As most pet lovers know, there are squillions of products on the market that claim to pamper and indulge your fur babies. And when it comes to pets, many big businesses see dollar signs. But what you pay for and how a product is branded doesn’t always mean bang for your buck.
This week I got hold of a bottle of Aesop Animal Shampoo. It came in a beautiful, freshly scented bag, packed in an impossibly perfect bottle with even more perfect branding, a divine scent, and all available to me and my lucky pooch for the hefty price of $39.
The shampoo seemed to whisper to me that I'd be doing something lavish - essential even - for my pet. The claim? “A mild skin and fur wash with deodorising properties; cleanses gently yet thoroughly while calming even the most sensitive skin.”
The product didn't even appear to just be a dog shampoo, but rather an all-rounder that could be used on any pet. (My cat's eyes visibly narrowed in decadent anticipation as I informed her of this fact). So far, tick, tick, tick for Aesop Animal Shampoo.
But did the product itself live up to the claims and premium price point I bought it for? The short answer is no. Because its ingredients are those I’d expect to see in a cheap pet shampoo that I could buy for a chub change - minus the alluring bag.
What ingredients am I talking about? Well, let's start with the ingredient called sodium laureth sulfate, or SLES. It's listed as the second ingredient in Aesop Animal Shampoo.
Experiments on both humans and animals show that SLES causes eye and skin irritation. And while it’s used in quite a large number of products on the market – that’s not really a good enough reason to use it (everyone else is doing it), let alone claim a product is for “the most sensitive of skin” – This product isn’t actually good for sensitive skin at all.
SLES not only acts as an irritant but most dermatologists (both human and veterinary) would agree that this ingredient - if not outright irritating - will dry out the skin and strip it of natural oils. In fact, it is recommended by most dermatologists that if you (or your pet) has sensitive skin, sodium laureth sulfate is actually on the to be avoided list to be avoided.
So OK Aesop, I think we can safely say your pet shampoo isn’t living up to what you’re making us all believe. So why use it?
Because it’s cheap.
Many products containing SLES also contain traces of 1,4-dioxane (a contaminant from the manufacturing process) which is classified by all reputable cancer research groups including the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a Group2B carcinogen: that is, possibly causes cancer in animals and humans.
Companies that use SLES are supposed to monitor the levels of this contamination by 1,4-dioxane. However, it’s not law and as such most don’t. Manufacturers can remove the cancer causing 1,4-dioxane via a process known as vacuum stripping, but unless you’ve got a spare chemist handy, the consumer has no way of telling if this process has even been done by a manufacturer. The only good news here is that 1,4-dioxane isn’t absorbed very well over skin especially in a product that is being washed off.
So how do we know Aesop Animal contains no 1,4-dioxane? The simple answer is – that we don’t.
Although natural, Aesop Animal also contains tea tree oil which is on the cautionary poison list for pets (especially cats, for which it is highly toxic). While most reports of toxicosis from tea tree oil are from gross misuse and using an undiluted oil, there is very little data on actual doses or long term effects of more mild doses over time.
Considered especially risky by veterinary toxicologists, tea tree oil even at low concentrations can cause allergic reactions when applied to the skin of pets – the exact opposite of the ‘calming’ effect Aesop claims. The bottle has no indication of how much tea tree oil is even in the product, and while that’s legal, and there is no requirement to do so, given the risks of toxicity, I would have thought in the interests of transparency this information would be available to consumers who want to know more, to allow them to make informed decisions about what to put on their pets.
Aesop has done nothing illegal here. It has breached no laws. But at $39 a bottle, would I wash my dog with it? No. No I wouldn’t.