Understanding your furkid’s skin

Before we go into what makes a good pet shampoo, we need to understand your furkid’s skin. With a thick coat of fur, you’d probably think that their skin is very thick and tough. You’re far from the truth! The fact is, the skin of dogs and cats is just a third the thickness of human skin. Cats and dogs actually have skin more delicate than babies. Unlike us, they have alkaline skin ranging from 7.2 – 9 for dogs to 6.8 – 8.5 for cats. Alkaline condition makes their skin more susceptible to bacterial infections.

Common harmful ingredients in pet shampoos

1. Paraben

Parabens are preservatives used in a wide variety of cosmetic and personal-care since the 1950s. They are used to prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms, especially fungi and bacteria. It is estimated that about 85% of cosmetics have them. They come in a mouthful of names, normally ending in paraben. Some include methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, butylparaben benzyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid (p-hydroxybenzoic acid), parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzoate).

Parabens may cause a health problems, the most serious being endocrine disruption. Did you know that some forms of parabens are banned in Denmark for personal care products for children up to 3 years?

Why are Parabens bad? In less serious cases it can cause skin irritation for those with sensitive skin, in more serious cases it can disrupt the body’s hormonal balance. The endocrine is where your hormones are regulated and released. Studies have shown that parabens have the ability to imitate estrogen, disturbing the body’s delicate hormonal balance and “estrogen disruption” has been linked to breast cancer and reproductive issues.

There is nothing wrong with preservatives; they are needed to keep bacteria and mould from the shampoo, but paraben is one type of preservative you should avoid.

2. SLS (Sodium Laurel Sulfate)

Sulfates are added to shampoo because they act as surfactants to bind to grease & dirt to help wash them away. Surfactants are the cleansing agent of shampoo and also what causes “bubbles” when bathing. While there are many types of cleansing agents, SLS is most commonly found in detergents used for industrial cleaning because it is such a potent de-greaser. However, that can be very drying on the skin. In the same way as it dissolves the grease on car engines, SLS also dissolves the oils on your skin, which can cause a drying effect. Sulfates can be extremely irritating to a dog’s skin (people’s too) and will strip out the natural oils found in the skin & coat. Many dogs become extra itchy afterward, causing dander and flakes to appear on the fur.

According to the journal of the American College of Toxicology, SLS is a mutagen, meaning that it can change the genetic material found in cells. It denatures protein, impairs proper structural formation of young eyes, damages the immune system, causes separation of skin layers and skin inflammation if it interacts with other nitrogen bearing ingredients.

Prolonged exposure to sulfates can produce target organ damage and ingestion can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and bloating. Allergic reactions can also appear on some dogs.

3. Artificial Fragrances

Fragrance found in shampoos can consist of as many as 200 chemicals combined to come up with that particular scent. Problem is, there’s no way to know what those chemicals are. On the ingredient list, you’ll read only the word “fragrance”. This is because the fragrance industry is self-regulated, and companies aren’t required to disclose the makeup of their generic “fragrance” formulas, as it’s considered a trade secret. However, studies have shown that fragrance blends are often created with over 600 ingredients, most of them chemicals you’d never want to ingest.

Perfumes are a potent cocktail of synthetic ingredients; a 1986 report by the National Academy of Sciences noted that 95% of the ingredients in these synthetic fragrances are petroleum-based synthetic compounds. These blends can cause many types of allergic reactions, including rashes, headaches, nausea, dizziness, coughing fits, and more. A 2001 study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that synthetic fragrances were often shown to contain hormone disruptors linked to abnormal cell reproduction. With that in mind, giving your pet a bath with an artificially-scented shampoo may not be the best idea. Natural fragrances such as essential oils are fine though.

4. Artificial Colorants

Like artificial fragrances, artificial colorants also cause skin sensitivity and irritation. They are also linked to cancers and other serious health problems. Examples are D&C Blue No. 4, or D&C Yellow No. 8, CI 1940 (also called Tartrazine, which is strongly linked to allergic reactions, migraines, hyperactivity and even tumors). Many are made from coal tar which is recognized as a carcinogen. Avoid brightly colored liquids – natural colors in chemical free shampoos usually range from an opaque white to a light yellow. Again, natural dyes are acceptable, just avoid artificial ones!

But my furkid’s skin is not sensitive…

When harsh shampoo is applied on skin, there is some amount of irritation and inflammation that is not always obvious. Even if the skin does not look irritated or inflamed, below the skin’s surface collagen is starting to breakdown and hamper the skin’s ability to heal naturally. The irritation only shows up immediately on those with sensitive skin. However, those who are not sensitive can still get sensitised over time with regular exposure. Just like how most humans only develop sensitive skin in their middle-ages. Likewise, most pet owners find that their pets have skin problems or “sensitive” skin after 1 year old as that is the average time taken for the protective layer to be damaged enough show up.

Sometimes, itching is caused by dry skin due to harsh shampoos. Itches bring a lot of pain and discomfort to your pet, making them highly irritable. Your pet will lick and scratch the affected area leading to open wet wounds which is an invitation for bacteria and fungi to enter.

If you continue to use harsh pet shampoo, this vicious cycle will go on. Changing the diet, giving antibiotics, steroids, antihistamines, painkillers, creams and lotions do not solve the root of the problem. They may make your pet feel better temporarily but they do not solve the skin problem and will wear off in time.

While medicated shampoo, creams and lotions may contain anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, the harmful ingredients remain. In fact, they may contain higher concentrations of toxins to “repair” the skin.  There may be a wide variety of causes for skin problems, nasty ingredients in shampoo is more often than not the common cause.

To stop your furkid’s skin from deteriorating, switch to a safer and milder option before it’s too late!

*note: the harmful ingredients listed in this article is not exhaustive, there are much more, such as silicones, alcohol, and other preservatives that are equally just as bad as parabens. Do check the ingredients before you buy any grooming product. You may even test it on yourself to ensure it does not sting, or inflame your skin. If your skin can’t take it, all the more your furkid’s fragile skin!