I 'showered' in bacteria for a week, and it totally changed my definition of clean

A startup called Mother Dirt has developed a “AO+ mist” — a spray containing a type of bacteria called AOB that you put on your skin, which may restore it to a natural, healthier state.

Our extreme, hygiene-obsessed routines are unnecessary, Jasmina Aganovic, president of Mother Dirt, told Business Insider. “We’ve confused ‘clean’ with ‘sterile,'” she said.

David Whitlock is the founding scientist of Mother Dirt’s research partner, AOBiome. Whitlock, who uses the spray religiously, told Business Insider he hasn’t showered in 12 years. Of course, Mother Dirt doesn’t recommend that its clients do this, and you should definitely still wash your hands.

But just to get a feel for the most extreme case, I attempted to stop showering for a week, and sprayed myself with AO+ mist instead.

Here’s what it was like:

Why does this product exist? Just like our intestines, our skin is home to a rich ecosystem of bacteria and other microbes. Most are harmless, and some are actually good for us. For example, many animals contain ammonia-oxidizing bacteria or AOB, which break down the ammonia in sweat. AOB isn't found on the skin of most modern humans, but studies have found it on the skin of the Yanomami people indigenous to the Amazon rainforest.

Bouslimani et al., PNAS
A map of bacteria on human skin.

Every time we lather ourselves with soap and shampoo, we're taking off bacteria like AOB. This ties into something called the hygiene hypothesis, which states that people who aren't exposed to microbes as a child are more likely to develop allergies and other diseases because of a weakened immune system.

Courtesy Pirch

So I ordered a free sample of Mother Dirt's AO+ mist, soap, and shampoo. It arrived in the mail a week later in a special temperature-controlled pouch (because the bacteria survive longer when kept cold).

Tanya Lewis/Business Insider

I took a last, luxurious shower on Sunday night, then spritzed myself with the AO+ mist before bed. I stored the bottle in the fridge, where Mother Dirt says it will last for up to 6 months (as opposed to just one month at room temperature).

Tanya Lewis/Business Insider

Here's what I looked like on day 1 of not showering -- still feeling pretty fresh. I opted not to wear deodorant, since about 60% of Mother Dirt clients find they can stop using it entirely, the company's president said.

Tanya Lewis/Business Insider

Instead of jumping in the shower that morning, I reached for the AO+ mist.

Tanya Lewis/Business Insider

I followed the company's recommendations to apply the mist twice a day, everywhere you normally sweat, including the face, scalp, underarms, groin, hands...

Tanya Lewis/Business Insider

...even the bottoms of my feet!

Tanya Lewis/Business Insider

On Day 2, I still felt reasonably clean, so I decided to go for a short run. Afterward, I spritzed myself with AO+. It wasn't as good as a shower, but made me feel slightly fresher.

That evening, I noticed some pain in the skin of my ear. The following day, the pain was worse -- possibly an outer ear infection? Even though it was most likely unrelated to my bacterial regimen, I broke down and took a shower the next morning. It felt amazing.

Tanya Lewis/Business Insider

On Day 4, I resumed showering normally, but continued to spray myself with the AO+ mist twice a day. As the week drew to a close, I was glad to get back to my normal routine. But I continued to spritz myself with bacteria and use the microbe-friendly soap for the next week or so.

Tanya Lewis/Business Insider

Overall, I felt like the AO+ mist might have made my skin somewhat healthier, though I'm not sure it's worth $50 a bottle. I think I'll stick to showering normally, but maybe I'll go easier on the soap and shampoo!

Mark Sayer / Shutterstock

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