Who doesn’t love a clean-smelling pup after a well-deserved bath or grooming?? Charcoal, oatmeal, “all-natural” ingredients – all are meant to give you (as their pet parent) a sense of security and comfort when choosing the best products for them. But are they? So many shampoos indicate that they’re “natural”, but are they really?? Some of their ingredients are natural – even organic! – while others are a chemical minefield. Many of these ingredients may not only be irritating to your dog’s skin, they may be downright toxic to their entire system. These harmful ingredients have been linked to damage to kidneys and/or liver, skin irritation, endocrine disruption, nervous system disorders, and in some cases, cancer.
Here is a guide to help navigate that minefield… or better yet, avoid it altogether.
Artificial Scents – While the lovely perfume of a grooming may linger long after the bathing has taken place, the synthetic fragrances that cause it might not be as pleasing to your pup as they are to you. Your dog’s sense of smell is abundantly more acute than yours, and this can be disruptive to their ability to smell their food and many other environmental cues that they rely upon. Additionally, these fake smells can lead to problems with both their immune and nervous systems, as well as contribute to allergies which you may consider “seasonal” (but definitely are not!). These fragrances are more than likely petroleum-based and may include nasty ingredients like aldehydes, benzene derivatives, and other impossible-to-pronounce cancer-causing chemical agents. In short, scents should be from 100% recognizable, natural plant-based sources, such as sweet almond oil, coconut oil, and natural vitamin E. That way, if your dog licks it, they’re simply licking natural ingredients. These components are also soothing to the skin – their largest and most vulnerable organ – and can moisturize their silky coat and the skin beneath it.
As long as we’re talking about synthetics, let’s not forget artificial dyes. Truly natural-ingredient shampoos should be milky white, pale yellow, or clear. Just as in human-grade foods, cosmetics, and beauty products, artificial dyes can cause serious health issues – including cancer. Ingredients such as D&C Yellow No. 8, D&C Blue No. 4, or other man-made colorants. The brighter the product, the better it is at warning you to stay away.
Understanding that just because a product *sounds like* it includes a natural ingredient doesn’t mean it is a true and healthy form of that ingredient is key. Several products used in dog shampoos are derived from coconuts, but they have been adulterated into some pretty nasty chemical compounds. Cocamidopropyl Betaine is one of these sneaky compounds. It is used in dog shampoo to help rinse dirt and debris from your dog’s coat, but it can cause irritation and allergic reactions in the process.
Cocamide DEA or MEA are two additional derivative products made from coconuts, and also two ingredients to be avoided. When combined with the chemical diethanolamine, they create a foaming compound to help the suds abound. The problem with this lethal combination is that in addition to the bubbles, they are also associated with cancer.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate and/or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate are two inexpensive foaming agents used to capture dirt & oils so that they can be washed off the hair shaft. As Cocamide DEA or MEA strip the skin, so too do these two bad actors. Sulfates are often put through a softening process that produces toxic 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen. Both sodium and ammonium laureth sulfates are known carcinogens. Neither of these ingredients is necessary at all, and have been shown to instead cause eye & skin irritation for both people and dogs.
**Remember, shampoo does NOT have to be sudsy to be effective!
Formaldehyde is an immediate hazard word in any product label. Used in the preservation of laboratory tissue samples, it is a harmful character that can cause burning, itching, and over-dried skin (leading to scaly, dandruff-like sluffing). In shampoos, it may be listed as imidazolidinyl urea, quarternium-15, or doazolidinyl urea.
Similarly, isopropyl alcohol (also listed as SD 40) is found in some shampoos and its purpose is to clear away oily, waxy build-up on your pup’s hair or fur. Unfortunately, it also dries out their skin and has some nasty side effects, including toxic absorption into their system contributing to nerve toxicity, depression, heart and/or lung issues, and liver toxicity.
Coversely, mineral oil is often used to soften dog’s skin, however, it is also a petroleum-based product, rather than a natural moisturizer, and it blocks their skin from naturally releasing their own oils. It can, therefore, irritate their system by retaining toxins rather than eliminating them naturally.
Another petroleum-based compound, propylene glycol, is added to some shampoos to avoid over-drying of the hair itself. Unfortunately, it is extremely irritating to the skin below the coat (just like formaldehyde) and is a known liver & kidney toxin.
Preservatives have no place in pet shampoo, but they are in everything, so why not that too? While preservatives such as parabens extend the life of products, they also disrupt the endocrine function of dogs as well as people and have been directly linked to breast cancer and reproductive disruption. What companies don’t tell you is that they are known endocrine disruptors, and can cause reproductive problems.
BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) is an additive used solely for the purpose of extended shelf life of the shampoo itself (a preservative), however it has been identified as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” and is, therefore, to be avoided for pets.
The class of chemicals known as Polysorbates (eg. Polysorbate-20 and Polysorbate-80) are emulsifiers made from sugar alcohol combined with ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen. The may make the shampoo’s texture smooth, but they are no friend to your dog.
We wish that we could tell you that these are the only ingredients to keep an eye out for, but alas, it’s not that cut and dried. Additionally, the following alphabet-soup additives are to be avoided as well:
So now that you’ve been cautioned about the ingredients to avoid, you may be wondering what IS ok for you to use on your pup. Here are a few tips to help sourcing clean, truly natural shampoos for your pooch:
Read – and understand! – the ingredients on the bottle. If you can’t pronounce it, chances are it is to be avoided. Don’t be afraid to google the words you don’t recognize for further clarification.
Is the shampoo intended for dogs or humans? They have a far different pH than we do and we do not require the same kinds of cleansing, moisturizing, and care.
Looking for “certified organic” is always a plus. Certification is a claim that carries great weight and standards that “organic” and/or “natural” do not.