022: How To Support A Healthy Skin Microbiome w/ Jasmina Aganovic

Sponsored by Mother Dirt

This SPONSORED episode is bought to you with deep thanks from Mother Dirt – the creators of biome-friendly skincare!


In today's hyper-clean, anti-germ world, we have been raised to believe that all germs and bacteria are bad for us, while this is not actually the case. Yes, some germs and bacteria are harmful, but a much larger percentage is useful to us. And unfortunately, conventional cleaning practices have stripped the skin of its microbiome.


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My guest for today's episode is Jasmina Aganovic, the President of Mother Dirt (a line of biome-friendly personal care products focused on restoring and maintaining the balance of the skin biome).

The technology is based off research from AOBiome Therapeutics, a biotech company focused on transforming human health through products that restore Ammonia-Oxidizing Bacteria (AOB), which current hygiene practices have stripped from the modern microbiome.

Jasmina is a cosmetics and consumer goods entrepreneur who received her degree in chemical and biological engineering from MIT. Her career path combined her technical background with roles at consumer brands like LVMH, Fresh, and Living Proof.

In this episode, we delve into the skin's microbiome and try to recalibrate our perception of what it means to be clean. 

Have you introduced biome-friendly steps into your daily skincare regimen? Tell us about it in the comments!

In this episode

  • What is the skin microbiome? 
  • 8 surprising facts about your skin's microbiome that you probably didn't know (but should!!)
  • What are Ammonia-Oxidizing Bacteria (also known as Peacekeeper bacteria)?
  • What does it mean to be clean (and how being TOO clean can cause major problems for your skin's microbiome)
  • How to create a more biome-friendly skin and body care routine



“When we think about what it means to be clean, it certainly is built around this concept of not having bacteria there. And it is because we have always associated bacteria with being sick or being unhealthy.” [1:42]

“Ammonia-Oxidizing Bacteria is kind of a crucial lost bacteria that once used to exist on our skin to help promote balance.” [4:54]

“The whole point of being clean is to be healthy. And the interesting thing is that we're now learning that bacteria are actually playing a crucial role in helping us be healthy.” [6:30]



Follow Mother Dirt on Instagram

The Beauty of Dirty Skin by Dr. Whitney Bowe

The Dirt Cure by Maya Shetreat Kahn


“When we think about what it means to be clean, it certainly is built around this concept of not having bacteria there. And it is because we have always associated bacteria with being sick or being unhealthy.”

022: How To Support A Healthy Skin Microbiome w/ Jasmina Aganovic FULL TRANSCRIPT

Jennifer:              Hi everyone. Today I've got an amazing guest with me, somebody who is interested in the microbiome of the skin just as much as I am. Her name is Jasmina Aganovic and she is the president of Mother Dirt a line of biome friendly personal care products, focused on restoring and maintaining the balance of the skin biome. You might remember, I have talked about them before in the past, so this is probably not the first time you've heard about Mother Dirt. Now the technology around what Mother Dirt does is based off of research from AOBiome Therapeutics, a biotech company focused on transforming health human health through products that restore ammonia oxidizing bacteria. You might notice that you'll see A O B on some products like this and we'll talk about what that is. And these current, our current hygiene practices have stripped these from the modern microbiome.

Jennifer:              Jasmina is a cosmetics and consumer goods entrepreneur who received her degree in chemical and biological engineering from MIT and her career path combined with her technical background. She's been at roles in consumer brands like LVMH, Fresh and Living Proof. Jasmina thank you so much for joining us today.

Jasmina:               Oh, thanks for having me.

Jennifer:              So the first question that everybody always says is, wait, we have bacteria on our skin. Isn't it like bad? You know, cause we're so used to sanitizing things. Could you share with everyone a little bit about the microbiome, the bugs that live on your skin?

Jasmina:               Yeah, absolutely. So you know, when we think about what it means to be clean it certainly is built around this concept of not having bacteria there. And it is because we've always associated bacteria with being sick or unhealthy. It goes back to what many of you might've heard of, which is the germ theory of disease, right? It's this whole idea that germs cause disease. And this originated a long time ago, well over a hundred years ago and it ended up being the cornerstone of what we believe to be health. However, when you look back at it, we didn't have the tools to physically be able to see all the different types of microorganisms that exist in our environment. And the only ones that we knew existed were the ones that caused harm. And so those were the only data points that we were getting. But fast forward to today, we know that there are tens of millions, if not billions of different types of bacteria and that less than 1% of them are actually harmful as far as we know.

Jasmina:               And we've managed to miss judge in reality, this whole entire world that's been existing beneath our eyes just because of this a small dataset. But what's even more exciting, I would say, is the fact that researchers, scientists, companies, and also the medical community are very interested in understanding what that other 99% has to bring because it potentially provides a wealth of additional opportunity to help us actually become healthier.

Jennifer:              And what's interesting is in some of our previous episodes, we've talked about how the microbiome, the disruptions of microbiome bacteria, and there's also fungal organisms can really be part of the problem. And so it's interesting that you've, you've taken this approach that is so counter intuitive. I mean, every time it's like, oh, we have a problem with fungus, get rid of the fungus.

Jasmina:               Right, yeah.

Jennifer:              Oh, there's a problem with bacteria. Just sanitize it all and you're not doing that.

Jasmina:               Yeah.

Jennifer:              And so I was curious, you mentioned that the ammonia oxidizing bacteria. What, what is that specifically and why in this conversation is that so important?

Jasmina:               Yeah, so ammonia oxidizing bacteria is a soil based bacteria that feeds off of ammonia in nature. Ammonia is basically a waste byproduct of the nitrogen cycle. And this bacteria is responsible for converting it back into beneficial things for the ecosystem. Humans also produce ammonia as a natural way of detoxing. Also, humans came from nature. And if you think about how we once used to live, we were much more immersed in our outside outdoor environment. We were walking barefoot, we were swimming in lakes, rivers and streams. And these were all natural inoculation methods to put this bacteria on our skin. However, in the last hundred years, we don't interact with the outdoors as much as we did.

Jasmina:               And we've also introduced a lot of modern chemistry that has removed it from our skin. So this ammonia oxidizing bacteria that we look at is kind of a crucial lost bacteria that once used to exist on our skin to help promote balance similar to what we see at do in nature.

Jennifer:              That's really cool. That is really, really cool. And so, you know, that's number one. That's something that many of us, like on the other side of things, don't even realize cause we can't see the bacteria. We can see what's living on our skin. So we don't know what's missing. But the fact that there's something that was there a long time ago and through the, I would, I would assume you're, you're not really a big proponent of all the hand sanitization type, anti bacterial. So yeah. But you know, that's the thing we perceive being antibacterial or free of bacteria as being a good thing.

Jennifer:              Yeah, but is that level of cleanliness really good for us? Cause you're saying there's bacteria that we need to have that's missing.

Jasmina:               Right, right. Yes, we do call this a recalibration of the word clean. So it's not a complete reversal. It's not a complete embracing of filth, right? It's not a to be even like more crude about it. It's like not going on the subway and licking the handrails. That's not at all what this is about. It is just about recalibrating our understanding of what clean with healthy means. We've originally believed clean to be removing bacteria. That clean means killing 99.9% of bacteria. That is very literally what it is marketed to us at. But the whole point of being clean is to be healthy. And the interesting thing is that we're now learning that bacteria are actually playing a crucial role in helping us be healthy.

Jasmina:               So when I talk about a recalibration, we don't mean, you know, stopping all the practices that we have going. So for example, a hand sanitization and very overt sterility is extremely, it's still extremely important in environments like hospitals. If you're working with infectious diseases or if you're in the field and you need to make sure that you're not transporting anything harmful. So all of those scenarios still matter. But in a day to day standpoint if you go to an office or if you have a whatever we want to call an average day you probably don't need to be taking those practices on a daily basis and we certainly shouldn't be taking those practices across our broader body and applying them to things beyond beyond our hands. So it is again, just about that recalibration and a revisiting of, of how we want to define clean.

Jennifer:              It's really interesting because too, you also mentioned this concept of peacekeeping bacteria. Yeah. And I've talked a lot about that as far as gut health is concerned, but I would love for you to share a little bit about what you consider to be ‘peacekeepers”. I'm putting that in air quotes and why they would be important?

Jasmina:               Yeah, great, great question. So the peacekeeping bacteria piece is definitely a cutesy way that we refer to it. But from a scientific standpoint, here's what that means. So the, the more kind of accepted term to reference this bacteria is that they are a Keystone species, which means that they need to be present in small amounts to have a disproportionately larger impact on its environment. So that's kind of like one piece of information. Two, as we've studied this bacteria, both in vitro and in vivo, meaning also like in petri dishes or some sort of in glass, in laboratory setting study versus also on human beings. We found this bacteria to exert an impact on the other types of bacteria that are on the skin. So it's exerting an influence. And if we were to label the bacteria that we've studied it with as some being, you know, like sometimes could be good, sometimes could be bad.

Jasmina:               Oh, this one is clearly bad. This one is clearly good. What we see in those relative profiles is that the typically good or beneficial bacteria end up still being fine. The bacteria that have pathogenic tendencies or are lowered a little bit, they're not killed off completely, but they're lowered. And so we start to see a shift in the overall microbial ecosystem that we still don't understand much of what it means or how it potentially ties to something we see with our eyes. But this is where we start to look at the impact that this bacteria has on creating this renewed sense of balance. And just one last thought to round this out, this whole idea of balance is a very novel way of looking at the, the skin or even bacteria. Because we've come to believe typically how we've been told about bacteria, that if you have it, it is innately bad. And what we're learning is that it's not the presence or absence of a certain type of bacteria. It's about everything that's going on around it. So is that ecosystem healthy? Even if there is some harmful bacteria in there, if the ecosystem is healthy, what research is showing is that it is very likely that that ecosystem will continue to be healthy and that that bad bacteria might not end up proliferating or turning into anything that causes harm, thanks to the ecosystem being robust and healthy.

Jennifer:              And just to clarify that piece, keeping bacteria, are those those, the ammonia oxidizing. Okay. I just wanted to connect the dots there and make sure that anybody was listening was like, wait, which are the peacekeepers?

Jasmina:               Yes.

Jennifer:              So essentially what you're saying is you have these, this group of bacteria that's now missing a lot of times from modern skin because of our lack of exposure to the outside world. You know, we're not, we are not putting our hands in dirt intentionally. Like my great aunts, they are gardeners. They always had dirt under the nails. They, they were big and being out in the garden. And today I'm like wearing gloves and washing my hands all the time. And I recognize that really I've got to get my hands in the dirt. And you guys also shared some great books too that I'm excited to share with your audience that talk a little bit more about this topic.

Jennifer:              So if you're interested in that, you can check out the show notes for those book recommendations. But those bacteria have such a profound effect. You don't need a lot of them, but just having the present.

Jasmina:               Yes.

Jennifer:              They, they help manipulate the balance to keep it in alignment with what's more quote unquote healthy, which is really, really cool. So, so here's the thing. I mean maybe I've talked about some of this moment and would go putting your hands in the dirt and whatnot, but maybe not, you know, you guys know this better than myself. What could we all do? You know, a lot of the people listening to this have microbiome imbalances in their gut and their skin and other areas because they're dealing with chronic illness. Especially because this is a skin based show. A lot of people struggle with like staph infections and all sorts of things. So is there anything as a general rule of thumb, like things we could do in our daily lives or even encourage kids to do who don't have skin issues yet? Anything we could do that would maybe be more skin microbiome supportive?

Jasmina:               Yeah, absolutely. You know, so when we talk about a more biome friendly routine or a routine that has this ecosystem in mind, there are a few easy ways that we can approach it. So first if you find yourself being like the over sanitizing type person, even though I know that it's so hard to kind of like ease that up, do the best that you can. So take the antibacterial products and discard them and just swap them in for basic soap and water and still continue doing the robust routine that you do. But even just making that swap is a step in the right direction. If you want to take it a little bit further from there, really start to evaluate the products in your routine and why you use them. Are you really dirty? Is what I would question right?

Jennifer:              Thats a good question are you dirty?

Jasmina:               Yeah. Right.

Jasmina:               So in the olden days, Dirty used to mean dirt under the fingernails or having spent all the time working all day, working out on the farm. That's not reality today. Reality today is just like what I did today. I got up inside in my home, I got ready and then I walked to the subway and I got in the subway and then I took the subway to work where again, I walked inside of a building and I've been in here all day with the exception of going to grab food. So did I really expose myself to anything bad? Maybe my hands. Of course, you know, you're on the subway and so of course I'm like still washing my hands as usual. But when I get home and I shower either in the morning or in the evening, do I really need to lather up head to toe, you know?

Jasmina:               Is that really what I need to do? Maybe I just focused on a few key strategic areas where I tend to get a little bit more sweaty or maybe it's just a simple water rinse. This is where we can start to reevaluate what our routines look like because we've certainly been told that taking a shower, lathering up head to toe is what we need to do to be healthy. And very often it's interesting the people that I speak to who tell me that they have extremely sensitive skin. One of the first things that I ask is how many showers they take a day and how religious they are about their body wash. And almost on all occasions they typically take more than one shower a day and they use body wash completely head to toe, every single crevice. And so if you think about like how dirty this part of your body gets relative to like your knee cap, it just, it's very interesting to start to think about what are perceptions of, of cleanliness truly is.

Jasmina:               And then, you know, taking it a little bit more broadly is just being mindful about spending time outdoors. Even if it just means for going for a walk on your lunch break. It's not full immersion, but it's certainly better than nothing to breathe the fresh air. And then of course there's a starting to be mindful about like the number of products you're using and seeing if you can simplify your routine. And then of course we our brand Mother Dirt is meant to like fit a role in there. But that's I, I won't go too much in that direction for fear of pushing it on people. But that's kind of how I would lay out changes.

Jennifer:              Well I think actually you bring up a good point and a lot of people ask me the question when it comes to Mother Dirt.

Jennifer:              Like if it's got bacteria in it and say it's like a cleanser, how does that work? Like wouldn't the cleanser get rid of the bacteria? You're actually able to be mindful about the balance. You guys have found a really novel way to do that.

Jasmina:               Yeah. This is a great question to actually talk about our biome friendly platform and formulation process. So where our brand started was a with the A O plus mist, which contains this live culture of this peacekeeper bacteria. It's a spray that you can use head to toe. And then when people started using it, they started noticing the benefits. But they also started asking us for recommendations on other products in their routine. And this was where we started to realize that the problem we were trying to solve was actually twofold. One was putting back what we've lost. And then the second is also seeing if we can reframe how we look at and formulate our personal care products so that they take this ecosystem into account.

Jasmina:               Because we're far past the point of telling people to abandon all of their modern personal care products. That's not going to happen. It is now part of our lifestyles. And that's not something that we want to take away. But hey, we've gotten so far with cosmetic chemistry in terms of the amount of innovation there, can we actually start to also add a little checkbox of the microbiome to make sure that it's friendly to this ecosystem. So this is where we developed our supporting products. Think of them as like your basic daily essentials. We have a cleanser, we have a moisturizer, we have a shampoo. Again, basic daily essentials these, these don't contain our bacteria but they're formulated with a series of assays that we've developed to ensure that they are friendly to this peacekeeper bacteria.

Jennifer:              Interesting. So what you would do, you would use those and then you would replace the good bacteria with the spray.

Jennifer:              Is that the peacekeepers?

Jasmina:               Yeah.

Jennifer:              Okay. So that's how the system works because that's, that's what people ask me all the time. And I thought who better to ask then you.

Jasmina:               There you go. There's the answer. So for people interested in starting the routine and if they're like there's just one product, what product do I use? Definitely the mist because that for sure they will not be able to find anywhere else. And then if they are interested in kind of broadening this routine, they can start to easily swap in our biome friendly products so they can take their a face cleanser and replace it with our face cleanser, a moisturizer for our moisturizer. And so on and so forth. So it's meant to be an easy swap to allow people to laterally transition their routines and notice a benefit.

Jennifer:              Oh, that's awesome. That's really great. And that's a good point. So that everybody knows where they should try first and yeah, and if anybody is interested in giving the products a try, you have been very generous in giving everybody a coupon code for a, that's healthy skin 25 that they can use on your website. And any tips or, anything people should know before they head over there to check things out?

Jasmina:               I think we've talked about most of it. I mean, the mist is really where it all started for us. But if you are still interested in this as a concept and just something about spraying live bacteria is still a little bit strange to you. I totally understand. And, and for people who find themselves in that camp our cleanser is actually the second most popular product and it ends up being a really wonderful gateway into this whole concept and into this whole routine that people already start to notice a difference there. And then it leaves them a little bit more open for other parts of the routine.

Jennifer:              Very cool. Well, thank you very much for that. Everybody can find you and Mother Dirt over @MotherDirt.com and we will put the books suggestions that you shared that it's Dr Maya Shetreat and Dr. Whitney Bowie who have two great books that people might be interested in checking out on these topics. But I would highly encourage everybody if you haven't thought about this whole process of adding bacteria to your skin, and I can understand why it seems a little odd, but there's so much, you know, look, we take probiotics, you're adding bacteria to your gut. So it's shouldn't be a far stretch to think, well, what happens if we start adding in back helpful strains to the skin microbiome and being more mindful of the products that we use around them. So go check out Mother, Dirt.com Jasmeen I thank you so much for joining us today.

Jasmina:           Aw, thanks so much for having me. This was really great. I enjoyed chatting about all of this.

Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS

Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS is an integrative Clinical Nutritionist and the founder of Skinterrupt. She works with women who are fed up with chronic gut and skin rash issues discover the root causes and create a plan to get them back to a fuller, richer life.

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