What’s in a Dog Shampoo Label?

by Carlotta Cooper

What’s in a Label?

I have five dogs, all of the same breed, and each one of them has a different kind of coat texture. Little Pearl has a smooth, sleek coat year-round. She’s always easy to groom. Beautiful Billie, my champion girl, looks like a curly Poodle unless I spend hours stripping her coat. Her brother Colin has coat that grows like Rapunzel’s hair — it never stops growing. It just gets longer and longer every day. His coat is a little frightening. Taylor has a soft coat that mats easily and his brother Beau is prone to hot spots. All of this means that I end up using different shampoos for different dogs.

It has WHAT in it?

Reading shampoo labels can be confusing, to say the least. Shampoos can contain chemicals with polysyllabic names and you have no idea what those chemicals are or what they may do. Often times you have to rely on what the shampoo says it will do on the label and that may or may not be the truth.

Here are some of the most important things to look for when choosing a shampoo.

Avoid shampoos with the following ingredients:

  • Sodium Laureth/Lauryl Sulfate — This is what makes your shampoo foam up and is called a surfactant. In recent years SLS has come under scrutiny for being too irritating and damaging to the hair follicle, causing skin damage and more. Most human salon and grocery store brands still have some form of this surfactant in thier formulas.
  • Tar — a known cancer-causing agent
  • Co Co Amide — a known cancer causing agent in animals
  • Propylene Glycol — a form of mineral oil that retains moisture in the coat; can be a skin irritant. Botanicals and herbs often come in a base of propylene glycol or butylene glycol which are then put into your shampoo. Little by little raw ingredient manufacturers are offering other alternatives like glycerine to use as a base for the herbs.
  • Mineral Oil, Methyl Paraben and Propyl Paraben — may cause allergic reactions
  • Ethyl Alcohol (found in synthetic fragrances used in some shampoos) — may cause allergic reactions and dry out your dog’s coat
  • Parabens- are one of the most commonly used preservatives and certainly the most controversial. In recent years concerns have been raised that parabens could cause allergic reactions, disrupt our hormonal systems and even contribute to breast cancer. The theory is that even though any given product contains extremely small amounts of parabens, over time they may build up to toxic levels because they are found in so many of the products we use each day. Parabens, including methyl-, butyl-, ethyl-, and propyl-, may cause skin irritation, and there is concern that parabens may be linked to the development of breast cancer. Of course some form of preservative is necessary so nasty bacteria, mold and fungi don’t take over our products! (Any product that has water in it has the ability to grow mold very quickly). While the evidence isn’t totally concrete, it’s best to steer clear!

Look for shampoos that contain ingredients or statements like the following:

  • Look for surfactants (which makes shampoos foam) like cocamidopropyl betaine which is an exceptionally mild coconut based surfactant which does not irritate skin.
  • Soap-free or low-lathering
  • Vitamins A, D, E
  • Oatmeal for itchy skin
  • Herbs like comfrey and calendula which help soothe skin irritations.
  • Antibacterial agents such as tea tree oil and neem
  • Sodium PCA — derived from vegetable sources, a naturally-occurring skin component that softens and hydrates skin
  • Glycerin (instead of Propylene Glycol).
  • Citric acid and Potassium sorbate are preservaties that are safe and FDA approved.

Too Harsh!

Some shampoos for dogs contain harsh detergents and chemicals. They may strip all of the natural oils from your dog’s coat. One of the most important issues when choosing a shampoo is what kind of surfactant the shampoo has. A surfactant is the surf ace act ing agent in a shampoo. They allow the shampoo to spread and interact with the water when you bathe him and to strip the oil and dirt from your dog’s coat. If you use a surfactant that is too harsh, such as Sodium Laureth Sulfate, it will remove too much of the oil from your dog’s coat when it washes out the dirt. This will damage your dog’s coat and leave it looking dry and harsh. The natural oils in a dog’s coat are good for the coat and protect it from damage so you want a shampoo that will only wash out the dirt and excess oils. You should choose shampoos that are free of Sodium Laureth Sulfate both for yourself and for your dog.

Many shampoos that contain Sodium Laureth Sulfate (or SLS) are very high lathering shampoos. They can be more like detergents than shampoos. Unfortunately, high lathering shampoos can also be irritating to your dog’s skin. Look for shampoos that are soap-free or low lathering and which do not contain SLS. These shampoos are easier to rinse out and less likely to irritate your dog’s skin.

Some shampoos even contain chemicals with known carcinogens such as tar, which is found in tar-based dandruff shampoos. It’s also found in artificial dyes and fragrances. These are shampoos that you want to steer clear of when you’re choosing a shampoo for your dog.

Just Right

Choosing shampoos with natural ingredients is usually much better for your dog. No matter what kind of skin and coat your dog has, there are likely shampoos with natural ingredients to suit him. If your dog has dry skin and itching then a shampoo with oatmeal would be just the thing. Comfy Dog shampoo contains colloidal oatmeal as well as botanical extracts of peppermint, burdock and comfrey. Comfy Dog doesn’t lather excessively so there’s no residue left behind to irritate your dog’s skin either.

Other shampoos with essential oils such as rosemary, tea tree and neem can prevent dandruff. Bubbles ‘n Beads features healing tea tree oil which also fights infections on your dog’s skins and helps heals skin damage. There are essential oils to repel fleas and other essential oils for leave the coat soft and silky. Whatever your dog’s need, you can find great shampoos with natural ingredients instead of harsh chemical shampoos.

For my dogs I like to use Sparkle & Shine Brightening Shampoo with yogurt and honey for Taylor. He’s almost 13 so he’s getting pretty old but he’s still a handsome dog. He’s mostly white so I like a shampoo that can brighten his coat and make him look his best. I think he likes to look good after a bath and show off a little for the other dogs. We’re using Comfy Dog for Beau because it has tea tree oil for his hot spots. And we’re using Bubbles ‘n Beads for the other dogs since it’s a good all around shampoo and conditioner.

It’s amazing what you can learn by reading the labels on dog shampoos. Look for shampoos with natural ingredients, especially those with plant-based ingredients. When it comes to taking care of your dog’s skin and coat, Mother Nature really does know best.

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