David Whitlock with Jasmine Aganovic, the product developer at his company, AOBiome, in a Skype conversation with Motherboard. Photo: Motherboard
“Why does my horse roll around in its own filth all day?”
It was a pretty weird question to be asked on a date, but it ended up changing David Whitlock’s life. That was 12 years ago, and Whitlock hasn’t bathed since.
Driven by the burning ambition to find an answer to his date’s question, the chemist, who is now 60 years old, got to work: After doing some research, Whitlock found out that horses rub living bacteria into their skin to protect the flora living there.
Whitlock gathered some of these good bacteria, which neutralize dangerous organisms and hazardous substances on the skin, and made them into a spray that he’s been using since for his daily hygiene. Among other things, it breaks down ammonia: the compound that makes human sweat stink in the first place.
“We are at war with the world of bacteria. People here get ‘clean’ and ‘sterile’ mixed up.”
This is all an attempt to recreate his skin’s original condition. He does use water when he really needs to get dirt off. Aside from that, Whitlock avoids getting wet because it washes off his natural skin flora.
Now his company, AOBiome, has been producing the spray with the ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) for commercial use under the name Mother Dirt.
The spray can help people avoid the constant need to wash and the overuse of cosmetics for only $49, Whitlock said. We spoke to the scientist on Skype about his particular style of retro hygiene.
Motherboard: Mr. Whitlock, you really still haven’t showered and are just using the AOB-spray?
David Whitlock: Yes of course. I’m still using it and I still haven’t showered. Business as usual.
How often do you use the spray?
Twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. And also every time I wash my hands.
So it’s not necessary to use the spray all over your body?
Well, if you want to wash your entire body, then yes. But I only wash my hands. In terms of the rest of my body, it’s basically already in a steady state. The bacteria on my skin are in a very stable, long-term state. I only need the spray on the parts of my body that I wash with water, because there the good bacteria gets washed away. If I took a normal shower, I’d have to use the spray all over my body after.
How has this kind of hygiene changed your body over the last twelve years?
The greatest and most amazing change is that I’m always in a good mood now. Aside from that, I haven’t collected any data in order to evaluate it. Of course my skin is also very soft and in a good condition, but it always was actually. I never smoked or tanned too much.
David Whitlock. Photo: AOBiome
So what’s the reason that you’re always in such a good mood?
Well this is a bit speculative, but, according to science journals, nitric oxide is a very important psychological parameter. It controls a lot of brain functions, for example. Stress is the result of low levels of nitric oxide. So if you have higher levels of nitric oxide [like Whitlock does from not showering], then it acts as an anti-stress mechanism.
"The greatest and most amazing change is that I’m always in a good mood now."
This is exactly what mindfulness meditation is about. It raises the level of nitric oxide. If you have nitric oxide on your skin, it’s a little bit like meditating. It’s all connected psychologically. All of the health benefits of meditation have to do with nitric oxide according to writings on the subject. So not washing is kind of like meditation for the skin.
So would you recommend that we all stop showering and use AOB-spray instead?
No. That’s what I do, but in order to enjoy the benefits of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria, you don’t have to stop showering. You just have to use the spray after drying off after a shower to restore balance to your skin flora.
Okay, so it would be a compromise to continue showering but also start using the spray. Do you yourself ever want to shower again?
Umm, no. I only missed it for the first few months. At this point it would be cumbersome to start again. I see it like this, I’m saving ten to fifteen minutes a day. And that adds up over twelve years. Showering just isn’t worth it.
You’ve been producing the same spray you’ve been using for twelve years for commercial sale on your website as a hygiene product called Mother Dirt. How’s that going and who are your customers?
They’re mainly young people between 25 and 35 that have a developed sense of health. There are more and more people in the big cities like New York and San Francisco that don’t trust conventional medicine. They don’t think their doctors are aware of the current state of research and science. Many of them have stopped using lotion or deodorant. We make the spray in bioreactors with bacteria from ground soil.
Are there other uses for your spray?
Were working with the FDA at the moment to test the AOB sprays for the treatment of infections and other skin conditions. We’re also trying to convince the cosmetic industry to consider skin flora as a natural part of cosmetics. There’s no data that suggests that people should remove bacteria from the skin. On the contrary, we’re convinced that bacteria are just as important for the skin flora as they are for the intestinal flora. They’re absolutely essential for the skin ecosystem.
David Whitlock on his 60th birthday, surrounded by his colleagues at AOBiome. Photo: AOBiome
Here in America, we are at war with the world of bacteria. Kids don’t play outside anymore, everyone carries around disinfectant spray with them. Skin conditions like acne have tripled over the last 30 years. And also the use of antibiotics here is a lot higher. People here get “clean” and “sterile” mixed up.
Mr. Whitlock, to conclude I’d like to ask you a personal question: Has anyone ever told you that you stink?
No, unless I haven’t changed my clothes. But that’s something I do normally do regularly.
This article was translated from Motherboard Germany.