Some dogs get a bath once a week, some once a month, and still others just on special occasions. Bathing depends on the breed, the pet parent, and sometimes just what your dog has managed to roll in on the day’s hike through the woods. But no matter how often (or not) you bathe your dog, chances are you’re using something to get a good clean. Otherwise, what’s the point, right?

The problem is, so many ingredients in dog shampoo are problematic. And since your dog absorbs anything you put on the skin through the skin, you want to be sure you’re avoiding anything that can be harmful to his health.

Sometimes, just seeing the word ‘natural’ on the label is enough to convince you that the shampoo is safe – but that’s definitely not always the case. It’s often just a case of clever marketing. You need to dig deeper – and that means knowing what to look out for.

So, which dog shampoo ingredients do you want to avoid?

10 Dangerous Dog Shampoo Ingredients

Several different dog shampoo ingredients can damage your dog’s skin and coat and lead to serious dermatological concerns. Others can seep into the skin and have lasting health effects on the organs or the immune system. Still others are known carcinogens (cancer-causing agents)!  

So, read that ingredient list. Sometimes, it’s as simple as attempting to pronounce each one. Never heard of it before, or unsure how to string those letters together? Skip it.

Another way? A handy list! That’s what we’re here for. If you see any of these on the label, leave that bottle on the shelf:

1. Artificial Colors and Fragrances

This one’s an easy one to remember: avoid products that are made with anything artificial. Artificial is not natural. Unnatural dyes and harmful chemicals are just no good. In fact, artificial fragrances can lead to compromised immune function, allergic reactions, and neurotoxicity! Your dog’s shampoo doesn’t need to be colorful. It also doesn’t need to smell fancy and flowery. ‘Fragrance’ isn’t an ingredient, and unless it specifically lists the scent (an essential oil, for example), skip it. As long as it cleans, that’s all that matters.

2. Phthalates

When you have a fancy smell, no doubt phalates are not far behind. Phthalates help with the scenting of many soaps because they help bond the scent to the soap base. Phthalates are known for disrupting the hormonal balance in dogs. The biggest issue with these? They DON’T need to be listed on the label. If you see ‘fragrance,’ assume phthalates are in the bottle.

3. Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, or Ammonium Laureth Sulfate

All of these chemicals capture oil and dirt so that they can be washed out of the hair shaft. Sure, that sounds good, but the end doesn’t justify the means. When they do this, they also strip the hair of its natural oils and this can irritate the skin. To make matters worse, sulfates are often put through a softening process that produces a toxic by-product, 1,4-dioxane, which the FDA does not require to be listed on the label. Both sodium and ammonium laureth sulfates are carcinogens.

4. Propylene Glycol 

Propylene glycol is a common ingredient in dog shampoo because it’s a skin conditioner and moisturizing additive. But, that doesn’t make it a good thing. Alone, it can be toxic to the skin, reproductive system, and immune system. The scariest thing about propylene glycol is that it enhances the penetrative abilities of chemicals, helping them get through the skin and into the bloodstream.

5. Polyethylene Glycol

This is another moisturizing additive, included to help the skin retain moisture. But it’s also associated with malabsorption of nutrients in the intestines, GI disorders, and immune dysfunction. And, like propylene glycol, it’s another chemical that helps other, potentially more toxic, ingredients make their way into the skin and the bloodstream. You may also see it listed as PEG.

6. Cocamide DEA/MEA

Don’t let the name fool you. Yes, this comes from coconut (and normally, we love coconut), but to make this ingredient, the end result looks nothing like coconut. It’s so heavily processed that it loses all value, and instead transforms into something that can damage your dog’s organs, disrupt hormones, and even potentially cause cancer!

7. Methylchloroisothiazolinone

Remember how we mentioned the ability to pronounce an ingredient earlier? Well, this one definitely fits that bill. Banned in Canada and Japan already, methylchloroisothiazolinone is added to dog shampoo as an anti-fungal and a preservative. Again, however the means don’t justify the ends. Methylchloroisothiazolinone is carcinogenic and harmful to your animal’s organs!

8. Mineral Oil

Yet another common ingredient in dog shampoo, and one that tricks too many unsuspecting pet parents. While mineral oil sounds harmless, even beneficial (minerals, right?), it really isn’t. Its job is to create a barrier that locks in moisture. Unfortunately, in doing that, it also locks in everything else, including the toxins that are naturally expelled by the skin – toxins that really need to get out! Plus, mineral oil doesn’t comes from minerals… it’s actually a by-product of distilled gasoline made from crude oil. Yuck…

9. Isopropyl Alcohol

Also known as rubbing alcohol, this ingredient can be found in all kinds of self and animal care products. Once this enters the body, it turns into acetone, which is a known depressant, nerve and liver toxin, and lung and heart irritant. You may also see it listed as isopropanol, 2-propanol, and propyl.

10. Formaldyhyde

Yes, embalming fluid. Don’t think this would be in your dog’s shampoo? Think again! This ingredient is included as a preservative. Formaldehyde attacks the central nervous system. Like other harmful ingredients, you won’t see formaldehyde listed on the label. Instead, look for: doazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea or quarternjum-7, 15, 31, 61, or sodium hydroxymethylglycinate.

[RELATED] Many of these ingredients in dog shampoo are also found in household cleaning products – making them risky as well. Here’s how to avoid them and what to use instead.

Does Natural Really Mean Natural?

Now, you may think that you can avoid these nasty ingredients in dog shampoo by finding something that’s natural or organic. But – and this is a big BUT – just because you see these words on the label, doesn’t mean anything!!

Does natural really mean natural? Did you know that the Food and Drug Administration’s policy on ‘natural’ states that “the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.” Or that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not regulate the use of the natural label for crops? It’s true. So, and this is especially true of pet products, there’s no one out there overseeing the use of the term natural and what it truly means.

This is one aspect of a problematic practice known as greenwashing. This is when a company presents a false impression or provides misleading information about how their products are more environmentally friendly, more natural, or more sustainable. They may be purposefully vague, or use misleading wording or images on labels, or in their marketing, to make you think something is better than it is. Beware of this practice when you’re buying.

When it comes to the ingredients in dog shampoo, far too many are dangerous to your dog’s health to be acceptable. Read carefully, and research the company before you make any decisions. Find something with limited ingredients, ones you can actually pronounce (and know what they are), and you’re off to a great start in protecting your dog’s health.