Anytime I've posted here about washing my hair, (and yes, I know, it's been numerous times now, we all have our little hobbies) there are always a handful of no-shampoo truthers in the comments letting me have it for shampooing my hair every single day of my life.
"You should wash your hair as little as possible! Washing away the natural oils causes them to work hard and over produce!"
Yeah, that's cool for you and all, but hair washing is one of life's greatest joys, and this is what my general visage looks like a mere 24 hours after my last shower:
I'm a sad, slimy greaseball, and there's no point in trying to hide it from the interwebs any longer. Plus, my recent addition of bangs to the equation means that if it's a day where I'll be seeing another living human being, I'll be getting my body wet, using soap and shampoo -- no matter what lengths I have to go to.
So when I recently read about a Julia Scott, who went without a shower for 28 days while she tested out a new-fangled cosmetic spray called AO+Refreshing Cosmetic Mist, meant to replace all the "good" bacteria we've spent years washing away with soap, I was at once horrified and intrigued. Scott reports, not shockingly:
I began to regret my decision to use AO+ as a replacement for soap and shampoo. People began asking if I’d “done something new” with my hair, which turned a full shade darker for being coated in oil that my scalp wouldn’t stop producing. I slept with a towel over my pillow and found myself avoiding parties and public events.
Mortified by my body odor, I kept my arms pinned to my sides, unless someone volunteered to smell my armpit. One friend detected the smell of onions. Another caught a whiff of “pleasant pot.”
Her fervent dedication to staying the course for the sake of investigative reporting (plus a million other reasons) is why I'm over here writing for xoJane and not the New York Times. When my hair is gross, I cannot function. I don't think I would make it three full days before I caved, showered, and ruined the story.
AOBiome, the company behind the mist, claims that some AO+ users find themselves needing to use proper soap and water far less often -- because AO+ contains billions of cultivated Nitrosomonas eutropha, (known as an 'ammonia oxidizing' bacteria) often found in dirt and untreated water. AOBiome posits that these bacteria can live happily on the skin, (and in fact DID, before we began soaping them into oblivion) feeding on the ammonia in sweat and acting as a natural cleanser in the process.
In fact, the engineer who invented AO+, David Whitlock, claims to have not showered in twelve years. He takes sponge baths occasionally, and uses bar soap on his hands, but says the bacteria take care of everything else. (A side note: Whitlock was inspired to create AO+ after watching a horse roll around in dirt, a concept he calls "dirt bathing." That sound you hear is ten million filthy six-year-olds cheering en masse.)
I don't want to hug Whitlock anytime soon, but is there a chance he's right? Is our obsession with showering daily somehow doing us more harm than good? Could our bodies be perfectly functioning, filthy little ecosystems of beneficial bacteria if stinking a bit were more socially acceptable?
Scott, our intrepid NY Times test subject, sprayed her face, scalp and body with the AO+ mist twice a day instead of bathing. She reported that while her greasy hair was a real problem, she didn't stink all that badly -- just, as her pals pointed out, like onions and marijuana. But it sounds like a little smell might be worth it for the skin benefits:
My skin began to change for the better. It actually became softer and smoother, rather than dry and flaky, as though a sauna’s worth of humidity had penetrated my winter-hardened shell. And my complexion, prone to hormone-related breakouts, was clear. For the first time ever, my pores seemed to shrink.
At the end of her 28-day no-showering experiment, Scott found herself "wrinkling my nose at the chemical odor" of her old soaps and shampoos. As a very dedicated shampoo huffer (it's actually one of my favorite leisure activities), I found this to be the most shocking take-away from her whole experiment.
AO+ is currently being marketed as a "cosmetic," as the path to approval as a drug or treatment by the Food and Drug Administration's approval is long and arduous. But that approval is AOBiome's long-term goal -- as their research theorizes that bacterial-based products such as theirs could one day help cure acne, eczema, and even methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA.
AO+ is not available to the public just yet -- but if you sign up for their mailing list, you can be alerted when pre-orders begin and possibly take part in a clinical trial in your area. (I emailed the company about getting my hands on some, but did not receive a response. I guess it's possible they weren't bowled over by some of my stellar oeuvre.)
So, are you sold? I'd try switching up my face-washing routine and using a regimen of AO+ only (forsaking all soap-based products, even my beloved Fresh Soy Face Cleanser!), as the acne claims actually seem logical -- if antibiotics work to clear acne, why couldn't "good" bacteria work in the same way? But I promise you this: I'll never, ever give up my precious shampoo.
I'm on Twitter: @IveyAlison.