ditch the soap and water
May 26, 2014

Ditch The Soap And Water? AOBiome Wants You To Wash With Bacteria Instead!

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

While recent research has concluded that using soap containing antimicrobial ingredients could be doing more harm than good, one New York Times Magazine journalist’s experiments with products that replace traditional cleaning compounds with bacteria treatments have reportedly left her skin softer and smoother than ever before.

As she explained in a May 22 article, writer Julie Scott participated in a trial for a living bacterial skin tonic developed by Cambridge, Massachusetts start-up AOBiome. Serving as Subject 26 in the company’s product test, she spent four weeks using a tonic that resembled and even tasted like regular water, but was packed with billions of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria known as Nitrosomonas eutropha.

Like most of us, Scott said she spent years using traditional soaps and shampoos to scrub the microbes off her body. However, scientists from AOBiome have developed a hypothesis that these ammonia-oxidizing bacteria once lived on our skin and in our hair, naturally cleansing us, serving as a deodorant and boosting our immunity by converting the ammonia in our perspiration into nitrite and nitric oxide.

“It's not as kooky as it sounds,” explained Gizmodo’s Sarah Zhang. “While we have been conditioned to lather, foam, and scrub every inch of ourselves with soap, it's only recently that scientists have realized killing all the bacteria on our skin may not be such a good thing. Bacteria naturally flourish on the skin, most of them harmless, and imbalances in the skin microbiome are linked to all sorts of problems from acne to eczema.”

In April, researchers from Arizona State University presented evidence suggesting that there was no measurable benefit to the use of antimicrobial products such as hand soap. Furthermore, recent studies argue that the lax regulation of these products has caused toxic compounds to spread through both human and animal populations – even contaminating the environment due to the fact that these chemicals do not easily degrade.

On its website, AOBiome explains that modern-day hygienic routines cause severe depletion of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria in the human microbiome, and claims that application of their product can help “restore the skin’s microbiome and positively impact a wide variety of human health conditions.”

During the trial, Scott said that she used a solution known as AO+ Refreshing Cosmetic Mist. She described being provided with a chilled bottle of the product that had been kept in the refrigerator – a necessity since the bacteria contained in the mist were alive and had to be kept in cold conditions to maintain their stability.

Scott was also told that she had to mist her face, scalp and body with the microbes twice each day. She added that she would have to be swabbed each week at a laboratory, and that scientists would analyze the samples in order to determine whether or not there had been any changes taking place in her invisible microbial community.

“While most microbiome studies have focused on the health implications of what’s found deep in the gut, companies like AOBiome are interested in how we can manipulate the hidden universe of organisms (bacteria, viruses and fungi) teeming throughout our glands, hair follicles and epidermis,” she wrote. “They see long-term medical possibilities in the idea of adding skin bacteria instead of vanquishing them with antibacterials – the potential to change how we diagnose and treat serious skin ailments.”

While drug treatments require approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Scott explained that AOBiome’s founders are attempting to avoid that long, costly process by marketing their products as cosmetics. They do not market their products as alternatives to conventional cleansers. However, they claim to have noticed that regular users could find themselves using less soap, deodorant or moisturizer in just one month’s time.

During the course of the experiment, Scott said she stopped using traditional soaps, shampoos and related health and beauty products, relying solely on the AO+ Refreshing Cosmetic Mist. She said that most of the real changes were invisible, though she did report her hair becoming greasier and darker as a result. While she noticed some odors early on, they eventually dissipated to the point where even her feet did not smell at all.

“My skin began to change for the better,” Scott reported. “It actually became softer and smoother, rather than dry and flaky, as though a sauna’s worth of humidity had penetrated my winter-hardened shell. And my complexion, prone to hormone-related breakouts, was clear. For the first time ever, my pores seemed to shrink.”

“As my experiment drew to a close, I found myself reluctant to return to my old routine of daily shampooing and face treatments,” she added. “A month earlier, I packed all my hygiene products into a cooler and hid it away. On the last day of the experiment, I opened it up, wrinkling my nose at the chemical odor.”

Scott noted that the AOBiome staff said that the chemical which posed the biggest threat to our skin’s helpful bacteria was sodium lauryl sulfate, a prominent ingredient in many types of shampoo. However, they added that just about all types of liquid cleansers remove at least some N. eutropha, and that even though antibacterial soaps get a bad rap, even those made from vegetable oils or animal fats can strip away ammonia-oxidizing microbes.