Disclaimer: I am NOT being paid by the company or anyone else to do this—this is just me being curious.
I've been a tentative proponent of the “No Poo” movement for years. Tentative because at some point I always cave.
“No Poo” is an outcrop of the natural-health movement. It basically postulates that aggressive detergents in soap and shampoos dry out your skin, hair, and scalp, wreck your skin’s pH-levels, and destroy the natural oils that are supposed to keep the skin moisturized and supple.
No-poo advocates swear by going “all natural,” which means no shampoo and conditioner. The most hardcore disciples extend that to no soap.
So I’d given up on my dreams of becoming an all-natural woman—until I stumbled over a 2014 New York Times article titled “My No-Soap, No-Shampoo, Bacteria-Rich Hygiene Experiment.”
In the article, NYT reporter Julia Scott describes her adventure with a brand-new skincare product, AO+, from Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech company AOBiome.
Now, I’m usually wary of everything biotech. Sure, the industry might be working on cures for the diseases that plague civilization, but it has also given us the spider goat and Monsanto, mice with half-human brains and GMO apples that don’t brown when you slice them but that might start a pesticide factory in your gut.
In my mind, biotechnologists are the crazy Dr. Frankensteins of our time, always asking “What else can we do?” but never asking “Should we?” But a biotech firm that works on utilizing and improving the body’s natural ecosystem? I find that utterly fascinating.
Enter David Whitlock, an MIT-trained chemical engineer. One day, the legend goes, Whitlock witnessed a horse taking a dirt bath and thought there had to be some valuable lesson here. He took some soil samples and, in his makeshift home lab, isolated an ammonia-oxidizing bacterium: N. eutropha.
Bacteria for Healthy Skin
Every healthy human being has thousands of bacterial species living in and on them, and many, like the beneficial bacteria living in our gut flora, are needed for our bodies to function properly.
Unfortunately, modern standards of diet, medicine, and hygiene (such as the antibacterial craze) have managed to kill off our invisible little helpers and leave us deprived of the natural protection they used to provide--resulting in a weakening of our immune systems and digestive tracts, and a higher incidence of eczema and other skin conditions.
A new branch of biotech studying the microbiome, or “second genome,” tries to find out if there are cures and treatments hidden in the bacterial swamp. AOBiome, cleverly circumventing the tedious FDA drug approval process, went the cosmetics route—with AO+, the first body mist containing live, beneficial, ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB).
According to Julia Scott, at the time of the interview, thanks to his wonder mist, Whitlock hadn't showered in twelve years. Not that I’m planning to give up showers completely (see Husband #1), but the implied health benefits of AO+ even more than the explicit ones simply intrigue me.
What do I mean by that? Well, as a cosmetic product, AO+ can’t make any health claims or the FDA would come after it with torches and pitchforks.
I remember when Diamond Foods claimed eating their packaged walnuts would promote heart health. The FDA sent a cease-and-desist-or-else order immediately. According to their rigorous guidelines, only drugs can prevent or treat diseases, which de facto would have turned Diamond Foods’ innocuous nuts into drugs that would need to be tested in years of clinical trials and would be subject to FDA approval.
In other words, if you see a biotech company going the direct route to market with a “cosmetic” or a “nutraceutical,” it’s a pretty safe bet that the product will underpromise and overdeliver, as they say on Wall Street.
When you go poo-free, there’s a transition period of about three to four weeks, where your scalp kicks into overdrive and produces all the oil it was never allowed to produce before—or at least that’s what it looks like. Within days, you’re going to look like a greasy mess. Allegedly, once you get through that trying time, you come out the other side with wonderfully moisturized locks and looking like a million dollars. All without the help of the beauty industry.
Well, not so much. Here’s the reason I’ve always caved eventually: The greasy look never really goes away, no matter how much you brush your hair (on top of that, I have long curls, so a lot of brushing just makes me look like Cousin It from the Addams Family), and at some point I just can’t look at myself in the mirror anymore.
The no-soap part is a no-go for me since I’m married (and would like to stay that way), and Husband #1 is a germophobe who thinks someone who occasionally skips a shower is akin to a hobo in a cardboard box.
So curiosity piqued, I went on AOBiome’s product website and ordered a one-month supply of the stuff. The price is pretty steep ($99.00), but I figured I could maybe stretch it a bit by using soap and shampoo more sparingly and thus avoiding to kill off my precious AOBs every day.
The testimonials from the website sound pretty good:
- “I've completely stopped using any sort of soaps or moisturizers on my face, but the quality of my skin is improved, as is the redness."
- “[My] skin is healthier, softer and much more hydrated”
- “[My] skin feels like it's settled down. It all just feels milder, like the skin is handling itself instead of it constantly being irritated. I think my skin tone and color are better, my face more radiant. Someone asked what happened to my wrinkles!”
- “It's had an excellent effect on my scalp.”
Or, you know, it could all be part of a mega-marketing campaign and AO+ will completely disappoint. That’s what I’m here to find out within the next month or so, and I’m planning to update you on my progress at least once or twice a week.
If you ever feel like ordering some AO+ for yourself, I have to warn you that delivery for first-time customers is sluggish. I don’t know if the AOBiome guys are overwhelmed with orders or if it just takes them a very long time to grow those bacterial buddies, but it took nearly four weeks for my AO+ to be delivered. They do say on the website that returning customers will prioritized, though.
It came today, delivered by our friendly UPS man in a thick thermos envelope (did I mention you have to keep the stuff refrigerated?)
The ritzy-looking one-month package with the foam insert contained four smallish bottles, each holding 2 fl. oz or 60 ml of bacteria-laden mist. According to AOBiome, that’s “over 100 sprays to last 1 week at approximately 15 sprays per day.”
I sealed the bottles in a gallon-size Ziploc bag—in case they’re prone to leaking—and put them in the meat drawer of my fridge. Do I have to write “Do not drink” on them? Nah, let’s hope my family has enough self-preservation skills to recognize AO+ as a non-potable substance.
Tomorrow I’m going to start using it.
(Read the DAY 1 post here.)