Keeping Bath Time Safe for Your Dog

safe shampoos for dogs

by Rita Hogan

Choosing Safe Shampoos for Your Dog

Want to protect yourself and your pup?  Understand what’s in your grooming products before you use them. Knowledge is power.

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We all have the best intentions when it comes to grooming our dogs.  Bathing, brushing, trimming… just so they can look their best and most importantly, smell their best.

I recently visited a friend that bathes her dogs every week.  I can’t imagine!  To make matters worse, I made the mistake of looking at the ingredient list of her designer doggie shampoo and almost fainted.  It looked like a bottle of toxic soup.  How can she be my friend and use a toxic dog shampoo?  Her answer was, “I use their products for myself, how can their dog shampoo be bad?  It’s so expensive!”   I told her to switch shampoos ASAP.

She asked why.  Here’s what I told her.

Dog Shampoo Ingredients to Avoid

Commercial and some natural shampoos are nothing but chemicals and toxins with a few natural extracts in them to make consumers think that by using their product you are somehow connecting with nature.

Many people don’t realize that the scalp is part of the body’s integumentary system, which includes the three layers of the skin – epidermis, dermis and hypodermis.  The scalp is part of  the skin and and skin is the body’s largest and most absorbent organ . The integumentary system is the gateway to the bloodstream.  This is also true for your beloved pup.  Just think of their skin and hair follicles as one large scalp.

So what makes a shampoo toxic?  Here is a short list of many ingredients in human and canine grooming products.

Artificial Colors

Often dog shampoos that claim to be herbal come with a lovely green tint. Puree of leaf? Um, no. Try artificial colors. Artificial colors have been associated with many forms of cancer and should be at the top of your yuck list of ingredients to be avoided. A few examples of these colors are  D&C, FD&C, or Yellow 5.

Cocomide DEA or MEA

Notice this foam producing ingredient has the trendy “Coco” prefix that some people would assume is coconut derived. That assumption would be right. But what the same people might not realize is that this substance is chemically altered to the point of being a moderate cancer causing ingredient, hormone and thyroid disruptor, and an organ toxin. Yikes.

Cocamidopropyl Betaine

This ingredient sounds like a coconut married a chemist.  It is an environmental toxin that affects the immune system. It’s derived from coconut oil but the end product is anything but natural.

Formaldehyde

Everyone’s favorite embalming elixir for the dead is now available in your shampoo. Do you feel lucky?  Formaldehyde attacks the central nervous system. Look out for these formaldehyde-releasing ingredients in your grooming products: doazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea or quarternium-15.

Fragrances

“Gee your hair smells terrific” was a slogan for a shampoo when I was a child.  A good aroma can bring our senses alive and cause us to purchase a product based on smell alone. Unfortunately, if the aroma of a shampoo does not come from essential oils or plants, the smell is a derivative of an unhealthy substance. When picking a dog shampoo, we need to pay extra attention to scent because our canine friend’s sense of smell is thousands of times more sensitive than ours. The word “fragrance” can be covering up chemicals that companies do not want you to know about.  Artificial fragrances can lead to compromised immune function, allergic reactions and neurotoxicity.

Isopropyl alcohol

Sneaky is the word for this gem. If you pay attention, isopropyl alcohol is showing up in all kinds of self and animal care products.  DO NOT USE THEM.  Known as rubbing alcohol, this chemical turns into acetone when it enters the body.  It is a known depressant, nerve toxin, lung and heart irritant, and liver toxin.  Other names: isopropanol, 2-propanol, and propyl.

 Isopropyl (SD-40)

Isopropyl (SD-40) is made from the petroleum derived substance propylene that destroys your skin’s moisture balance and causes irritation. The nasty chemical can make you or your dog more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections.

Methylchloroisothiazolinone

This hard to pronounce chemical is added to shampoos as a preservative and anti-fungal. It has been associated with organ poisoning and is a known carcinogen. The crazy thing is that countries like Japan and Canada have already banned it.

Methylparaben and Parabens

Members of the paraben family are usually found at the end of an ingredient label. Don’t be fooled.  A little goes a long way. Both parabens are used as preservatives.  What companies don’t tell you is that they are known endocrine disruptors. Methylparaben might help protect your shampoo’s longevity, but Methyl’s dark side could be a stand in for Mr. Hyde. It also serves as an endocrine disruptor and may even adversely affect your central nervous system. Why is this significant? Because the two main parts of the central nervous system are the brain and spinal cord!  What matters as far as your dog is concerned is that they can’t tell you when something is wrong. High levels of estrogens have also been linked to the paraben family. Elevated estrogens can cause cancers of the uterus, bladder and breast. Just say no.

Mineral Oil

I just cringe at this ingredient because it’s sold as something wonderful for babies by a certain well known baby products company. Mineral oil should be labeled “oil of crude” since it is a by-product of distilled gasoline made from crude oil.  Its sole purpose is to coat anything it comes in contact with and keep the skin from releasing its own natural oils or eliminating toxins.

Phthalates

Many shampoos are chosen for their scent. Phthalates help with the scenting of many soaps in that they bond the scent to the soap base. Like their friends the parabens, they are known male and female hormone disruptors.

Polyethylene glycol

Usually listed as PEG, polyethylene glycol is a known cancer-causing chemical used as a solvent in shampoos and conditioners. Here are a few of this chemical’s side effects: malabsorption of nutrients in the intestine, stomach disorders, iron deficiency, loss of memory, and immune dysfunction.

Polysorbates

Most people know the polysorbates for the number that follows: Polysorbate-20 and Polysorbate-80. These emulsifiers help bind oil with water and dissolve fragrances into a solution. Polysorbate 20 is a simple sugar alcohol that goes bad when it is mixed with the chemical ethylene oxide which can cause it to be contaminated with the cancer causing 1,4-dioxane. Polysorbates also mess with the pH of the skin, hair or fur. Companies use Polysorbates because they are cheap emulsifiers.

Propylene Glycol

Derived from natural gas and used in the automotive industry, propylene glycol is used as a humectant causing moisture retention by coating the hair shaft and preventing water from escaping. Propylene Glycol is a strong skin irritant as well as a liver and kidney toxin.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, and Ammonium Laureth Sulfate

These chemicals capture oil and dirt so that they can be washed out of the hair shaft. Great, right? Well, no. The sulfates also strip the hair of its natural oils and can cause skin irritations. With dogs, these irritations are not always noticed until they are infected because of their furry bodies. To make matters worse, sulfates are often put through a softening process that produces a toxic by-product discussed above: 1,4-dioxane, which the FDA does not require to be listed on the label. Both sodium and ammonium laureth sulfates are known cancer causing agents.

Natural or not?

Beware of the natural fakes as well. Just because they sound natural doesn’t mean that they’re safe. Some shampoos and conditioners promoted as natural list “coconut base” as their first ingredient. Beware. Here are three best-selling coconut shampoo bases. See if you can find the ingredients that don’t belong.

  • Ingredients: Sodium Cocoate, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Stearate, Glycerin, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit Juice, Water, Sorbitol, Titanium Dioxide
  • Ingredients: Purified Water, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Stearate, Glycerin, Sucrose, Sodium Laureth, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sorbitol, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Silica, Sodium Chloride, Stearic Acid, Lauric Acid, Methylchloroisothiazoline, Methylisothiazoline, Magnesium Chloride, Magnesium Nitrate

This base is advertised as sulfate free. Who cares when you see the other ingredients.

  • Ingredients: Glycerin, Propylene Glycol, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Sodium Cocoate, Sodium Myristate, Sodium Laurate, Sodium Stearate, Sorbitol, Purified Water

Conditioners

Let me say a few things about conditioners.  They are not needed especially where dogs are concerned. I can’t believe the number of fur products that are marketed to our canine friends. A conditioner’s main purpose is to cover up the damage being done by the shampoo, by replacing natural hair oils with artificial oils. Conditioners stay on the hair and get absorbed by your scalp. Think of how much fur your dog has compared to your hair – it’s almost your dog’s entire skin and that is a lot of absorption.

What to Use

So how do you pick out a good shampoo for your dogs?  Look for simple shampoos that are made specifically for dogs. Remember, a dog’s pH is different than ours so avoid shampoos for people. To be sure you’re using a good shampoo, ask companies for a complete listing of their ingredients. Don’t be satisfied with the general “coconut soap base”.  Ask them what is in the base.  Here are a couple of examples of all natural, safe shampoo bases:

  • Ingredients: Certified Organic Coconut Oil, Rosemary Extract, Vitamin E *Saponified.
  • Ingredients: Saponified* Oils of Coconut, Olive and Jojoba, Tea Tree Oil, Rosemary Oil, Sage Oil, Cedarwood Oil, Peppermint Oil, Sweet Orange Oil, Eucalyptus Oil, Pine Needle Oil, Aloe Vera, Rosemary Extract (as a preservative)

*Saponified means that the soap was made with lye which does not survive the soap making process and it safe).

When washing my dogs I like to make my own dog shampoo out of castile soap, vinegar, olive oil, water and essential oils.  It does not lather up like chemically-laden commercial shampoos but it makes my dog’s fur squeaky clean and shiny.  Dr. Bronner’s makes an excellent castile soap.

Dogs are meant to be self cleaning. Dogs in the wild don’t bathe but they are not living in our homes either. I have a dog named Seamus. Some people would call him a Schnoodle – half Schnauzer, half Poodle. He stinks.  He has the kind of fur that soaks up every bad smell he comes in contact with. Seamus hates being bathed but in order to sleep in my bed, the stink must turn to stunk.

I encourage you to take control of your dog’s health and your own by reading the labels of your grooming products and demanding safer ingredients from manufacturers.  Grooming products are not considered drugs, making them benign under FDA rules. The term “all natural” is free for the taking. Want to protect yourself and your pup?  Understand what’s in your grooming products before you use them. Knowledge is power.

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