange your schedule to spend more time outdoors rather than being cooped up inside with sterilized surfaces and recycled air. Review your skincare products, including your makeups, for artificial ingredients and replace with natural alternatives where possible.

And reestablish your skincare reflexes. Yes, clean your hands thoroughly, especially after using the bathroom, while cooking, between dirty jobs, or when visiting a hospital, but consider washing up with a little soap and warm water—not immediately opening your palm for that bacteria-busting squirt.  

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