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What If You Could Get Clean Without Soap–Using Just Your Microbiome?

Apply beneficial bacteria to your skin, rather than scrub them off.

What If You Could Get Clean Without Soap–Using Just Your Microbiome?
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Would you spray yourself with a live bacteria solution if it meant you could use less soap, deodorant, and face cream? Despite how unappetizing “live bacteria solution” sounds, plenty of people apparently would. The company behind the AO+ Mist says it’s got thousands of customers already.

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“It feels like water,” says Jasmina Aganovic, AOBiome’s general manager for consumer products, when asked how it feels on the skin. She recommends you use it after showering (or bathing). A 100 ml bottle lasts about one month, provided you apply it “on the key areas where you have the most sweat glands.”

The mist, part of a line called Mother Dirt, contains an ammonia-oxidizing bacteria that make energy from ammonia secreted from the skin. These beneficial bacteria keeps your skin in balance, AOBiome says, without you needing to scrub the whole surface clean and applying more chemicals.

But will anyone want to buy such a thing? “Something in the last five years has started to shift in public and scientific perceptions of micro-organisms and even viruses in overall health,” Aganovic says. “Everything from probiotics to the microbiome are incredibly well discussed.”

Big cosmetic brands like L’Oréal and Estée Lauder are apparently also exploring the microbiotics of the skin in hopes of developing probiotic ranges. But AOBiome is first on the market.

The company’s roots go back to experiments by David Whitlock, its founding scientist. Fifteen years ago, he was challenged by a girlfriend to work out why horses roll around in the dirt at certain times of year. He imagined it was something to do with insects irritating them. But in fact it was microbes in the dirt. He imagined humans would also need this type of bacteria and started self-experimenting with his own cultures.

Later, he helped founded AOBiome, which also wants to develop clinical therapies based on bacteria. It now starting a second-stage study for its acne treatment. If approved, the product could come out in 2017.

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The mist has had some early users before its full launch. Last year, Julia Scott in the New York Times wrote about her experience with it, particularly what it was like to go without shampoo and soap for long periods. The story caused a big spike in interest and encouraged AOBiome to pursue the consumer side of things as well.

“We realized there were other people who wondered why we [humans] have become cleaner and cleaner [but] not as healthy we would have expected,” says Aganovic. “People were interested in having that conversation, which was very exciting because it took it beyond the realm of academic research.”

You can order the mist here, along with two other products from the company: a “cleanser for the face and body,” and a shampoo. Neither of the second two contain actual bacteria, but their ingredients have been screened for any harm they could do your skin’s micro-life, apparently. All three products can be purchased for a stately $69.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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