The Science of Not Showering

Hippies are notoriously characterized as dirty, greasy, or otherwise earthy. It’s a point of pride for some, and for others it may just be a matter of convenience, but uncleanliness is one of the stereotypical marks of these iconic countercultural nonconformists. Regardless of the reasoning though, for many, the purpose for not bathing too often boils down to a preference for living naturally and keeping the skin hydrated and healthy. It’s not necessarily due to laziness, or a lack of concern for hygiene, as some might presume. But those who choose to wash less frequently than others will find that their hair and skin actually become softer and are less prone to disease and irritation. There is even good scientific evidence to back up these claims.


In nature, humans and other animals have ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) on their skin just from living in their native habitats. Actually, many animals will instinctively roll around in the dirt to help facilitate this process. However, indoor living and increasingly sanitary personal hygiene practices in the modern age have left most humans devoid of these good bacteria. So, a chemical engineer from MIT, by the name of Dave Whitlock has been testing this hypothesis, by spraying a mist containing certain live bacteria in it on his skin, and he has been able to avoid showering for over 12 years. He developed the idea when questioned about why horses roll in dirt, and he began considering the evolutionary purpose of this phenomenon.


Whitlock then went on to help found a company called AOBiome, that has in turn developed a product called Mother Dirt, which can be sprayed on the skin to reintroduce the beneficial microorganisms that would otherwise be an essential part of the skin microbiome, if we didn’t wash ourselves and stay inside so much. This product contains the beneficial AOB’s which are necessary for our skin to maintain health and fight infection. We could really benefit from this interplay of microorganisms if we were to allow the bacteria on our skin and in our environment to cohabitate instead of constantly washing it off all the time. But this Mother Dirt product can help give us the benefit of having AOB’s without having to basically eliminate bathing.


However, it seems there are many benefits to showering less and allowing the body to find a natural balance, so that the bacteria on our skin can continue the symbiotic relationship it’s been developing for millennia with the bacteria in our environment. Introducing ammonia-oxidizing bacteria to the skin causes a chemical reaction with urea and other compounds that are excreted during perspiration. When the ammonia that is contained in human sweat is oxidized, it’s converted into nitrites which are reabsorbed into the skin as nitric oxide, which is helpful for a variety of bodily functions.


According to a study performed by AOBiome:

“In a study conducted by AOBiome LLC, human volunteers using the bacteria reported better skin condition and appearance compared with a placebo control group. The researchers presented the study results at the 5th ASM Conference on Beneficial Microbes in Washington, DC.

Ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) are ubiquitous in soil and water and are essential components of the nitrogen cycle and environmental nitrification processes. The researchers hypothesized that AOB are uniquely suited for the environment of the human skin because ammonia oxidation products, nitrite and nitric oxide, play important roles in physiological functions of the skin, including inflammation, blood vessel relaxation and wound healing. AOB may also improve the skin microenvironment by driving a lower pH through ammonia consumption.”


It would really make a lot of sense that, like horses and other mammals, humans are have adapted to coexist with microbes within their environment. Most of us already know how beneficial probiotics are for intestinal flora, and since the skin is the largest organ of the body, it seems quite logical that it would also need good bacteria to help facilitate good health and homeostasis. In fact, the patent article for Dave Whitlock’s invention relates many aspects of intestinal bacteria to the rest of the body quite well:

“Bacteria are a normal part of the intestinal contents of all living things. These bacteria are not pathogenic under normal conditions, and in fact improve health by rendering the normal intestinal contents less hospitable for disease causing organisms. This is accomplished in a number of ways: nutrients are consumed, leaving less for pathogens; conditions are produced, such as pH, oxygen tension, which are not hospitable for pathogens; compounds are produced that are toxic to pathogens; pathogens are consumed as food by these microorganisms; less physical space remains available for pathogens; and specific binding sites are occupied leaving fewer for pathogens. The presence of these desirable bacteria is seen as useful in preventing disease states.

Fermentation of food products has been done to substitute a desired non-pathogenic strain for potential spoilage or pathogenic organisms. Brewed beverages, wine, pickled food, fermented milk products including cheese, yogurt, buttermilk, sausage are all examples where desired microorganisms are deliberately inoculated into food products under conditions that favor their growth and inhibit the growth of spoilage and pathogenic strains.”


So, the next time you’re concerned about how your body odor smells, or whether or not you’ve managed to get your daily shower in, consider the fact that your animal nature requires some dirt to maintain good health. And instead of bathing every day, maybe we ought to go roll around outside from time to time, to gather up some good bacteria in order to keep the bad stuff at bay.


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About Evan Farmer (81 Articles)
Father of four beautiful boys, the first two of which are twins...husband, artist, writer, barista, and a reluctant entrepreneur; my wife Koren and I own Cuppa - Handcrafted Coffee and Espresso Creations, which is located in downtown Jackson, MI. I'm also a freelance writer and WordPress web developer, a bicycle enthusiast and an avid gardener.
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