shampoo washing a horse

Shampoos: A Chemical Soup

Equine and dog shampoos are as much a staple in barns and homes as food and grooming tools. The question that keeps coming up for me is, what’s really in these shampoos? So I decided to hop down the rabbit hole and find out.

Uh Oh

I collected a list of ingredients of the top selling equine and canine shampoos, went to several tack stores and wrote down ingredients of lesser known brands, and started correlating the various chemicals. As I began my research into these various chemical concoctions, I was hit by the sudden realization that the skin is the largest organ of the microbiome, and we are stressing it with some powerful endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, and contact allergens.

Some of these common chemical ingredients, when combined with other ingredients, become even more potentially toxic to the beneficial skin microorganisms, and potentially to the blood stream as well. Some are environmental hazards, affecting ground water and soil if they wash into fields and streams.

Putting two and two together

The more I studied the chemical components of shampoos, the more I began to focus on the correlation and connection of healthy gut and healthy skin. How are horses being affected by routine exposure? How are these chemicals affecting healthy populations of microorganisms in the skin? Since none of us usually bathe our horses and dogs with latex gloves, how are these chemicals in the shampoos affecting our skin and blood stream?   There are also, of course, the environmental impacts, such as having these chemicals washing into our soils, ground water, and ultimately to be taken up by grasses in our pastures.

Red Flag Ingredients

Methylparaben and Propylparaben:  Quickly absorbed through the skin, these preservatives have attracted a great deal of controversy with many reports of serious side effects. These compounds have been found intact within breast cancer tissues. They have been found to mimic estrogen and act as a potential hormone (endocrine) disruptor.

Methylchloroisothiazolinone/Methylisothiazolinone:  Nearly impossible to pronounce, these preservatives known as “MCI/MIT” have shown an increase in sensitization on human skin.   The North American Contact Dermatitis Group named these preservatives the Contact Allergy of the Year in 2013. Research on rat brain cells found that brief exposure is highly toxic to cultured neurons.

Propylene Glycol:  Is a petroleum derivative found in products such as anti-freeze and brake fluid as well as some lipsticks, toothpaste, and deodorant sticks. Propylene Glycol can form a seal over the skin, preventing the escape of water; this does not add moisture to the skin. It tends to sit on the surface of skin after rinsing, dissolving fats and oils that the skin needs to stay nourished.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate:  Known as SLS and SLES these are used in testing labs as the standard ingredient to irritate skin, and are mainly used to create aesthetically preferred suds. They are used commonly in car wash soaps, garage floor cleaners, and engine degreasers. Both SLS and SLES may cause potentially carcinogenic formations of nitrates and dioxins to form by reacting with other product ingredients. The gradual, cumulative effects of long-term, repeated exposures are a real concern.

Cocomide DEA:  The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists this ingredient as possibly carcinogenic to humans. In 2012 California listed cocomide DEA under its Prop 65 Law which requires warning labels on consumer products containing carcinogens or reproductive toxicants.

Cocamidopropyl Betaine (CAPB):  Well-documented as a contact allergen and contributor to dermatitis.

Hexyl Cinnamal:  This is a synthetic scent ingredient, currently on the EU list of Banned and Restricted Fragrances as a possible human immune system toxicant or allergen, and can be found in equine shampoos in the US.

Polysorbate 80:  There are two grades of this emulsifier: cosmetic grade and food grade. It is the cosmetic grade that is of most concern as it may contain ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which have a high hazard rating.

Polysorbate 20:  This is also an emulsifier that is treated with the carcinogenic ethylene oxide and can be contaminated with 1,4 –dioxane. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics reported that the levels in 1,4-dioxane found in personal care products are 1,000 times higher than those found to cause cancer in animal studies.

Triclosan and Triclocarban:  These 2 ingredients came under fire by the FDA as a result of research showing they may be aiding the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria as well as disrupting hormone levels. Some experts have called these antibacterial chemicals a public health threat. New data points to triclosan and triclocarban having endocrine-disrupting potential.

Tetrasodium EDTA:  Made from formaldehyde and sodium cyanide. Some animal studies have found this chelating agent to have reproductive effects because it can bind with minerals. It is slow to degrade making it a poor choice for environmental health.

Enter War Horse

war horse logoMy friend Rande Goulding, the barn manager for Green River Farm, told me about an equine shampoo from War Horse she was using that she loved and did not contain any red flag ingredients. War Horse uses real food ingredients in their shampoos like sunflower oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, almond oil plus tea tree oil, sea salts with glycerin and essential oils. War Horse products are certified non-GMO by the Non GMO Project, and tested clean of glyphosates and pesticides.

I was intrigued!  So I bought a bottle of War Horse Equine Shampoo and Conditioner, and tried it on my little terrier, Yoda.

I have tried so many shampoos on Yoda, searching for something that would reduce the oily/smelly skin that requires her to be bathed every week. A raw diet and colostrum has stopped the chronic itching but not the stinky, greasy coat. I plunked her in the sink, and applied the shampoo…the first thing I noticed was how wonderful it smelled, then how it felt on my hands. After I toweled her dry and let her sit in the sun, her coat was amazing: soft, shiny, and healthy.

Equine & Canine Shampoos: A Chemical Soup


I then passed the shampoo onto JJ Tate’s training barn, so that we could see its performance on multiple horses and dogs. The response was all thumbs up and the exclamation, “We loved it!!”

Making a difference

Since I bathed Yodel in War Horse’s shampoo/conditioner she has not needed another bath. This is the first time since she wandered into my life six months ago that she hasn’t needed a bath every week. Her skin is not oily or smelly, and it has been 3 weeks. That in and of itself is miraculous.

For all we do for our horses and dogs in food choices and supplements, I feel that not addressing the toxic ingredients in equine and canine shampoos can no longer be avoided. Continued exposure to these chemicals will degrade the microbiome of the skin, may enter the blood stream, and will contribute to environmental damage at our farms and homes.

For more information about War Horse: go to:


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

You may also like...