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February 2018

The Future of Hygiene

Written by Nathalie Leblond
Workplace Hygiene, Health and Safety

With advancements in technology, hygiene and health care taking place on a daily basis, it’s very challenging to predict what exactly the future of hygiene might look like. I turned to the internet and started to research the topic “the future of hygiene”. The first result was an impenetrable research article published in 1985 about hygiene and historicism, the second was a bit more current (2016) but the page was down.

The third article piqued my interest as it was entitled “Why showering with bacteria is the future of Hygiene”  It turned out to be a podcast, but the gist of it was  that similar to the gut, our skin has a microbiome that is crucial to our overall well being (something we mentioned in our blog post on 5 reasons you should let your children play in the dirt ) and that modern hygiene - our obsession with “sterile”  - has negatively impacted our skin’s microbiome. Over-sterilization actually does more harm than good, and we need some bacteria in our lives to keep us healthy.

According to Natural Stacks, stripping our skin of it's natural bacteria causes our skin to go into an "offensive" and alarmed state, also known as chronic inflammation. This is believed to contribute to most modern diseases of inflamed skin. Natural Stacks solution to this problem is to cover your skin with Ammonia Oxidizing Bacteria (AoB's) and thus effectively assisting your microbiome to repair and remain healthy.

I’m sure for some people, the idea of covering your skin in any kind of bacteria - friendly or otherwise - is completely repellant, however my interest was now well and truly piqued and further Googling of  AoB’s led me to a 2014 New York Times article entitled “My No-Soap, No-Shampoo, Bacteria-Rich Hygiene Experiment” in which the author documents her experience as a test subject for Californian startup AOBiome.

Back in 2014 AOBiome started testing a living bacterial skin tonic, which looks, feels and tastes like water, but which contains billions of cultivated Nitrosomonas eutropha, an ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) most commonly found in dirt and untreated water. Their scientists hypothesized that AOB  once lived happily on people, before we started washing it away with soap and shampoo, and acted as a built-in cleanser, deodorant, anti-inflammatory and immune booster by feeding on the ammonia in our sweat.  

Moving forward, on their “latest news” page the AOBiome website states that the Company has recently reported “positive efficacy and safety findings from the Phase 2b clinical trial of the Company's Ammonia Oxidizing Bacteria (AOB) product candidate for the treatment of mild-to-moderate acne vulgaris.”

Further reading revealed that big names in the cosmetics industry - such as L’Oreal - are doing their own research in to the microbiome  and have patented several bacterial treatments for dry and sensitive skin. In an interview with Cecile Clavaud, research engineer for L’Oreal, a European Cosmetics forum reported that L’Oreal is also looking into microbiota imbalances in the scalp, which cause the all too common affliction of dandruff.  Clinique sells a foundation with Lactobacillus ferment, and its parent company, Estée Lauder, holds a patent for skin application of Lactobacillus plantarum.

I think it’s safe to say that the future of personal hygiene certainly contains bacteria. But what about hygiene services; office hygiene and bathroom hygiene? Could bacteria be a part of their future too?  Or if not bacteria, what about enzymes, the complex chemicals produced by bacteria?

The answer seems to be a definitive yes, according to a 2016 article in Newsweek, entitled

Turning enzymes from the most inhospitable places on earth into consumer products” .  Enzymes are already a multi-billion dollar industry; one that’s expected to keep growing as scientists find more enzymes and apply them in more situations. Many household cleaners  already use enzymes, but the application has been limited up until now by the conditions in which enzymes operate; which is in the cells of animals who live at “normal” temperatures. Because cleaning often involves the use of very hot water to kill microbes, enzymes also don’t function at those sorts of temperatures.

But by taking enzymes from Yellowstone’s sulphuric pools, biotech company CinderBio is breeding enzymes that can withstand extremely high temperatures and high levels of acidity, making them perfect as a replacement for harsh chemical cleaners which break apart proteins in order to clean them away. “You know that slippery feeling on your hands when you touch bleach? That’s the proteins in your hand breaking down,” says Jill Fuss, co-founder of CinderBio.   

CinderBio first tested their enzymatic products at a creamery, where milk products are processed and bottled. They found that using enzymes cut down the amount of water the creamery needed to clean its milk tanks and pipes by 30 percent and sped up the process by 25 percent. In addition to this, enzymes are a far “greener” solution than harsh chemicals as they they’re just organic molecules, ready to be eaten by other microbes, and meaning that they are safe if they land up in the water supply.

A  30% reduction in the amount of water needed to clean, coupled with a more environmentally friendly solution, is no small feat, and this got me thinking about hygiene in my immediate future, as a Capetonian facing the possibility of a Day Zero event.  

As South Africans, we need to concede that we live in a water scarce environment, and start changing our mindsets towards the use of water in all sorts of arenas, including cleaning. Whilst Johannesburg at present is not experiencing a water shortage, just last year they too were experiencing water restrictions, as was the KZN region.  

As we become more and more reliant on the use of greywater in our homes and for watering our gardens, we should consider carefully the effect of harsh cleaning chemicals such as bleach in a greywater system.  Initial made the move to bio-enzyme based  products several years ago, and you can read more about our urinal solutions and deep cleaning treatment.

Clint Jackson, Operations Director at Rentokil Initial says the Initial business has always prioritised research and development, continually striving to improve our service offerings to customers. “This R&D is continuing during the water crisis, as we research new and innovative products - such as enzymatic cleaners - to ensure that we have the best waterwise and environmentally friendly solutions for our customers and colleagues.”

Bio-enzyme products should therefore be seen as a rising star in as the future of hygiene, and especially in an increasingly water scarce environment such as South Africa.  Ryan Bethencourt - an investor in the biotech space - says he sees big potential for enzyme technology. “I believe within five to 10 years most larger corporates will switch to greener industrial cleaning, not just for the environment but also for their bottom line,” he says. “Biology is greener and, at scale, should be incredibly cost-effective: The cost of goods sold should be little more than the sugar water needed to brew these enzymes.”

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Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie is the Category Manager at Rentokil Initial, and has worked in the hygiene and pest control industry for 12 years. Although after 12 years cockroaches still have the power to terrify her, she has learnt countless ways to defeat germs both in the workplace and at home. She is a passionate advocate for Global Handwash Day and the health benefits that can be derived from regular handwashing and hygiene practices. When not contributing to the Initial blog, Nathalie is writing press releases for sister businesses, Rentokil and Ambius. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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