New York Times writer Julia Scott recently took part in an experiment with AOBiome, an MIT-related start-up. Instead of bathing every day with soap to wash bacteria off her skin, she spent four weeks applying bacteria to her skin.

The MIT alumni who founded AOBiome believe that soaps, cosmetics, perfumes, and deodorants destroy the natural harmony—developed over thousands of years of evolution—between our skin and the useful microbiome that, like bacteria in our guts, is helpful to our health and well-being.

As a result, the company’s leaders have reduced their use of soap. “The most extreme case is David Whitlock, the MIT-trained chemical engineer who invented AO+. He has not showered for the past 12 years. He occasionally takes a sponge bath to wash away grime but trusts his skin’s bacterial colony to do the rest,” Scott writes. “I met these men. I got close enough to shake their hands, engage in casual conversation and note that they in no way conveyed a sense of being ‘unclean’ in either the visual or olfactory sense.”

AO+, the company’s flagship product, introduces N. eutropha, an ammonia-oxidizing bacteria, onto the skin. Whitlock SB ’78, SM ’78, conceived of the idea in 2001, after a friend asked him why her horse rolled in the dirt and he wondered if the “dirt bath” engaged bacteria that fed on sweat.

MIT alums at the company who also hope to spark a skin-microbiome industry include CEO Spiros Jamas SM ’83, ScD ’87 and director Jamie Heywood SB ’91.

Read “My No-Soap, No-Shampoo, Bacteria-Rich Hygiene Experiment” in the New York Times.

Listen: John Donvan interviews James Heywood on WBUR’s OnPoint.

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