Creative grooming: toxic or trendy?

What is creative grooming, and is it safe for our animal companions? The answer is yes — as long as natural products are used.

As president of the only organization that is dedicated to both the art and science of creative grooming, I know firsthand about the controversial topic of ‘creative coloring’. Hands down, the most common concern of pet owners, as well as the public, is the safety of the animals. This is a very legitimate concern and the NAPCG addresses this issue on almost a daily basis.

Let me start by informing you that the pet industry is completely unregulated. That’s right — there’s no mandatory level of education, no licensing, and no official body that governs the grooming industry. For this reason, it is imperative that pet owners ask questions and interview potential groomers, and it’s even more important when it comes to creative coloring. It was also this very reason that I was prompted to establish the NAPCG. I wanted professional groomers to have a resource for continuing their education and to ensure the safety of the pets we are entrusted with.

Understanding your pet’s skin

There are many coloring products that are perfectly safe for use on pets, and there are also products that should never be used on pets. Let’s start with the basics: the skin. We must keep in mind that canine skin and human skin are not the same. There are approximately 20-25 layers to the human epidermis. However, there are only 8-10 layers to the canine epidermis, and the number can be as low as 6 layers for felines. What does this tell us? For starters, it tells us that canine and feline skin is much more susceptible to toxic or corrosive chemicals.


The problem with vegetable based dyes

Most professional groomers enlist the use of true semi-permanent dyes for creative coloring. Your first clue that a groomer has NOT been properly educated is the use of the term ”vegetable based dyes”. There is no such thing as a “vegetable based” dye. This is a misnomer used by groomers who attempt to fool you into thinking they know what they’re doing. It’s true that some pigments are derived from vegetable sources, but their molecular structure has been altered and they are no longer ‘vegetables’. This term is often used for products such as Manic Panic, a human labeled semi-permanent dye. Don’t get me wrong, Manic Panic is one of the safest dyes available for use on pets, but it is a “conditioner based” dye. Conditioners make up the ‘base’ and various pigments are added to create a dye.

Which dyes should be used?

This brings me to another misnomer: creative groomers should only use pet labeled dyes. Most educated creative groomers, myself included, actually prefer to use human labeled dyes. Why, you ask? Cosmetic products labeled for human use are required by law to list ALL ingredients contained within the product. When choosing these products, we know exactly what is contained within the jar. However, the pet industry does not fall under these same guidelines. Many pet labeled products do not list their ingredients at all, while others only give a partial list. NAPCG members are highly educated as to what ingredients can be dangerous to a pet’s health, such as p-phenylenediamine, which has been linked to cancer in numerous studies. Our members also sign a code of ethics prohibiting the use of such products. While most true semi-permanent dyes are safe, there are some that are not, and nothing can be taken for granted when it comes to our pet’s health.


Are all human labeled dyes safe for pets?

Does this mean all human labeled products are safe for use on pets? Absolutely not! Believe it or not, there are groomers out there using hair bleach and oxidizing dyes on pets. Hair bleach is a toxic, corrosive chemical that can cause numerous injuries such as chemical burns, ocular irritation, and respiratory failure, just to name a few. Oxidizing dyes are defined as any dye that must be mixed with a developer (or water) prior to use. These dyes contain numerous carcinogens and toxic chemicals, such as salts of persulfates and should never be used on pets.

As you can see, the “science” of creative grooming can become quite involved. That’s exactly why the NAPCG recommends that these techniques be left to professional groomers. If you are interested in having your pet creatively colored, contact the NAPCG to find a member in your area. After all, there is no groom that is worth sacrificing the safety and well-being of your fur kids!


Amy Brown is the founder and president of the National Association of Professional Creative Groomers, and co-author of "The Science of Creative Grooming".


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