Practice Unhygiene

A note from Poppa: I currently have 31 tabs open in my Google Chrome browser, and another few in Safari. A plurality of these are articles from Science Magazine – when I come across something interesting, or when I’m doing research, I’ll keep the tab open until I can incorporate it into a post or otherwise use it. Well, my wife is disturbed by all this browser chaos and, truth be told, all these open tabs add clutter and stress to my life. So in the interest of good computer housekeeping, I’ve decided to create a new post category, wherein I can dispense with open tabs more quickly. Welcome to the first Mini Post, an ongoing series of declutterification, focusing on interesting links and ideas.

If you’ve read enough posts at Poppa’s Cottage, you understand the significance of our microbiota. In addition to antibiotics, the all-American obsession with “hygiene” has certainly done a number on our surficial microbial communities. It’s safe to say that our ancestors weren’t busting out the Kohler Awaken shower head – with its advanced spray engine powering three signature sprays – on a daily basis. Nor were they slathering their bodies with a plethora of manufactured chemicals. Might some of our skin issues and smells be exacerbated by all this bathing and slathering? Yes, according to this New York Times article, and some cosmetics companies have recognized that real hygiene may be found in the dirt. AOBiome is working on a product called AO+, which is basically a solution containing Nitrosomonas eutropha, an ammonia-oxidizing bacterium commonly found in the soil. Before the age of lathering, human skin likely contained a much more diverse array of microbes, possibly including organisms like N. eutropha. And the job of these bacteria was to help our skin, keep us smelling normal, ward off bad microbes, and generally improve our overall health.

My friend Mr. Money Mustache had a post about a year ago about the benefits of doing less house and human cleaning. It created a bit of a stir, and apparently blew the mind of one irate commenter, who said, “Crawling between the sheets when you’re covered in sweat, bacteria and even just body oils on a daily basis, and washing them on the same infrequent schedule as your bath towels is UNSANITARY.” This person seems to be ignorant of the fact that 90% of the cells in and on our bodies are bacterial. Maybe if this guy scrubs hard enough, he can get all 100 trillion microbes off his body, whereupon he will quickly become a corpse, albeit a SANITARY one.

For my part, I have some skin issues like seborrheic dermatitis (aka dandruff) and smelly pits,* so I shower pretty regularly. But what if I’m actually exacerbating these issues by washing off good bacteria? I just looked into buying some AO+, but it’s pretty spendy at $99 for a month’s supply (and, hey, one bacteria species does not a community make). Maybe I’ll have to go the low-budget route and try smearing some dirt on my body. I’ll keep you posted on the results of The Unhygiene Experiment. If it works, I will be selling bags of dirt for $99 (we’ll call the product “Dirtbags”).


*Incidentally, in another Study of One I have going, I’ve noticed that not only does a low-carb diet significantly decrease the smelliness of my pits, the effect remains for months after I go back to regularly eating carbs. I’m hypothesizing that this is the result of a change to my microbial community that takes awhile to reverse. My dermatitis also seems diminished with fewer carbs in the diet.

4 thoughts on “Practice Unhygiene

  1. Pingback: Soil Yourself | Poppa's Cottage

  2. I used to suffer from seborrheic dermatitis and so used the recommended (by TV ads) shampoo for such a condition.

    After a while I got fed up with washing my hair so often and tried just not washing it for a bit and it seemed to go away. So now I just wash my hair every few days with normal soap and it seems to be fine.

    Was it the chicken or the egg first though? The skeptic in me says that this company makes a shampoo that actually causes the condition it is supposed to alleviate. Or maybe I was just one of the unlucky people who happen to be allergic to it or something (or maybe I’m sensitive to many types of shampoo).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *