When you hear the word clean, you might envision things like bathing, soaps, shampoos, and other hygiene products. But what if that idea of clean isn’t really keeping bodies clean and healthy? According to Jasmina Aganovic ’09, many of the products used to remove sweat and dirt on a daily basis, are actually negatively impacting health by removing the skin’s natural mechanisms to keep a healthy balance in skin—bacteria.
“We need to change our existing beliefs around cleanliness, we need to rethink clean,” says Aganovic, president of Mother Dirt, the consumer brand company under research company AOBiome, co-founded by David Whitlock ’77, SM ’78, which developed the science behind the products. The AO+ Mist was launched in June 2014 with live bacteria to help cultivate a healthier skin microbiome. Mother Dirt was created shortly after with additional products formulated for the skin biome.
For most of modern history, bacteria has had the reputation of being bad, perpetuating the notion that removing bacteria from the body and skin would result in greater cleanliness. An estimated one trillion bacteria live on the skin. Just as people have come to realize that the stomach needs good bacteria to maintain a healthy balance—hence the acceptance and obsession with probiotics—there is also evidence that the skin, our body’s largest organ, benefits from nurturing the good bacteria (specifically ammonia oxidizing bacteria (AOB)). Mother Dirt products embrace those bacteria by creating biome-friendly products that actually help rebalance the skin and reduce its dependence on conventional products such as soaps, deodorants, and moisturizers. “All of the statistics out there are showing that inflammatory skin problems keep increasing and the approaches to solving them have not changed generally in decades,” says Aganovic. “We are starting to learn that having a good balance of bacteria on the skin is a precursor to healthy skin.”
So are they suggesting that you stop bathing? Short answer, no. There are a range of products and various ways to incorporate some or all of the products into your life. The AO+ Mist can be used in conjunction with your existing routine, although they do have a specific cleanser and shampoo, and people are encouraged to spritz their entire body with the mist, focusing on areas with high amounts of sweat glands. By incorporating the products into a normal routine, they can in some cases reduce a need for certain products and overall help restore a healthy biome.
For Aganovic, it is a lot about educating people—helping them understand how and why the good bacteria of the skin is able to do a better job of protecting their body from the world we live in today than conventional products. When she joined AOBiome more than a year and a half ago, she was charged with building a brand based in science. “Ultimately you can’t sell science,” says Aganovic, “but consumers feel really good knowing that it’s there, so you have to understand that balancing act carefully.” Something she understands well given her unconventional background, with both technical education and past roles at cosmetic brands like Fresh and Living Proof. “Exploring cosmetics as a career option was not really a well-established or particularly encouraged path coming from MIT,” says Aganovic, “but I realized that my potential is limitless if I explore something I am passionate about.”