Mother Dirt


Focusing on the ever-present microbiome, Mother Dirt is changing the way we treat and care for our skin. Mother Dirt uses a rebalancing, “good bacteria” that contains live AOB (also known as Ammonia Oxidizing Bacteria). This natural, beneficial bacteria acts as a topical probiotic, improving the look, feel and condition of our skin. We talked to Mother Dirt President, Jasmina Aganovic, who explained how to rethink getting clean.

What’s the story behind Mother Dirt? How did it come about?

Mother Dirt is a biotech company, we’re based in Boston and the whole story started about 15 years ago when our founder David was wondering why all mammals have this evolved need to roll in the dirt. If you have a dog or a cat you’ve probably seen them roll in the dirt, and it turns out there’s a certain reason they do that. They are coating themselves in the things in the dirt that it turns out are pretty good for us. That was the seedling of the idea that led to the concept that we’re researching today and part of what you see as Mother Dirt. It’s all based around this bacteria that’s found in the dirt that once existed on human skin, but has been removed likely in the past 50 to 75 years. It’s very sensitive to common surfactants and preservatives, so that’s how we lost it. We’re not spending nearly as much time outdoors as we once used to. We started to explore this as an idea and started to understand the role of this bacteria in the ecosystem of the skin that’s called the biome. And as we did our research, we decided to build this consumer facing side, to build more awareness around this idea that being “too clean” is not necessarily good for us.

When we first met with you guys, you told us this story about how your founder, David, never gets in water to preserve his biome. When David connected the idea of this bacteria to the skin, he decided to run a really interesting personal experiment. He homebrewed the bacteria and started putting it on himself. And he basically decided not to bathe or shower unless he needed to, or something really bad happens. Nothing bad happened, and instead he noticed that good things happened. And this is what really intrigued him about this microorganism. He began to think that maybe this bacteria is actually really important for your skin. He is still running this personal experiment today and he wants to get to what he refers to as the “climax ecosystem”, what he believes is the optimal state of his biome.

How long has the experiment been going? 14 years.

So for someone who can’t or doesn’t want to go 14 years without getting wet, how would you recommend incorporating this knowledge into the way they take care of themselves and their micro biome? It’s not surprising people still want to shower. It’s a very pleasant experience and we’ve become programmed throughout the course of our life to want to shower. Showering in and of itself is not bad. The problem is applying these sort of rigorous showering routines all over our body. Using hand sanitizer is one thing, but trying to sanitize and kill all bacteria everywhere is probably not a good idea and not really necessary. Making shifts is easier than people think. “Less is more” is what we always say. Our first piece of advice is to really evaluate why you’re using things, and seeing if you truly need them. Seeing how you can minimize the amount of products you use or the number of products that you use. Our second piece of advice involves the whole notion of antibacterials. The FDA just banned antibacterials, so over the next couple of years you’re going to start seeing those come off the selves.

What are the benefits of building up a strong biome on your face, what are the changes that people are going to see? What research is showing is that this might be the fundamental part of skin health. If you don’t have a balanced biome, it will be really difficult for you to have healthy skin. Think of it as going back to what your skin was like before we started to meddle with it. Your skin evolved knowing how to take care of itself. We don’t need all of these things. 

You can think of the microorganisms on your skin as a set of eyes and ears for your immune system. They play a really important role in telling the immune system “hey this is what’s going on in the world”.  It can either say “protect yourself” or “things are fine”. If you clean them all off,  then you blind it and deafen it, so your immune system doesn’t have that insight into what’s going on in the outside world. So to protect itself it goes into this pro-inflammatory state. It goes on the defensive because it doesn’t know what’s out there. And this inflammation can show up in many different ways for people, whether it be acne, eczema or sensitive skin.

Mother Dirt has three products that should be used in conjunction with each other. Can you explain a little bit about each product? Everything started with the mist. It’s the core one. It’s the only product we have that has the live bacteria in there. We call it the peacekeeper bacteria, it plays a really important role in keeping the ecosystem balanced. The bacteria feeds off of your sweat, so the more you sweat, the better the bacteria does. It converts the sweat, which is irritating to your skin, into good things for your skin that your body kind of recycles into things that it can use. It reverts your skin to the way it was before we started meddling with it, so a lot of people find that they can start cutting out certain products. Deodorant is a big one, people find that they don’t need it at all anymore.

So you spray the mist everywhere, including armpits to get to the point of not using deodorant? Yeah! Anywhere you sweat you can spray it. Think of it as a living supplement for your skin and less in the paradigm of “step 1, step 2, step 3”. Just apply it at the end of your routine instead. 

For someone who is new to naturals, do they have to be aware of what kind of products they are using with the mist so that it doesn’t cancel out the bacteria? Will using something super harsh not allow you to get the benefits from the bacteria? We’re actually finding out that this is not the case. Even if you are, hypothetically speaking, sterilizing yourself like crazy, a great example of this would be doctors or nurses who has to wash their hands so many times a day. Their hands are wrecked. And so what they do with the mist is spray it on before bed and just doing that at night, even though they wash everything off the next day, it helps things from getting crazy. If you introduce the peacekeeper bacteria regularly it helps prevent things from eventually becoming problematic.

You have a shampoo and a cleanser in addition to the mist, what makes those two products special? So the first part is putting the bacteria on, the second part is making sure that it stays there. We developed a new way to formulate products to make sure that they are friendly to your biome and ecosystem. That’s how we formulated the cleanser and shampoo. Very simple formulas, 10 ingredients or less. The cleanser is a foaming cleanser so it’s really great for removing makeup too. You can use it on your face and your body. Some people have noticed that after using the shampoo, they need to shampoo their hair less. That’s an interesting thing. They are just really simple, gentle formulas that are made to be biome friendly.

One last thing I wanted to touch on, you mentioned that there was some sort of funding from the White House happening? Medical research has started to show tremendous potential in the area of the microbiome. And it all started with probiotics. There was a time when probiotics were viewed as a hippy thing, not as scientifically grounded. But more and more people started to look into bacteria and are now starting to understand that it’s actually really important to have a balance of microorganisms in our gut to be healthy and that a lot of digestive issues in our gut emerge when there is an imbalance. So it went from a health and wellness thing to something with serious medical research behind it. The FDA is doing trials now on pills of live bacteria. It’s being recognized even by the White House, who announced 500 million dollars of investment in this space. It’s really meaningful, it’s a really wonderful acknowledgement for the future of the research.

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