Dry Shampoo For Dogs: Convenient … But Is It Safe?

dry shampoo for dogs
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Guests are due to arrive at your house in 30 minutes. Dinner’s in the oven. You’re straightening the cushions on the couch when you smell … your dog.

With time of the essence, you decide to try out the dry dog shampoo you purchased for just these emergencies. No water required. It’s fast and easy.

The question is… what price are you willing to pay for this convenience?

How Does Waterless Shampoo Work?

Both you and your dog have sebaceous glands that are attached to hair follicles. Your dog’s sebaceous glands are present in large numbers near the paws, back of the neck, rump, chin and tail area.

The sebaceous glands produce a light, oily substance called sebum that keeps the skin healthy, well moisturized and shiny. Sebum also has natural antibiotic properties that provide the first line of defense against bacteria. The sebum is what gives your dog (and you too, if you admit it!) her distinct scent.

Between washing, the sebum can build up, leaving greasy, dull, unclean looking hair or fur. The more build-up, the stronger the smell.

(Are you just looking for a safe shampoo to use on your dog? Check out this shampoo)

Used correctly, dry shampoos made of starch powders and clay (also called Fuller’s Earth), simply absorb the excess oil from the skin and hair or fur – restoring the shine and making it appear to have more body again.

Dirt and pollutants accumulate daily. Water and soap baths are the only way to remove these from your dog’s skin and scalp  so the follicle remains clear, balanced, breathing and growing.

Caution: Using too much dry powder will absorb more than just the excess oils and will effectively destroy your dog’s natural antibacterial barrier. You also risk clogging the hair follicles and contributing to stunted hair growth and the buildup of environmental toxins on your dog.

Remember, the oils are needed to maintain your dog’s healthy skin and coat. Click here for more reasons why it’s good to be a dirty dog!

Powders, Sprays, Gels, and Foams – Oh My!

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s women used dry shampoo powders made from talc, magnesium carbonate, and artificial fragrance for quick “touch-ups.” These dry shampoos went out of vogue in the mid 1970s after the link was made between talcum powder, asbestos, and mesothelioma (lung cancer).

Dry shampoo has recently surged in popularity as both a time and water saver.

This trend has of course infiltrated the pet market with a multitude of formulations. These formulations aren’t the clay (Fuller’s earth) powders used throughout the 15th to 18th centuries or the rice and iris powders from the 20th century. They are everything from starch and talcum powders to sprays, gels, and even foams.

Since the regulation of talcum powder started in 1973, you can be confident that the talc based dry powders won’t contain asbestos. There is however ongoing research to determine if talcum powder still has links to cancer.

I looked at the ingredients in eight of the top selling dry (waterless) dog grooming products and highlighted the ingredients that have links to known health issues – or where I was unable to find the list of ingredients.

Ingredients on dry shampoo brands for dogs

While none of these products contained asbestos, some of these ingredients pose real risks of exposure to toxic ingredients. Here are some examples.

Linked to Cancer

  • DMDM Hydantoin – a form of slow releasing formaldehyde
  • Preservative
  • FD&C Blue #1 (artificial colors)
  • Fragrance (artificial fragrance)

Often Contaminated

These ingredients are often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane or ethylene oxide (known cancer causing compounds):

  • Ammonium Lauryl Ether Sulfate
  • Polysorbate 20


Greenwashing means that products are made to sound natural. The ones below are often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane or ethylene oxide, which are known cancer-causing compounds:

  • Coconut based surfactants
  • Mild cleansing agents
  • Moisturizing ingredients

Linked To Immune System Toxicity Or Allergies

  • Cocamidopropyl Betaine


Ethanolamines are ammonia compounds that are linked to cancer:

  • Cocamide DEA

Multiple Risks

These ingredients can cause endocrine disruption, cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity:

  • Ethyl Parabe
  • Methyl Paraben

Allergic Reactions and Neurotoxicity

These two ingredients on their own are linked to allergic reactions and possible neurotoxicity. They can also break down in the product to form nitrosamines which have very strong links to cancer:

  • Methylchloroisothiazolinone
  • Methylisothiazolinone

Absorption-Increasing Ingredients

These ingredients may increase the absorption of other ingredients through your dog’s skin. If these ingredients are in the same bottle with a cancer causing ingredient, you have effectively increased the chances of it getting through your dog’s skin and into her body:

  • Disodium EDTA
  • Ethanol (also drying)
  • Tetrasodium EDTA


There’s a common theme in dry shampoo that’s also in traditional dog grooming products … mixing synthetic ingredients linked to health issues with all natural and likely safe ingredients, to make the overall product appear natural.

There’s also a scale of purity for ingredients including extracts and essential oils. A certified organic steam extracted white ginger extract may cost $60 an ounce. A less pure, white ginger extract may cost $0.42 an ounce … but it may also contain phenoxyethanol, a preservative with links to immune system toxicities and allergies. So, you get what you pay for in terms of purity.

As a general rule, if there are ingredients that look great but are mixed with toxic ingredients, don’t overlook the toxic ingredients. This is a classic form of greenwashing – making a product sound all natural and safe when it isn’t.

Don’t Believe The Marketing

While I researched the ingredients, I also noted some outlandish marketing claims:

  • No dry dog shampoo is going to absorb or repel dirt
  • It also won’t remove grease or grime
  • It doesn’t mask sweating
  • It won’t even clean your dog

Here’s what dry shampoo will do:

  • The safer dry powders, used correctly, will simply absorb the excess oils but remain on your dog.
  • The sprays, gels, and foams will increase your dog’s exposure to environmental toxins because the ingredients stay on your dog.  If these ingredients are linked to allergies and dry skin, you also increase your dog’s chances of having a reaction.

You dog will lick, and whatever is on her will then be inside her. This includes the sodium bicarbonate in the powder product. While sodium bicarbonate is overall safe and great to relieve the occasional bout of indigestion, ingesting large quantities could have unwanted side effects.

Keeping It Safe

If you want a quick DIY fix to absorb the excess oils on your dog you can use cornstarch (as long as your dog isn’t sensitive to corn) or a high grade Fuller’s earth – just use it very sparingly! Remember, the goal is to absorb the excess oils – not all of the oils.

You should also alternate your dry treatment with a water and soap bath to clean the environmental toxins off of your dog. Above all, don’t let the cost of convenience be at the expense of your dog’s health.

I recommend using a certified organic dog shampoo because certified organic products do have regulatory oversight and ingredient integrity. This gives you the highest level of confidence that you’re using something safe and non-toxic on your best friend!


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