Bacteria in a bottle? AOBiome offers ways to stay clean without traditional soap

Originally posted in betaBoston on July 7, 2015

The instructions on the bottle are simple enough: Shake before use. Mist twice daily as needed.

But the science behind the $49 spray solution from the Cambridge startup AOBiome can be a little hard to fathom. It uses living bacteria that the company says make your skin clean and fresh.

Around 2000, when MIT-trained engineer David Whitlock hit the scientific conference circuit to explain his theories on how bacteria had kept our pre-soap ancestors clean, most people thought he was nuts. It didn’t help that he cuts a classic zany-professor figure, with thick glasses and white wisps of hair surrounding a shiny pate, or that he says he hasn’t showered in 15 years because the organisms he uses on himself daily are killed by store-bought soaps.

“He was kind of a lovable oddball at these meetings,” said Dennis Stuehr, a professor of molecular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic who met Whitlock at a conference in Japan in 2002. “People would bend over and he would spray it into their scalp.”

But there has been a sea change in scientific understanding of the multitude of bacteria that inhabit the body. And Whitlock’s AO+ Mist, which hit the market last year, has found a small but earnest following among young urban professionals who are experimenting with nontraditional approaches to staying healthy and clean.