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Ingredients for Health

Selecting the shampoos and conditioners for use in the grooming salon is about more than just getting a pet clean; it is about providing the right care for the pet’s skin and coat.



Pet stylists, groomers and bathers play an important role as the caretakers of pets’ skin. On most breeds, it can be difficult to provide this care because the coat, which protects the skin and body from the elements, also prevents shampoo, water and oxygen from getting down to the skin surface. Luckily, we have bathing systems like the HydroSurge to help penetrate the coat, but just as important to skin care is the use of naturally derived botanical ingredients, combined with naturally occurring carrier agents, preservatives, surfactants, humectants and emulsifiers.

The use of plant-based extracts in shampoos and conditioners provides true benefits for a pet’s skin and coat. For example, the omega-3 essential oils that can be found in popular botanical seed oils—such as kiwi fruit seed oil and flaxseed oil—will nourish, protect and repair the skin. These oils also offer benefits in controlling shedding, regenerating healthy skin cells, controlling inflammation and irritation, and generally maintaining a healthy coat.

There are other beneficial oils that many groomers may not be as familiar with but are definitely worth learning about. This knowledge can be quite helpful when choosing, using and selling different products.

These oils include:

Honeysuckle Oil—I personally love honeysuckle oil, which can be used for its antiseptic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Honeysuckle oil is also popular in aromatherapy and adds silky softness to the coat.

Cucumber Oil—Made from cucumber seeds, which contain essential fatty acids and high levels of vitamin E, cucumber oil helps to maintain healthy skin’s natural moisturizer.

Panthenol—A provitamin of B5, panthenol is very popular in both human and animal products. It binds to the skin and coat, conditioning, strengthening and hydrating.

Primrose Oil—We have all heard or primrose oil, which contains fatty acids that help to prevent dry, flaky skin.

Avocado Oil—A very popular ingredient today, avocado oil is used as emollient botanical oil that naturally treats the skin and nourishes to relieve dryness.

Tea Tree Oil—Another one of my favorites, tea tree oil comes from the leaves of the melaleuca plant in Australia. This oil is commonly believed to have medicinal properties, and it is used most often as an antiseptic, antifungal and antibacterial agent.

Lemongrass Oil—Closely related to citronella, lemongrass oil is a popular, natural insect repellent.

Eucalyptus Oil—Eucalyptus oil is popular because of its natural cleaning abilities, as well as its usefulness as a natural insecticide.

In addition to nourishing and healing oils, many popular shampoos and conditioners include other botanical extracts with properties that make them perfect for skin and coat care. For example, extracts of kiwi fruit, vanilla bean and green tea provide multiple antioxidants that help to maintain healthy skin and coat.

Beneficial botanical extracts commonly found in pet shampoos and conditioners include:

Aloe Leaf Juice—A well-known and commonly used extract that soothes irritated skin and prevents itching and scratching, aloe is also known to stimulate cell renewal, contains antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, and moisturizes the skin.

Blueberry Extract—Blueberry extract provides antioxidants in natural vitamin form to maintain healthy skin and coat, and it neutralizes excessive oil build up on skin surface.

White Ginger Extract—A natural herb that improves blood circulation to the skin, white ginger extract strengthens coat fibers and adds healthy shine.

Apple Fruit Extract—Apple fruit extract is very popular and can rejuvenate the skin. It is a natural moisturizer that provides soothing treatment to dry skin.

Dried Coconut Milk—An extract that contains natural botanicals and fats, dried coconut milk offers great conditioning and oil-cleansing properties with multiple antioxidants.

Glycerin—Glycerin is a natural humectant that retains moisture and nourishes the skin. It also conditions and softens the coat.

Honey—Another natural humectant, honey attracts moisture to the skin, maintaining elasticity and helping to prevent dryness.

Silk Protein—Silk protein is one of those ingredients that sounds great in a shampoo or conditioner, and for good reason. It binds moisture and adds luster to the coat.

Rosemary Extract—A rich source of antioxidants and vitamin E, rosemary extract stimulates coat follicles and enhances circulation to the skin, which strengthens coat fiber and stimulates growth. It also reduces inflammation and dryness of skin.

Orange Extract—Yet another one of my favorites, orange extract is high in the antioxidant vitamin C and has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, soothing, purifying and skin-healing properties. It is also a gentle astringent that produces squeaky-clean skin and coat.

Colloidal oatmeal is another very popular ingredient in shampoos and conditioners. It is made from grinding and processing whole-grain oats, with strict requirements on the particle size and fat content. The small particle size and the way that it disperses in water is crucial in how the colloidal oatmeal is deposited on the skin’s surface and forms a barrier holding moisture to the skin.

Oatmeal extract is also used in shampoos but is made from cooking the oatmeal in water to remove the nutrients from the solids. No oatmeal solids actually remain in the extract, as compared to colloidal oatmeal. Due to its lower cost, oatmeal extract is more commonly used and is still very beneficial.

A shampoo may contain many of the above ingredients, but the bottom line it is a cleansing product used for the removal of oils, dirt, skin particles and environmental pollutants.  Shampoo is a water-based solution with suspended surfactants. Surfactants are a blend of surface-acting agents. When dissolved in water, surfactants give a product the ability to remove dirt from a dog’s coat and skin. They allow the cleaning solution to fully wet the surface being cleaned, so that dirt can be loosened and removed.

Surfactants comprise both water-soluble and water-insoluble portions. Their arrangement helps to create product viscosity, reduce the surface tension of water and disassociate oils, dirt particles and proteins while cleansing. Generally, a shampoo formulation includes a primary surfactant, as well as secondary co-surfactants, which work together. Co-surfactants provide thickness to the liquid and can enhance the foaming quality of the shampoo.

Carrier agents and preservatives are also integral components of the shampoos and conditioners groomers use. Carrier agents can be thought of as the truck that delivers the products. In this case, the ingredients in shampoos and conditioners need carrier agents to deliver them to the skin. Preservatives, on the other hand, are used to prevent microbial growth or undesirable chemical changes. Grapefruit-seed extract, honey, and vitamins A and C all have preservative characteristics.

Humectants, another important part of the ingredient list, absorb water from the air and have antistatic properties, while emulsifiers are used when mixing two or more liquids that are normally incompatible. For example, when water and oil are mixed together, they separate. However, when an emulsifier is added, the droplets remain dispersed, and a stable emulsion is obtained. This is needed when using many common ingredients.

Shampoo may also contain thickening agents—such as salt, natural gums or acrylic thickeners—as well as preservatives, fragrances, pH buffers, chelating agents to bind with calcium and magnesium ions found in hard water, and several ingredients to promote skin and coat health. All of these ingredients should be in a pH balanced formula around 7.5 or lower. A high pH level can cause the cuticle of the coat to lift, and many of the bad bacteria normally found on a dog’s skin do well in a higher pH. 

Conditioners stimulate the healing process and protect the skin against the environment. A conditioner may be a rinse-off or leave-on product that moisturizes, softens coat texture, conditions the skin and strengthens the coat. Conditioner formulations contain a mix of oil and water, so emulsifying ingredients are necessary to create a unified liquid.

Conditioners contain moisturizers; proteins to reconstruct coat fibers; detanglers such as silky glossy silicones or acidifiers which smooth and tighten up the scaly surfaces of coat fibers; oils and fatty acids to soften dry porous coat; conditioners and antistatic agents—surfactants that are positively charged and strongly bind to the negatively charged coat protein molecules, strengthening and fortifying the coat fibers. 

Conditioners may also contain sunscreens to protect against protein breakdown and color loss from UV light. They can also contain many of the same ingredients in shampoos. 

It is amazing how manufacturers in our industry have progressed in utilizing these wonderful ingredients to create a diverse lineup of products that benefit our canine clients. Having a better understanding of the ingredients empowers groomers when talking to customers. It allows them to communicate the true benefits of each product to the customer, who can then make educated decisions on the added benefits they want to purchase for their four-legged babies.

Personally, I have had the privilege of working with two wonderful chemists, Katherine Flatt and Deb Lydic, while working on the HydroSurge product line. They have been so kind to share great information with me over the years, giving me the education I need to make sure that I am using products with ingredients that benefit both the finish and health of the each pet.


Christina Pawlosky is a Certified Master Groomer, professional handler, breeder, and successful pet store and grooming shop owner (The Pet Connection) since 1985. She is currently is the National Training Manager for Oster Professional Products and produces grooming DVDs through her website GroomerWorks.com.

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