Oatmeal shampoo is marketed to pet owners and groomers as a natural soothing product to aid itching and discomfort for pets suffering from allergies or undiagnosed skin problems. Colloidal oatmeal has a history of use for human skin discomforts and oatmeal soaks are recommended for children and adults suffering from eczema, poison ivy, and random itchiness. Do pet shampoos with oatmeal offer the same relief to our pets? Some groomers have recently questioned the efficacy of the commercial oatmeal pet shampoos. One way to look at this is to determine how much oatmeal is actually delivered in our grooming products.
Unless a percentage of oatmeal is declared on the package or in the adverts, consumers don’t know how much oatmeal is in a bottle of shampoo. However, if it is not declared as a percentage, it is reasonable to assume that it is one percent or less. Most additives are used in amounts from one tenth of a percent to one percent. If it is more than one percent, it will be used as a talking point or sales point. Biogroom states that their oatmeal shampoo contains 2%, Earthbath proclaims 3%.
Dilution – Here’s the rub! A serious anti-itch oatmeal shampoo does NOT recommend dilution. Why? When we dilute the shampoo, we also dilute the active ingredient, in this case, the oatmeal. Dilution is one of the reasons many groomers say that oatmeal shampoo does not work. It doesn’t - if you are diluting it 15:1 or 33:1.
Let’s do the math: There is 128 ounces in a gallon of shampoo. If that product contains the usual one percent oatmeal we have 128 x .01 = 1.28 ounces of oatmeal in the gallon of shampoo. If we dilute that 15:1, there is a total of 16 gallons of diluted shampoo with just 1.28 ounces of oatmeal or 1.28/16 = 0.08 (eight hundredths) of an ounce of oatmeal per gallon of diluted product. I call that a negligible amount.
The oatmeal shampoo that declares the greatest percentage of oatmeal, 3%, also sells the point that it can be diluted 33:1. 128 x .03= 3.84 oz oatmeal divided by 34 diluted gallons = 0.112 oz. of oatmeal per gallon of diluted shampoo. This may be a very gentle shampoo, but it does not have any anti-pruritic property with that little amount of oatmeal. It is also unlikely to have much moisturizing value at that amount. What is has, is sales value. The same can be said for the 1% or less of aloe vera that is often found in these soothing shampoos.
It’s not just the oatmeal that makes an anti-pruritic shampoo. One of the first oatmeal shampoos, that started the trend, was Virbac Epi-Soothe, a veterinary product. Looking at their marketing spiel, we see that Epi-Soothe has much more going than just the colloidal oatmeal.
“Soap-free Epi-Soothe Shampoo helps soothe, cleanse, and control mild itch. Epi-Soothe contains colloidal oatmeal, chitosan, and Spherulites microcapsules. It employs glycotechnology that helps reduce bacterial and yeast adhesion to the surface of the skin. This action physically disrupts colonization of microorganisms on the skin surface and may delay onset of irritation due to topical bacteria or yeast. Chitosan is a natural biopolymer that creates a protective film on the skin and hair coat. Exclusive Spherulites microcapsules ensure a slow release of the ingredients long after product application. For cats, dogs, and horses.”
The delayed release technology is critical to this oatmeal shampoo, as it allows the colloidal oatmeal to remain after rinsing the shampoo. On its own, colloidal oatmeal is not substantive to the hair and skin. It is removed in the rinsing.
Another thing we can notice about this shampoo is that they recommend TWO shampoos, the first to remove dirt and excess oils, the second should remain on the dog for at least 5 minutes, preferable 10 minutes, to allow penetration of the active ingredients. If groomers are to expect any anti-itch benefit from any therapeutic shampoo, whether it be itch relief, anti-bacterial action, etc., there needs to be extended contact time.
Summary and Conclusions: Although colloidal oatmeal has well-established moisturizing, skin-soothing and anti-itch properties, it is highly doubtful that it could exercise these effects in a one-percent, two-percent, or even three-percent solution that is then diluted. Our oatmeal math shows that a one percent formula diluted 15:1 results in a solution that contains roughly eight hundredths of an ounce of colloidal oatmeal in a diluted gallon. Oatmeal is not that magical to be effective in such a reduced amount.
In looking at the original Virbac Epi-Soothe oatmeal shampoo, we noticed that this formulation has more than just the addition of colloidal oatmeal: It has a delayed release delivery system, which prolongs the contact and penetration of the colloidal oatmeal. It also utilizes a unique “glycotechnology”, which is three sugars that interfere with the ability of bacteria and fungi to adhere to the skin. The Epi-Soothe is also recommended in a two-bath protocol, with the second application remaining on the subject for 5-10 minutes for optimum results. None of the commercial pet shampoos marketed as anti-itch suggest a prolonged contact time.
It would appear that most of the oatmeal pet shampoos are using oatmeal for the sales psychology rather than true therapeutic effect. It is no wonder that groomers question the efficacy. These products marketed to groomers may be gentle shampoos, but a serious oatmeal product would contain at least 2% colloidal oatmeal, and usage would recommend full strength usage with a contact time of 5-10 minutes, minimum.
APPENDIX 1. For the information and ingredient listings of several pet oatmeal shampoos from websites and the Pet Edge online site, check out this document on my Dropbox: https://www.dropbox.com/s/bsjmiylca0j5pyb/OATMEAL%20LISTS.pdf?dl=0
For a detailed explanation of Virbac’s glycotechnology and spherulites, as well as a journey into veterinary dermatology, visit http://www.zoovet.ee/product/docs/4968531404.pdf