These things are decimating entire ecosystems and they’re sold under innocuous sounding names like Dove, or Oil of Olay. In the past two episodes I mapped my microbiome and then I learned about probiotics. A lot of people take probiotics. They don’t work really well. At least not right now because we don’t know how to make them. That’s absolutely correct. Though the majority of our microbiome is in our gut, there is also a microbial ecosystem on our skin. As we learn more about the relationship between these microbes and our health, some people are questioning whether all the cosmetic products we apply to our skin are a good idea. That include soap. So I talked to someone who learned to go without it. A journalist named Julia Scott. You went a month without doing what? I went a month without using soap, shampoo, deodorant, cleanser, moisturizer, anything that could make me look or smell even remotely good. You started spraying yourself with a bacterium? Yes. I became a human guinea pig in one of the weirdest experiments you could possibly imagine. That experiment was spraying herself with live bacteria, a species called nitrosomonas eutropha. It’s a bacteria normally found in soil, which most of us aren’t exposed to anymore. It lives off of ammonia so it changes our skin chemistry in ways that at, least according to the people who sell it, could help stop us from smelling. How did it go for you? Did you smell terrible? I did not smell like roses. I got some comments. Like, I smell like onions. If I saw any benefits or differences it was I found that my skin took on a natural kind of moisturizer. I wasn’t embarassed. I didn’t have any acne, in spite of not using any products to ward that off. Julia got her bacteria spray from Dr. Larry Weiss. His company, AOBiome, developed it and implies that it could be used as a soap alternative. Their theory is that the bacteria we’re constantly washing off in an effort to be clean might actually be good for us. This oil that people are washing off their skin, that’s there to protect us. We keep washing it off and what happens is our skin is trying to replace it. I saw in a commercial that you need to get little swab things and carry them in your pocket to wash the oil off. Otherwise no one will like you. Let’s see if we can restore it. Let’s rebuild something that is as close as possible to what it is that the healthy state looks like. This is one of those components. Is this hydrochloric acid? No. As we start migrating people away from products that contain chemicals and preservatives that are not native to our physiology. We’re going to need to put things back for them. I cultivated an alien colony of bacteria on my skin. Alien to you? But not alien to horses. That’s true. Apparently this particular kind of bacteria nitrosomonas eutropha lives on horses and other animals that have contact with dirt and nature. These are common soil bacteria. They are found everywhere in nature. They pulled up water from a subantarctic lake about a year and a half ago and it had been isolated for about 1 million to 1.5 million years. And there were ammonia oxidizing bacteria in there. We’ve made our skin less livable than an arctic lake? We started applying chemistry we knew very little about, to this organ system—the microbiome— that we hadn’t even acknowledged existed. What could go wrong with that? It took me a month to cultivate a healthy colony of nitrosomonas on my skin and it only took me three showers to completely extripate the colony. Which was sad because I’d grown to enjoy them. But also because it really says something about the powerful products that we’re using. Since then I’ve stopped using any of the skincare products that I was using prior to the experiment. I only wash my face with water and that’s it. She convinced me to try it. Not the spray. Just not using shampoo or soap on my body. At first I smelled bad. But after a while I didn’t. To make sure I wasn’t crazy, I talked to one of the pioneers of microbiome research, Martin Blaser. What do you do in terms of applying chemistry to your skin microbiome? Meaning soap? It’s fair to say that I almost never shower. You and me both. But I almost always bathe. I wasn’t expecting that one. Curveball. I think there’s a fundamental principle that there are good bugs and there are bad bugs. Good bugs that help us to live our lives. So if you’re removing your good bugs, through soaps or cosmetics or antibiotics etc., you may not be doing yourself any favors. Even though you think that you’re cleaner, you may not be. Except for washing my hands, which is definitely still recommended, I stopped using soap. But that doesn’t mean everyone has to or should. It just means a lot of people could cut back and save some time and money. And possibly even be better off. Yup. Only two products. It checks out. Get out.