The Most Toxic Ingredients in Dog Shampoo and How to Avoid Them

We groom our dogs because we care about them and have their best interests at heart. Grooming is an important part of your dog's healthcare routine. It helps keep their skin moisturized and clean, their fur soft and, of course, helps with that iconic dog smell. But your current grooming routine could be harming your dog without you even realizing it.

Just like with our own shampoos, soaps and hair care products, dog shampoos are often riddled with toxic ingredients. But trying to read the ingredients list on a dog shampoo bottle can feel like deciphering a cryptic code. Spotting those harmful chemicals and understanding which ingredients are safe is essential to protecting your pet and making sure that anything that goes on their body is beneficial for their skin, coat and overall health.

We've rounded up the most toxic ingredients in dog shampoo and how to avoid them. Plus, we've included some safe and effective ingredients to look for instead!

The most common toxic ingredients in dog shampoos

toxic ingredients in dog shampoo

Always check ingredient labels for these toxic ingredients.

1. Formaldehyde

While you likely won't see the word formaldehyde on your dog shampoo's ingredient list, it's often there hidden under other names. Pet grooming products often use formaldehyde as a preservative, but it can cause your dog's skin to blister, dry out and become incredibly itchy. The names you'll often see formaldehyde listed under include:

  • Diazolidinyl urea
  • Imidazolidinyl urea
  • Quarternium-15

2. Isopropyl alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol (commonly known as rubbing alcohol) can often find its way into pet care products. As you can imagine, this is highly drying for both fur and skin. It also makes skin more porous, making it easier for other toxic ingredients to absorb into your dogs' skin. It can also be listed as SD Alcohol 40 or SD-40, but this is not to be confused with Oleyl alcohol, which is safe to use.

3. Cocamide MEA

Cocamide MEA is used in dog shampoos to make them thick and foamy. Although coconut fatty acids are used in the process of making Cocamide MEA, it is not a natural ingredient (but it's often marketed as one). It's made with a synthetic chemical called monoethanolamide (MEA). Studies have shown that MEA on its own is irritative and corrosive, and Cocomide MEA is toxic when inhaled in aerosol form. It's definitely not something you want to be putting on your dogs' skin.

4. Ethanolamine Compounds

Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA) are both ethanolamine compounds, which, similar to MEA, are emulsifiers and help to make shampoo foamy. Both compounds have been linked to liver cancer, and DEA is also linked to hormone disruption, liver tumours, and buildup in the kidneys and liver, causing organ toxicity.

5. Parabens

Parabens are also used as preservatives in many dog grooming products. They are known to build up inside the body, and over time can lead to cancer, reproductive problems and estrogen disruption. Sometimes parabens are listed under different names, including:

  • Butylparaben
  • Propylparaben
  • Methylparaben

Essentially, if it has the word paraben in it, avoid it

6. Phthalates

Phthalates are used in dog grooming products to help bond the fragrance to the rest of the ingredients. The problem is that they are hormone disruptors, which can cause severe issues to your dog's endocrine system. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has listed phthalates as carcinogenic. Phthalates can also be found in vinyl flooring and used to soften plastic. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want that on my, or my dogs' skin.

7. Polyethylene glycol (PEG) & Propylene Glycol (PPG)

Polyethylene glycol (PEG) is a substance used to help retain moisture and water. It's often used in laxatives, as an ink solvent for printer heads, and to help make large, durable soap bubbles in dog shampoo. It's a synthetic ingredient made from petroleum, and it can be very harsh on fur and skin. On top of that, it's known as a penetration enhancer, which means that it encourages the absorption of other harmful chemicals into your dog's bloodstream.

Propylene Glycol (PPG) is a chemical that is used in cosmetics to ensure they maintain their consistency. It helps prevents products from melting or freezing, but it can also make skin more porous, allowing toxic and harmful substances to reach your dogs bloodstream. It can also cause skin irritation and the Environmental Working Group has added PPG to the list of chemicals causing moderate health issues.

8. Sulfates

Sodium Lauryl Sulfates or SLS is incredibly common in many household products, including toothpaste, engine degreasers, floor cleaners, soaps and dog shampoos. The toxicity of sulfates has been highlighted in the media lately and is one of the top offenders when it comes to toxic chemicals found in products we use daily. There are many different types of sulfates, including Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Ammonium Laureth Sulfate. Sulfates are surfactants that act as foaming agents or emulsifiers to help clean dirt and oil off of skin. While they may be effective cleaners, they are extremely drying. Sulfates can also contain ethylene oxide, which the IARC has listed as a carcinogen.

9. Synthetic fragrances

Synthetic fragrance is often used to cover up the smell of chemicals. If there is a fragrance in your dog shampoo, it should come from plants or essential oils, but most of the time the fragrance in dog shampoo is artificial because it's cheaper. What's worse is that our dogs have an incredibly acute sense of smell (50 times as strong as humans), so fragrances can be 50 times more irritating to their sensitive noses. Some synthetic fragrances are also linked to reproductive toxicity and cancer.

The scary thing about fragrance is that a product can contain many different synthetic fragrances, but they don't need to be labelled separately in the ingredients list. If you see artificial or synthetic fragrance in the ingredients list, it's best to skip it.

toxic ingredients in dog shampoo

We're committed to using no nasty chemicals in any of our products - ever!

10. Mineral oils

Mineral oil doesn't sound like a nasty chemical, but it can have a negative impact on your dog's skin and fur. Mineral oil is a hydrocarbon derived from the petroleum cracking process. Not only is the process terrible for the environment, but the product itself creates buildup on the skin leading to itchiness and rashes. On top of that, it can prevent new fur growth since it clogs the follicles, inhibiting the skin's ability to excrete toxins or generate sebum, which is essential for skin lubrication and protection.

11. GMOs

Dog shampoos that contain GMOs could be putting your dogs' overall health at risk. If pet products contain genetically modified ingredients then your pet's skin is absorbing them into their bloodstream, and that includes whatever chemicals and pesticides were sprayed onto them. This can lead to skin irritation, allergies, and digestive problems. Some of the most common GMOs to look out for in dog shampoos include canola or soy oil, xanthan gum, corn starch, amino acids, and sodium citrate.

12. Silicones

Silicones are used in dog shampoos and other pet products to make fur silky and smooth. The problem with silicone-based ingredients is that they're very hard to remove and will build up on your pets fur and skin. This clogs the pores, preventing skin from breathing. Silicone is similar to rubber or plastic. It makes fur look shiny, but that’s just because it’s coated in a plastically film, not because it’s actually helping the hair. Silicone may be listed as Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone, and Cyclopentasiloxane. Basically, if you see something ending in -cone or -siloxane then it’s likely a form of silicone.

13. Synthetic dyes

Synthetic dyes are often added to dog shampoos, but they have no purpose other than aesthetic. Companies put these colored dyes into products to make them look pretty, but they are typically made from toxic ingredients that are not good for your pet. There is still not a lot of regulation around the use of synthetic dyes in pet grooming products, so you need to read the labels and avoid them yourself. Synthetic dyes can prevent hair growth by blocking follicles and increasing skin sensitivity.

14. Petrochemicals

Petrochemicals, as the name suggests, are byproducts of the petroleum industry, and they are often found in hair care, personal care products, and dog shampoos. Their purpose is typically as a moisturizing agent or to add fragrance, but there are some serious side effects associated with their use. Petrochemicals like aldehydes and benzene derivatives can cause allergic reactions, central nervous system disorders, and cancer.

15. Triclosan

Triclosan is found in many household and personal care products like toothpaste, soap and dog shampoo. It’s used for its antibacterial and antifungal properties, but the long-term implications of triclosan are worrying. It’s now showing up in the urine and breastmilk of humans and in our waterways. The chemical is accumulating in our bodies and the bodies of our pets, which can lead to lung irritation, organ system toxicity, and endocrine disruption. This high hazard ingredient has been banned in some parts of the world, but not everywhere, so it’s still important to look out for it on your dog shampoo.

16. Phenoxyethanol

Phenoxyethanol is a chemical preservative that is used in dog shampoo. It has a pleasant odor, similar to roses, and has an oily consistency. It’s not always listed as phenoxyethanol on the label and may appear as PhE, dowanol, rose ether, phenoxetol, ethylene glycol monophenyl ether or beta-hydroxyethyl phenyl ether. Phenoxyethanol, while approved in small doses, have been shown to lead to hives, eczema, rashes and skin irritation in both humans and pets.

Be aware of greenwashing

Similar to the human cosmetic and haircare industries, the pet care industry is full of greenwashing. Greenwashing is when companies use trigger words like "all-natural" or "made with clean ingredients" when marketing their products to mislead consumers into thinking the product is eco-friendly and safe. The reality is that there may be a single ingredient derived from a natural source, like coconut, but the rest of the ingredients could be toxic and lead to health problems in your pet.

There are many ways to spot a company using greenwashing techniques to position its products as sustainable and eco-friendly. These are often referred to as the 7 Sins of Greenwashing and include things like lack of proof to support their claims, vagueness or false certifications. But the easiest way to spot greenwashing, especially in the pet care industry, is simply by reading the ingredient label. Now you know exactly what ingredients to look out for so you can identify if a product is as natural as they claim.

We always recommend doing your research before investing in a product to ensure that they operate in a way that aligns with you.

Safe and effective ingredients for dog grooming products

Many dog shampoo brands contain ingredients that we’ve listed above, and that’s not to say those products are bad, but it’s just unnecessary to use toxic chemicals when we have access to so many natural, safe alternatives. We have a choice, and so much more knowledge than we did before. Because of that, there are better options that have developed over the years, giving the same successful and positive results. Organic and natural chemistry has come so far, and with brands like Doglyness, you can be sure your won’t just be using toxic-free products, but also very effective natural products with organic, safe ingredients.

Here are some safe and effective dog shampoo ingredients that will benefit their skin and coat.

safe ingredients in dog shampoo

These ingredients are nourishing and safe for your dogs coat and skin.

Aloe vera

Aloe vera is a type of succulent plant typically grown in dry and hot climates and is notoriously used to soothe sunburn. But this ingredient is also incredibly hydrating and promotes the healing of your dog's skin. It's great for dogs with sensitive skin and also helps strengthen and grow hair/fur. Aloe vera gel contains vitamins A, B, C, and E, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and amino acids.

Crambe Abyssinica seed oil

Crambe Abyssinica seed oil is extracted from Crambe Abyssinica seeds, a plant with small white flowers native to Africa and the Mediterranean region. The oil is high in omegas 6 and 9 and is a natural anti-inflammatory, helping to soothe irritated and sensitive skin. It also promotes skin plumpness, hair elasticity and strengthens follicles from the inside out. It's often called the "best-kept secret" in the natural skincare industry, but the secret's out! And now you can find it as a main ingredient in many of our products.


Phytosterols are natural plant molecules which are found in a variety of different plants. In fact, there are over 200 different types of phytosterols, all of which have incredible benefits for damaged and irritated skin. If your pup is suffering from dry or damaged skin, regardless of the cause, products containing phytosterols can help to speed up healing. Phytosterols help to prevent the breakdown of collagen and help stimulate hair growth. This is great for dogs who have lost hair due to allergic reactions or ageing.

Hydroxypropyltrimonium inulin

While this ingredient name may look scary, it's entirely natural and provides many benefits to your dog's coat. You may also see it listed as agave inulin, as it comes from the blue agave family. It is well known in the natural hair care industry for its anti-static and hydrating properties, helping your dog's fur retain moisture. On top of that, when used in dog shampoo, it gives your dog's coat and skin more time to soak up all the other beneficial ingredients.

Colloidal oatmeal

Colloidal oatmeal is just a fancy name for one of the healthiest grains on the planet – oats! Not only do we love eating oats for breakfast, but they are an excellent ingredient for dog shampoos. Colloidal oatmeal is made by grinding oats into a super fine powder, which is then combined with other liquid ingredients to create a protective film over your dog's skin. This moisturizing and soothing barrier contains vitamins, minerals, proteins, and healthy fats that help keep your dogs skin soft and repair any skin damage.

There are many other amazing natural ingredients that are both safe and effective for your dog. Find a complete list of ingredients, including their EWG scores here.

ingredients in dog shampoo

Always use natural products on your dog to support their health and happiness.

Our No Nasties Pledge

At Doglyness, we send nasty chemicals to exile! We believe in using quality, organic ingredients that make dogs look fabulous without causing damage. There are natural ingredients that are equally as effective as chemical cleansers without harming your dogs or yourself. And that is why we created our No Nasties Pledge. We pledge to always source our pet care product ingredients from high-quality, botanical sources. We also include the Environmental Working Group (EWG) scores of each ingredient for full transparency of everything in our products. You can find out more about our No Nasties Pledge here.

Your dog's health is determined by what you feed them and put on them. And as their owners, they rely on us to make the best decisions for them. Spending a few minutes reading the ingredient labels goes a long way in identifying toxic ingredients and protecting your pet.