‘I’m not weird!’ he says. Watch as Yahoo Global Anchor Katie Couric interviews David Whitlock on his bathing habits — or lack thereof.
Today, the notion that it’s a good idea to regularly wash yourself seems obvious, but bathing has a choppy history. The ancient Greeks and Romans spent their free time hanging out in bathhouses, and Islam has always placed strong emphasis on personal hygiene. But bathing went out of vogue with the rise of Christianity in medieval Europe, when squeaky-cleanliness was considered to be a sign of vanity and promiscuity, fueling beliefs that water could carry disease. It has only been in the past century — with the invention of modern plumbing — that daily showering really caught on.
Now, one guy has us wondering if we should shower at all.
David Whitlock hasn’t showered in 12 years — instead, he sprays himself with a mixture of ammonia oxidizing bacteria (or AOB) that keeps him smelling fresh, and feeling cleaner than ever before, he says.
Whitlock stopped showering as an experiment, after realizing that animals used bacteria in mud to stay odor-free. In an attempt to mirror their results, he isolated the bacteria in the mud that would neutralize odor and applied it to himself.
He hasn’t showered since, nor does he see any reason to, he tells Yahoo Health. “I’ve thought about it many times, and I could, but I don’t see a need to. There’s nothing that showering would do for me that makes me feel a pressing need to,” he explains.
“I’m not weird,” he says. “I wash when I need to wash, and if I’m doing delicate work that needs clean hands, I’ll wash my hands.” But when it comes to sweat and everyday grime, he says, the bacteria mist he created has done all the work, keeping him clean and odor-free.
Now, more than a decade and myriad experiments later, Whitlock has teamed up with other scientists to start AO Biome, a Cambridge, Mass.-based startup that researches the role bacteria plays in keeping us clean and disease-free. So far, they’ve developed the Mother Dirt line of products, consisting of a biome-friendly shampoo and cleanser that can be used in the shower, and a bacteria-rich mist that can be used to balance skin post-bathing — or, if you’re taking Whitlock’s approach, in lieu of showering. He sprays it under his arms and all over his body instead of soap lather and deodorant.
But does it work? Watch as Buzzfeed’s editors test out Mother Dirt AO+ Mist, the spray Whitlock uses daily instead of showering. (Video: Buzzfeed)
“It wasn’t just about stopping showering; it was about what would happen if he reintroduced this bacteria from nature [ammonia oxidizing bacteria, AOB for short] back to his skin. He feared showers would wash them off, as well as all the products we typically use in association with showers,” Mother Dirt President Jasmina Aganovic explains.
Crazy as it may seem, Whitlock has a point.
Study after study is suggesting that our obsession with cleanliness could actually be making us sicker by wiping out the good bacteria, such as AOB, that keeps our skin healthy and supports our immune systems. This is true inside the body — think of the damage a course of antibiotics can do to our gut bacteria — and on it. “We’ve confused clean with sterile, and it’s probably affecting our health at the same time,” Aganovic tells Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric.
In addition to developing products rich in good bacteria, Whitlock’s team is conducting double-blind studies to prove that bacteria can kill odor and improve skin conditions, such as acne and eczema.
(Photo: Courtesy of AOBiome / Mother Dirt)
While it sounds promising, some experts say there still isn’t enough evidence to prove that a bacteria-rich product could help clean you up. “It’s very hard for me to comment on because there have been no good clinical trials done on this,” dermatologist Ted Lain explains. “There are no [outside] trials that show a bacteria spray decreases body odor, or helps skin problems like eczema or acne.”
While Lain hasn’t studied antibacterial sprays, he cautions that the one-size-fit-all approach may not be effective. “The microbiome of someone’s skin differs in different points on the body,” Lain explains, so the bacteria that could be beneficial on one part of your body may not be beneficial on another.
“I wouldn’t say that people are over-cleaning themselves, unless you’re talking about a teenager who’s trying to scrub off the acne,” says Lain. Using soap is typically fine, as long as it’s not irritating any skin conditions (such as eczema), and can help ward off germs, he says.
That said, it’s becoming clear that antibacterial products aren’t great for our skin or health. Lain agrees that the antibacterial focus can be downright dangerous. “I don’t think it’s necessary,” he says. “I think as a community, we’re overusing antibacterial products. We’re such a germaphobic society, and it’s causing resistant bacteria that puts us at risk.”
Lain says that cleaning isn’t one-size-fits-all, and different people have different needs. “It depends on the person — where they live, what kind of skin they have, and if they have a skin disease,” he explains. “For the average person with normal skin who lives in a city, washing once a day is important. That doesn’t mean it has to be with a loofah or antibacterial soap, but you do need to get the germs and grime off.”
While you really shouldn’t be reaching for antibacterial soaps that often, Lain cautions against forgoing washing your skin. “Because these resistant bacteria have developed, we do still need to clean our skin,” he says. “If you have resistant bacteria on your skin and you get a cut, you could get sick.”
Lain says he’s extremely interested in the spray, and would love to learn more about it, but ultimately, “There’s just no [outside] research that proves it’s effective. It’s very interesting, and I wish there were more research, but I wouldn’t recommend it yet.”
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