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Can Humans Use Dog Shampoo? (And Is It Effective for Cleaning?)

Luxifa Le

By Luxifa Le

Man taking a shower outdoor

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lorna Whittemore

MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Imagine you are in the shower and reaching for your shampoo bottle only to find it empty. You need to wash your hair, and you notice a bottle of dog shampoo on the edge of the bathtub.

Not everyone has considered using their dog’s shampoo, but some people have found themselves reaching for the bottle when they are really stuck. Would dog shampoo work on human hair?

It would be best if you didn’t use dog shampoo on a human. Dog shampoo is chemically unsound for human use and could have adverse long-term effects on your skin or hair.

Here’s the scoop on using dog shampoo on human hair.

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Different Physiological Needs

a welsh corgi pembroke dog taking a bath with shampoo
Image Credit: Masarik, Shutterstock

Dogs and humans have different physiological needs for cleaning, especially domestic dogs treated with a topical flea and tick treatment. Before considering topical medical treatments, dogs have physiological differences in their skin that determine what they need from shampoo.

For starters, a dog’s epidermis is only 3–5 cells thick compared to a human’s 10–15 cells. Since a dog’s skin is thinner overall, damaging the skin cells of a dog’s skin has a more significant impact on them in the short term. However, since their skin has a higher turnover rate, the skin will grow back faster than it would for a human.

Additionally, dog and human skin have different pH balances. Human skin is more acidic on average, while dog skin tends to be more basic. This means that the shampoos used to clean human and dog skin need different components to maintain a proper pH balance appropriate for dog skin.

Even between humans, different physiological needs require a different shampoo formula. Consider color-safe shampoos. There’s no need for someone whose hair is still their natural color to use color-safe shampoo because they have no need for the color-protecting components.

In the same way, humans need to use shampoos that suit their bodies’ physical makeup. For example, since we have acidic skin, we need a more acidic shampoo to keep our skin’s pH balanced. Unbalancing the pH of our skin could have more negative repercussions than we first think.

In addition to the pH balance of your shampoo, dog shampoos are often touted as soap-free. Soap is useful and even healthy for human skin. However, soap can interfere with topical flea and tick treatments, leading companies to aim to cleanse a dog’s skin without soap.

Human shampoo is made with soap and citric acid. We use soap to clean our skin and hair, but citric acid is essential for creating an effective shampoo. You see, soap is naturally basic. If you test soapy water with a pH strip, it generally scores an eight or nine; it’s very alkaline.

However, we’ve covered that human skin is somewhat acidic and requires an acidic compound to maintain its pH balance. In addition, human hair will lie flat and appear shiny and smooth when washed with an acidic compound; conversely, human hair will feel coarse and rough if cleaned with a basic mixture.

This is where the citric acid comes in! We get a slightly acidic compound by adding citric acid to the soap we use to wash our hair. This allows the shampoo to clean our hair effectively without making it feel coarse or unhealthy or disrupting the pH balance of our scalps.

Some dog shampoos also contain pesticides meant to help ward off fleas and other bugs. Unfortunately, while these compounds are safe for dogs, they’re not necessarily safe for other animals, humans included.

If you’re bathing with your dog’s shampoo, it’s possible that you could absorb some of these toxic chemicals through your skin and hair follicles. These chemicals are generally considered too harsh for human skin—some even argue that they’re too powerful for dog skin!

Overall, it’s just not worth using dog shampoo on yourself. Doing so could have harmful effects on your hair and skin in both the long and short term. It’s not worth the risk!

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Is Dog Flea Shampoo Effective on Lice?

baby having a shampoo bath
Image Credit: Vitalinka, Shutterstock

Think again if your kid has recently come home from school with lice and you’re eyeing your dog’s flea shampoo. Using your dog’s flea shampoo on your kid is not recommended.

Fleas and Lice Are Not the Same

While infectious hair bugs might seem like a narrow category of entomology, there are actually hundreds of species of lice that affect humans, and they aren’t related to fleas.

For starters, fleas can jump, and lice can’t. It may seem like a tiny difference, but it means the world to scientific classification. The morphological difference that allows fleas to jump is one of the primary characteristics that separate them from lice.

Additionally, lice are species-specific, meaning they cannot infect animals of the “wrong” species. So, the lice we get on our heads cannot be transferred to our dogs, and if your dog gets lice, you can’t get lice from your dog either.

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Flea Shampoos Are Harsher Than Lice Shampoos

Flea shampoos often contain harsh chemicals and pesticides that help quell the flea situation.  These components can be far too harsh for human use, especially on a child. Dog flea shampoos have not been tested for safety on humans.

Rashes, itching, dry skin, and other adverse reactions are highly possible when using flea shampoo on a human being. It’s also worth noting that your scalp will be extra sensitive when dealing with lice; itching your scalp will damage the skin and increase your chances of absorbing something harmful. So, it’s better safe than sorry with this one, especially when dealing with kiddos.

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Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, if you’ve run out of shampoo, the best bet is to throw on a hat and buy some shampoo for people. Your dog’s shampoo might be tempting, but it’s not healthy for your scalp or hair.

Featured Image Credit: pasja1000, Pixabay

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