Human shampoo is made to wash out natural oils and wax on our hair, but a dog’s skin is much more sensitive

Worst Dog Shampoo Ingredients To Avoid Using

There are many ingredients in dog shampoo that are dangerous to dogs. Sadly, any products intended to clean an animal are not subject to FDA control. There are several items not on the FDA’s regulatory radar and pet grooming aids are one such category.

Dog shampoo has specific ingredients to avoid and never allow to touch your dog’s skin. The skin is the largest organ of a dog. The skin not only protects a dog from the outside world, but it also gives dogs a sense of touch and regulates temperature.

You never want to put ingredients like sulfates, parabens, phosphates, synthetic dyes, or perfumes on a dog’s skin.

Some dog shampoo ingredients cause serious damage (or worse) to a dog’s skin and internal organs. Here’s what ingredients in dog shampoo you should avoid to keep your dog happy and healthy.

Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I am also an Etsy and Chewy affiliate.

Can I Use Human Shampoo On My Dog?

Human shampoo is made to wash out natural oils and wax on our hair, but a dog’s skin is much more sensitive. Because a dog’s skin is more neutral to alkaline in nature than human skin, he requires a shampoo that is pH balanced for dogs.

A human’s skin is around 5.5 to 5.6, which mean it is more acidic. A dog’s skin pH, however, is between 6.2 and 7.4, more neutral to alkaline.

If you use human shampoo or baby shampoo on a dog, the skin layer called the mantle gets disrupted. This makes it easy for bacteria to take hold, leaving him open to parasites, viruses, dry skin, and flakiness.

You should not use human shampoo on your dog.

Human shampoos are more acidic since our scalp can tolerate ingredients a dog cannot. Since a dog’s skin is thinner than a human’s, you can imagine why certain chemicals, preservatives, and dyes cause great danger to them.


A dog’s skin contains three layers. A human’s skin has 10 layers.

Which Ingredients In Dog Shampoo Should You Avoid?

The following ingredients should be avoided in dog shampoo:

Ammonium Laureth SulfateMineral oil
Artificial colorsParabens
Artificial dyesPEG-40 Lanolin
Cocamidopropyl BetainePerfumes
Cocomide DEA or MEAPhthalates
FormaldehydePolyethylene glycol
Isopropyl (SD-40)Polysorbates
Isopropyl alcohol Propylene Glycol
Isothiazolinone preservativesSodium Lureth Sulfate
Methylisothiazolinone & MethylchloroisothiazolinoneSodium Lauryl Sulfate

Any dog shampoo that is intended for therapeutic purposes of to affect a dog’s structure or function is subject to FDA regulation as an animal drug. If your vet prescribes a shampoo for your dog, talk to them about any side effects and safety concerns first.

Ingredients to avoid in dog shampoos include, but are not limited to:


Renowned veterinarian Dr. Jean Dodds says research indicates parabens can disrupt a dog’s endocrine system. Parabens serve to extend a product’s shelf life and reduce bacterial and fungal growth in the product. Some common parabens you may see on dog shampoo include:

  • Isobutylparaben
  • Butylparaben
  • Isopropylparaben
  • Propylparaben


The United States government classifies formaldehyde as a carcinogenic ingredient, yet it is often used as a preservative in dog shampoo. If it causes cancer in people, you can deduce its carcinogenic properties to dogs.

Some of the names of formaldehydes and sulfate benzoates on dog shampoo include:

  • Bromopol
  • Doazolidinyl urea
  • DMDN Hydantoin
  • Imidazolidinyl urea
  • Quaternium-7, -15, -31 -61
  • Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate

Read closely because the label may say “preservatives” while containing formaldehyde derivatives.


Sulfates are chemicals that cleanse and foam. You know the foam produced when you brush your teeth? Sulfates are involved. Dr. Jean Dodds advises using sulfate-free dog shampoo if your pooch has dry skin.

Pet shampoo manufacturers may claim sulfates remove oil and dirt from a dog’s skin, but they are chemicals that can cause problems. Redness, skin irritation, itching, dryness and stripping the skin of its natural oils are all side effects of using sulfates. 

Some by-products of sulfates, such as SLES (Sodium Laureth Sulfate) and 1,4-dioxane are known to cause cancer. On California’s Proposition 65’s list of chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer or birth defects, 1,4-dioxane is one of them.

Do you see bubbles in your dog’s shampoo without shaking it? It likely contains sulfates.

Some of the ways manufacturers label their products with sulfates include these ingredients:

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
  • Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS)
  • Ammonium Laureth Sulfate (ALES)
  • Sodium Coco Sulfate (SCS)
  • TEA Lauryl Sulfate
  • MEA Lauryl Sulfate

Keep sulfate-containing dog shampoo away from your pup’s eyes, as SLS has been linked with cataracts and protein formation in the eyes, which can lead to blindness.

Pro Tip: Don’t look at the fluffy, shiny dog on the front of a dog shampoo bottle. Turn the bottle around and read the ingredient list. Before the next time you are shopping online or in person, bookmark this blog post so you can compare it to the ingredients on the bottle.


These show up as MEA (monoethanolamine), DEA (diethanolamine), and TEA (triethanolamine) on a dog shampoo’s label. Ethanolamines help create texture and foam, and when blended properly can control the pH level of a product.

Here’s where it gets scary: When ethanolamines are combined with nitrosamines, which are believed to be carcinogenic, you can imagine the horrible outcome on a dog’s skin and body.

Because some nitrosamines can be absorbed through the skin, the European Commission prohibits DEA in cosmetics to reduce contamination from nitrosamines, believed to be cancer-causing.

Ethanolamines may appear on dog shampoo labeling as:

  • Diethanolamine (DEA)
  • Cocamide DEA 
  • DEA-cetyl phosphate
  • DEA oleth-3 phosphate
  • Lauramide DEA
  • Myristamide DEA 
  • Oleamide DEA 
  • Monoethanolamine (MEA)
  • Cocamide MEA 
  • Linoleamide MEA 
  • Stearamide MEA
  • Triethanolamine (TEA)
  • TEA-lauryl sulfate

MCI (Methylchloroisothiazolinone)

Our rule of thumb is this: If you can’t pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t be bathing your dog with it.

Methylchloroisothiazolinone is a known carcinogenic designed to prevent fungus and preserve shampoo ingredients. Some countries have banned its use, but many have not.

Isopropyl Alcohol

There is no reason for a manufacturer to use alcohol in dog shampoo other than to cut costs. Isopropyl alcohol can dry your dog’s skin and it also stings! You may see it listed as 2-propanol, isopropanol or propyl.

Propylene Glycol

This can irritate a dog’s skin. It is a derivative of natural gas and used in the car industry. I do not use shampoo on my dog if it contains propylene glycol.

Mineral Oil

When your dog has mineral oil applied to its skin, it becomes a sealant of sorts. Nothing can get into or out of the skin and that means toxins, too. You want toxins to exit your dog’s body and be excreted. Don’t use pet shampoos with mineral oil in them.


We all want our dogs to smell good and not like a “wet dog” after a bath. If the scent comes from a natural source, such as botanicals or plants, the label should say so. Otherwise, fragrance can contain a whole lot of things that have no place on your dog’s skin.

Dog getting a bath and ready to use shampoo without harmful chemicals.
Dexter is ready for bath time.

How To Choose Safe Best Dog Shampoos

“When choosing a general shampoo for your pets, it’s important that you select an option that is appropriate for your canine or feline companion over those created for humans,” says Patrick Mahaney, VMD/CVA. “Be especially cautious in choosing a shampoo for your cat, as they are extremely sensitive to the toxic effects of essential oils — tea tree oil, etc.”

Here are our top tips on choosing a dog shampoo that is best for your dog:

  1. Be sure the ingredients are visibly listed on the dog shampoo label and choose one without the dangerous ingredients listed above.
  2. Don’t use antifungal, antibacterial, or antiparasitic shampoos unless your vet prescribed it. You want the good bacteria to remain on your dog’s skin.
  3. Avoid colloidal oatmeal shampoo if your dog is sensitive to oatmeal in general. Dogs lick themselves and groom themselves, leading to more issues. Dr. Dodds indicates grain-based shampoos may contribute to skin fungus and bacteria.
  4. Avoid rosemary as an ingredient if your dog is epileptic or has seizures. Rosemary is safe for most dogs, per Dr. Dodds, but it can promote seizures in “vulnerable dogs.”
  5. Consider the dog’s coat and if he has an undercoat that needs special cleansing. For example, French Bulldogs have low-density hair but Cocker Spaniels have thicker hair.
  6. If it says biodegradable on the label, it means the soap residue won’t harm your water supply nor the dog’s coat.
  7. Understand the FDA is not regulating pet shampoos, so ignore the front of the bottle and make sure you know what’s actually inside.
  8. Try to avoid dyes and colorants like D&C Blue, D&C Yellow, and anything made with coal tar.
  9. If it says sulfate-free, it can still contain chemicals, such as propylene glycol, sodium myristate, and any number of scary things. Read closely.
  10. Use extreme caution with flea and tick shampoos. These are primarily a thing of the past and while the chemicals may temporarily get rid of the pests, they aren’t long-lasting to prevent a re-infestation. There are many more natural alternatives available.

Pro Tip

Rinse your dog thoroughly after shampooing. You don’t want any soap residue on the dog’s skin, which can be irritating, and itchy and encourage mat formation.

Does My Dog Need To Use Conditioner?

According to most pet groomers, dogs with without an undercoat will benefit from a canine conditioner. The reason for this is dogs with an undercoat have coarse, thick hair (like a Labrador Retriever), don’t really matte, and their coats tend to repel dirt.

Most dogs benefit from a conditioner that does not contain any of the dangerous ingredients we outlined above. Dogs who are prone to tangles or matting or those with itchy skin may benefit from a quality canine conditioner.

Pet parents who bathe their dog at least once a week tend to condition their coats. Since frequent bathing can dry the coat and skin, a quality conditioner helps restore the lost moisture in addition to brushing.

Pro Tip: Some shampoo brands include natural ingredients along with synthetic ingredients that have no place on your dog’s skin. Read labels thoroughly.

How Often Should You Bathe Your Dog?

The frequency of bathing your dog depends on the dog’s breed, lifestyle, coat length, and if they well, rolled in mud or something gross.

If you have a show dog, such as an American Cocker Spaniel, with a longer coat, bathing is required more often, such as once a week in a full show coat. I bathe my Cocker Spaniel, who I keep in a sporty puppy cut, twice a month.

You don’t want to over-bathe your dog, which can lead to dryness, flaking, and itching of the skin. Dogs need oils to keep their skin healthy. You should brush your dog daily. If you have a short-coated dog, use the appropriate brush or tool for his hair size and needs.

Don’t use dish soap to bathe your dog, as the skin can become irritated and dry.

What Are Plant-Based Ingredients?

Plant-based ingredients are, you guessed it, derived from natural plant sources. They are generally mild and have hypoallergenic properties so as not to irritate your dog’s skin. These include:

  • Aloe vera
  • Chamomile
  • Lavender oil
  • Eucalyptus
  • Coconut oil
  • Green tea extract
  • Peppermint oil (in small amounts)
  • ​Calendula

What About Dry Shampoo For Dogs?

Let’s face it, sometimes dogs get dirty or stinky and there’s just not enough time in the day for a full bath. I’ve used a few dry shampoos over the years, but I now have a new favorite I’ve been using on my Cocker Spaniel for over a year.

Some people call them waterless shampoos because they are generally a mousse format and do not require water. You don’t want to solely rely on dry shampoo for dogs as the main solution. Now and then, they are fine to use.

We love Pride and Groom’s The Mane Tame Waterless Foaming Shampoo for in-between bathtime. I take it on vacation and use it after long walks, too. It cleanses, freshens, and deodorizes in a lovely mousse format.

​Fatty Acids in Dog Shampoo

Fatty acids are often added to shampoo for dogs to address conditions like itching, inflammation, and allergies. You may recognize the names as omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, lauric acid from coconut oil, linoelic acid, or oleic acid.

​If your dog is having skin or coat issues, it may be an underlying condition. Always schedule a veterinary visit if your dog is experiencing skin issues.

When my first Cocker Spaniel’s skin was a bit dry and her coat dull, it wound up being an underactive thyroid. By adding a prescription to her daily regimen, her coat and skin slowly improved.

What About CBD Shampoo For Dogs?

There are many different CBD-infused grooming products for dogs on the market. We’ve tried the Pet Releaf line with success. Learn more about CBD Dog Shampoo and where to purchase it.

Dog Shampoos and Conditioners I Use On My Dog Regularly

Now you know how to read an ingredient list to ensure your aren’t using one of the worst dog shampoos on your pooch.

Here are my favorite dog shampoos and conditioners and I and recommend. What works for one dog may not work for others, but my Cocker Spaniels never had a shampoo reaction from any of the products on my list.

We have used every one of these dog shampoos and our dogs never had a reaction or issue. We continue to rotate these shampoos for different seasons and reasons with our Cocker Spaniel, Alvin.

Always talk to your veterinarian if you are unclear if a product is a safe shampoo that is ideal for your dog.

Best Shampoo for Puppies

Our favorite: EarthBath Ultra Mild Puppy Shampoo

I used this on Alvin when he was a puppy. It has a wild cherry scent that isn’t overpowering. It is tearless, ph balanced for puppy skin, and contains organic aloe vera for softness. My dog’s puppy coat looked brilliant with a shine and beautiful texture.

Why I Love It

  • Ultra-mild for puppy skin
  • Safe for puppies over six weeks of age
  • Contains no soap, DEA, gluten, parabens, synthetic dyes, sulfates, or phthalates
  • Animal cruelty-free formula
  • Yummy light cherry scent

Things to Consider

  • The scent lingers off

Best Shampoo For Itchy Dog Skin

Our favorite: Vetnique Furbliss Anti-Itch Shampoo for Dogs

We’ve been using this shampoo during the itchy fall season. Our dog has some sensitivities to environmental things. Leaves tend to make him itchy. We love that it has no dyes and is hypoallergenic and gentle for sensitive skin. Made by the same company that makes the anal gland product, Glandex.

Why I Love It

  • Made with all-natural botanical ingredients
  • Contains oat extract to support skin moisture levels
  • Ingredients are recommended by veterinary formulators
  • Contains no medication
  • Gentle for routine bathing

Things to Consider

  • This is not a cure-all for your dog’s itchiness; your veterinarian can help with a total plan
  • Needs to stand for five minutes on your dog before rinsing

Best CBD Shampoo for Dogs

Our favorite: Pet Releaf CBD Skin and Coat Releaf Itchy and Dry Skin Formula

I’ve tried many CBD brands for dogs over the past decade or so. I use Pet Releaf products exclusively because they are the only brand I’ve seen a difference with in my Cocker Spaniels. The CBD extract in each bottle is obtained using organic farming methods and contain no chemicals or contaminants.

Why I Love It

  • No need to wait 10 minutes after lathering; allow 3 to 4 minutes for product on dog
  • Will not wash away topical flea or tick preventatives
  • Each bottle contains 100 mg CBD
  • Contains no chemically-based fragrances
  • Can be used in conjunction with Pet Releaf’s CBD Conditioner for Dogs

Things to Consider

  • A bit pricey
  • Contains a natural chamomile scent
  • Cannot ship outside the United States due to regulations

Best Leave-In Conditioner For Dogs

Our favorite: Zymox Leave-In Conditioner with LP3 Enzymes

I’ve been using this leave-in conditioner for over a decade. You can choose to rinse it clean or for after bath or in-between baths. It gets right to work on dry, flaky skin and provides soothing relief. Because it is infused with Pet King Brands’ LP3 enzyme system, it provides relief for itch or irritation without medications.

Why I Love It

  • I use it to spot treat itchy areas on my dog’s skin
  • Very refreshing scent
  • Moisturizes while it conditions
  • Does not dry out the dog’s skin

Things to Consider

  • No fragrance-free version

Best Brightening Shampoo for White Dogs

Our favorite: BioSilk For Dogs Whitening Shampoo

Why I Love It

  • Sulfate and paraben-free and contains silk and vitamins for moisture
  • Softens and brightens white coats
  • Affordably priced
  • Made in the USA
  • Truly removed grime and restored my dog’s white coat

Things to Consider

  • A bit thick in texture
  • Light fragrance

​Best Luxury Shampoo That Performs Like A Spa Product

Our favorite: Pride and Groom The Shedder Shampoo (*also available in non-shedder)

This is the ultimate luxury shampoo for dogs. It clarifies, moisturizes, and cleanses. I use the Shedder version on Alvin because it really controls his fall season blowing of the coat. Pride + Groom also has a non-shedder version I use in rotation.

Why I Love It

  • No parabens, sulfates, silicones, dyes, and is both gluten free and non-toxic.
  • Smells heavenly and the scent lingers and lasts. I am fragrance allergies, but this does not bother me. In fact, I bury my nose in Alvin’s coat to smell it!
  • A little goes a long way, and I use the frothing method to bathe Alvin.
  • The bottle has a cone-shaped nozzle to put the shampoo right where you want it without waste.
  • I feel Pride + Groom cleanses his skin and coat like no other luxury shampoo

Things to Consider

  • It’s a bit pricey
  • No fragrance-free versions

Bark Back

What are you using to bathe your dog? Do you know what shampoo your groomer uses? Has this ever crossed your mind before? Let us know in the comments below.

dangers of dog shampoos


  1. Such an important topic. It’s imperative pet parents are made aware of these dangers, and I’m so happy to see you bring this topic to the forefront, Carol Bryant.

  2. Thank you so much for this most important information. The health and well being for our precious pets is so important. I loved the list.

  3. Amazing! I wasn’t aware that shampoo could have such dangerous affect on our faithful canine companions in such a manner. Glad I came across this very insightful information!

  4. Thank you for sharing this information. I like your sentiment that “if you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t bath in it”. That definitely puts things I to perspective. I didn’t know dogs had specific conditioners. I have always heard that they can prevent natural oils from forming which can dry out coats. I’m glad there is a trusted one you found.

  5. Our doodle gets sick about 5 days after going to the groomer. I called and Our Groomer used ALOE DEEP Cleanse .

  6. This is valuable information but unfortunately products intended for cleansing or promoting attractiveness of animals are not subject to FDA control. The grooming industry has a long way to go with regards to providing product ingredient labeling with this information.

    1. Correct. Did you read the first paragraph which states, “There are many ingredients in dog shampoo that are dangerous to dogs. Sadly, any products intended to clean an animal are not subject to FDA control. That’s a major reality and a very scary fact from the FDA’s website pertaining to animal products they regulate.”

      I am in agreement with you.

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