Contributor: Kari Skaflen
Photographer: Sarah Shreves
Gone are the days when microorganisms and bacteria were left to run free on our fingers or toes. Hands and feet are scrubbed clean and we use a host of sterilizing ingredients to ban bacteria. Sanitizing foam stands await at the grocery store entrance, scented mini hand-sanitizer bottles adorn colleagues’ desks at work, and cleansing wipes have replaced the dinner mint at the host stand of many restaurants.
While cleansing seems like an obvious way to keep the bacteria and microorganisms in check, we may be overlooking a crucial role that bacteria play. Certain types of bacteria or microorganisms are not only necessary for healthy body functioning but good for us. Our bodies are filled with bacteria—For every 1 cell, we have 10 microorganisms in our bodies. Recently, there’s been an abundance of research and products touting the benefits of adding “good” bacterias into our diets to help with digestion and elimination. These good bacteria go under the label “probiotics”, and we’ve started adding them into our daily lives through fermented foods such as the popular kimchi, kefir yogurt drinks and even bacteria filled capsules. This same philosophy that has taken digestion by storm is making its way into skin care.
One of the biggest players in the probiotic skincare revolution, AOBiome, which has recently re-branded its probiotic skin care line under the witty name “Mother Dirt”, hapst upon the idea of probiotics for skin care by studying why horses roll in mud and dirt.
The story goes that the founder, David Whitlock, a chemical engineer, was asked why horses love to roll in dirt. He discovered the answer was sweat. The horses were rolling in the dirt because it was rich in ammonia oxidizing bacteria. This bacteria takes ammonia, a byproduct of sweat, and converts it into soothing nitrate and nitric oxide—anti-inflammatories for the skin.
This is a pretty big discovery because presumably everything with human skin was humming along just fine. Acne was under control, as was rosacea, and eczema...until culturally we started labeling all bacteria as bad. We began scrubbing our faces and bodies with soaps and chemicals that wipe out all microorganisms on the skin.
So it’s back to nature with a probiotic approach to cleansing our skin. A little of the good bacteria misted across the skin, or perhaps absorbed as a lotion, and voila, you can address a slew of common skin issues. Restoring the balance of the skin’s ecosystem is a heady task, considering the cleanliness-obsessed culture we live in. But if we can rethink the way we view bacteria, we are well on the way to changing the definition of clean.