Last year, I was in the shower when my husband remarked, “You know, you’re using dog shampoo.” “No, I’m not,” I replied, indignant. But then I realized I was.
Owing to fragrance allergy, my skin tends to overreact: I hive up and rash over. The products I use are organic, perfume-, soap-, sulfate- and paraben-free — things you can use on babies, things formulated for babies. I live abroad, and whenever I’m Stateside I load up on such lotions and shampoos. I like to try new ones, convinced, I guess, that there’s always a product out there more helpful to my hide. On my most recent trip, I added a bunch of options to my cart at an online health supermarket and clicked “purchase.” And that’s how it happened.
I’d been drawn to the bottle’s homey branding — a rhino, penguin, elephant, and walrus summited atop the blue-green planet. And I clocked the “Oatmeal & Aloe” label, as well as the “Fragrance Free” banner. Apparently I missed “Natural Pet Care,” in smaller print, and a badge indicating the shampoo’s compatibility with flea treatment.
In any case, I’d been using the product made for cats and dogs for months. I loved it, and had no intention of stopping. The company promises that it “helps relieve itching and dry skin,” and the shampoo did all of those things — better than dozens of other hypoallergenic ones I’ve tried — without leaving a film on or stripping my hair or upsetting my scalp.
Still, I wanted to make sure it was safe for me to continue using. I reached out to Earthbath founder and CEO Paul Armstrong, who told me that he, too, uses the pet products. In his shower, he said, was the company’s Coat Brightening Shampoo with lavender and Stress Relief Shampoo with eucalyptus and peppermint, which apparently soothes pets and humans alike. Armstrong’s 14-year-old daughter grabs bottles for herself, and many Earthbath employees do the same. One swears by the Vanilla Almond Conditioner.
Because the skin and coats of cats and dogs “absorb everything,” an Earthbath rep explained, the company keeps its ingredient lists small, and skews the pet products toward a more neutral pH than the typically more-acidic people products.
When I asked New York dermatologist Dr. Hadley King for more insight, she went over the ingredients. “Oatmeal is something that’s been used for centuries to moisturize and soothe the skin. It’s a skin-protectant,” she told me. She also declared it “totally safe.” In fact, using Earthbath is in the tradition of Mane ‘n Tail — an animal toiletry that equestrians started applying to themselves years ago and that’s said to be a favorite of everyone from Jennifer Aniston to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It makes sense that stuff for horses and cows, as well as tabbies and pooches, tends to be hardworking and no-frills. After all, a collie doesn’t need its shampoo to be “color-safe,” King pointed out. “Fewer bells and whistles make for a product with fewer opportunities for reactions,” she added. “Sometimes that’s all we need.”