Natural Products for Groomers


I started thinking a lot about what products I was using when my son was diagnosed with an auto immune issue. After months of research and a lot of label reading, I realized I needed to shift my focus from what’s going into his body to everything we come in contact with. The reality is that the more you look, the more you realize there are so many harmful ingredients and chemicals that are hidden from consumers.

Have you ever heard the saying, "If you cannot pronounce it, you should not eat it or use it?" We went gluten- and dairy-free because of a diagnosed sensitivity, but as I learned more, I started removing harmful chemicals, dyes and other ingredients from our food and environment, and his issues improved to the point where his doctor took him off all medication. With all the changes we made, I realized it was time to pay even more attention to our whole environment and continue taking steps to change.

It was a natural transition to do the same thing at my grooming salon. It’s almost impossible to avoid all chemicals in a salon, but focusing on the known carcinogens in pet care products was a great place to start. I know going all-natural with your pet grooming products will limit your product choices, but what you do end up using will be much better for you and your pet clients.

Think about it: The dog is affected by the product you use one time every two, four, six or eight weeks. Making changes seem to be a no brainer. Natural remedies have been around forever and are time-proven solutions to common issues facing your clients. Chemicals eventually make their way back into our water supply, air and soil, thus damaging our planet and wildlife. Natural products do not have a negative impact on the environment.

Keeping Bugs at Bay

Synthetic compounds can damage an animal’s skin and coat, with one of the biggest offenders being flea and tick products. Pesticides used in pet shampoos can trigger adverse reactions in you and the pet. Some toxins to look out for include:

•  Fipronil, the main ingredient for many topical pet products.

•  Imidacloprid, a systemic insecticide that acts as an insect neurotoxin and belongs to a class of chemicals called the neonicotinoids.

•  Piperonyl Butoxide, which is used in conjunction with hundreds of insecticides to enhance their effectiveness, though it may not be listed as one of the ingredients.


To avoid using harsh chemicals for fleas, you first need to know the flea life cycle. It is easier to implement safer solutions when you have a better understanding of how the flea lives, eats and reproduces.

Make sure your shop is clean—my friend is the hose and squeegee. Being proactive and making a routine out of flushing out the flea and its many cycles can naturally keep fleas under control. Because the flea reproductive cycles could last anywhere from two weeks to several months, cleaning up areas where fleas hide and lay eggs means you’re stopping them before they reproduce.

When we have a flea dog or cat come in, I take precautions. Their little feet never hit the floor when they have fleas—straight to the tub. Try to limit carpets and cloth furniture in the salon, and clean between every pet.

To help prevent fleas and ticks, groomers can use Diatomaceous earth, or DE, an all-natural substance made of the fossilized remains of ancient creatures called diatoms that’s usually sold as a fine powder that can be sprinkled into carpet or lawns; and nematodes, which are microorganisms that love to feed on flea larvae—simply mix the right nematodes into your soil and spray them on your lawn and outside areas.

The Steinernema Carpocapsae species of nematodes are the flea killers, so make sure your product contains a high percentage of them. After applying them to your yard, the nematode will hunt down fleas in their pupae, larval, juvenile and even adult stage and enter their bodies. They release deadly symbiotic bacteria that will kill fleas in less than 48 hours. Once all the fleas in all stages of their life cycle are defeated, they will starve in about six weeks and biodegrade.

While cats tend to be sensitive to essential oils, there are dozens of them that work for dogs—lemon, rosemary, peppermint, eucalyptus, tea tree and citronella are some to experiment with by adding a few drops to water for a body spritz.

Apple cider or white vinegar is just the ticket for spritzing bedding, carpets and the dog’s and cat’s coat (fleas don’t like the smell). Simply mix equal parts vinegar and water and pour into a sprayer—you don’t have to go for the first chemical solution you see on the shelf.

Minimizing Allergies

Pets are less likely to experience allergic reactions to natural products, so you can feel better when applying them to your four-legged customers. For me, the hardest part has been to know what's bad and what's really, really bad. Considering how competitive skin and coat care products are, manufacturers are always looking for ways to lower production costs. Unfortunately, this may come at the expense of a product’s quality.

It’s up to groomers to do their homework and make sure the products they’re using are as natural as possible. When it comes to pet grooming products, safe ones will get your dog or cat squeaky clean. A dog’s skin is the largest organ of its body and anything you use on the skin and coat can be absorbed—you want to avoid bathing your clients with anything that might be toxic. But just reading the ingredient list on your dog’s shampoo is a difficult task. How are you to know what’s safe and what isn’t?  How do you know you are getting a complete list of ingredients?

Labels are often filled with unpronounceable words and some ingredients aren’t listed at all, which makes it hard to know what to look for. There are also ingredients that can be good or bad depending on how they are manufactured. That’s a scary thought!

Complicating things further is that many manufacturers buy ingredients and then mix them to develop their product. If the manufacturer of your shampoo didn’t do their research and pay the additional money for sodium lauryl sulfate that was cleaned of contaminants, they may be introducing dangerous byproducts into your dog’s shampoo.

Some of the buzzwords in the pet skin and coat industry that groomers should watch out for include:

•  Made with—the products might only contain 1 percent of the ingredients listed but, for marketing purposes, they want it on the label. Check the percentage before purchasing.

•  Organic—some major brands say their product is organic, though it contains few or no organic ingredients.

•  Natural—companies can claim 100 percent natural on the label but the product can still contain synthetic surfactants, preservatives and fragrance. Keep in mind that all natural products aren’t bad, so research will be required.

•  Certified Green—find out who certified the product and if their product seals actually mean something.

•  Free of—watch for hyping what’s NOT in the product. A product may claim "no parabens," but it could have been substituted with something just as bad.

•  Derived from coconut oil—it’s deceptive, because to create cocamide DEA from coconut oil requires the use of diethanolamine, a carcinogenic synthetic chemical.

•  Nontoxic—it does not mean not toxic or harmless. All it does is indicate that it’s a safer alternative than some other hazardous ingredients.

• Allergy-Friendly Fragrance and Fragrance-Free—a product might be made with essential oils instead of synthetically-made fragrance oils, but it could also contain questionable chemicals and artificial coloring.

• Sensitivity Tested and Hypoallergenic—according to FDA, manufacturers are not required to perform any tests or provide evidence that products were actually tested by a doctor.

• Environmentally-Friendly and Eco-Safe—there are currently no specific government or official standards for these terms.


I also found additional ingredients that you will want to minimize or not use in your salon shampoo include phthalates, which are likely not on the label present if the word "fragrance" is; artificial colors, which are synthesized from petroleum and linked to organ damage, cancer, birth defects and allergic reactions; and formaldehyde, which has been known to trigger an immune response that can include burning, itching, blistering or scaling.

Other things to watch for are include Cocamide MEA; Bromopol; Doazolidinyl urea; DMDM Hydantoin (often mistyped on dog shampoo bottles as DHDH hydantoin); Imidazolidinyl urea; Quaternium-7, -15, -31 and -61; Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate; Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone; SD Alcohol 40; Polyethylene glycol; PEG-40 Lanolin; Benzene; Sodium Laureth Sulfate; Ammonium Laureth Sulfate; Polysorbates; and Cocamidopropyl betaine.

Paraben preservatives are thought to be "stored" in the body and have a cumulative effect posing health risks such as estrogen disruption, cancer, and reproductive issues. They may be listed on the bottle as butylparaben, methylparaben or propylparaben.

Certified Organic

We put a high level of trust in the manufacturers of our grooming products, yet there are very few regulations and standards for ingredient purity, verification of natural claims and disclosure of manufacturing processes.

Certified organic grooming products go through a much higher level of scrutiny. All ingredients are reviewed throughout their lifecycle, from where and how they are grown, harvested, processed, transported, packaged and shipped. They also verify that there are no GMOs, pesticides, herbicides, artificial colors or artificial fragrance.

Remember, many chemicals used on pets to control insects are not meant to be ingested. Unfortunately, animals chew and lick just about anything, including those poisonous chemicals. Opting for natural pet care products will ensure your pet’s health and safety.

My advice is to read skin and coat care ingredient labels like you would food labels. Learn which chemicals to avoid, and look to see if the shampoo manufacturer purchased clean ingredients. PB