Hydration for Health: The Importance of Conditioning Products

All Things Paw

By Michelle Knowles

Taking care of the stratum corneum, or outer layer of the skin, is the foundation of grooming. And in the heat of the summer, conditioning products are more important than ever.

Summer is the perfect time to evaluate the rinses, conditioners, balsams and leave–ins you use. There are several products on the market today that come in an array of delivery methods. I believe there is room for every type of product because the spectrum of technique, regional climate, humidity, pollution and the type of coat you are working with is vast and what is good for one groomer may not be good for another. 

In my opinion, every product you put on a pet should be able to give something back to the skin that helps normalize the barrier. Minerals, ceramides, fatty acids, lipids or oils, vitamins, emollients and humectants are all valuable ingredients in the various conditioners and finishing sprays that help maintain a supple skin and give back raw materials to aid the skin in making more cells and hair. 

The veterinary industry has recently acknowledged that adding a rinse, balsam or leave–in conditioner is a valuable tool to help maintain the skin barrier. According to veterinary dermatologists, including a conditioning step that includes ceramides, certain fatty acids and noncomedogenic oils after shampooing is the best way to nourish the skin and provide oils back into the skin so that it continues to keep moisture in and keep pollutants and bacteria out. Weekly baths followed by a conditioning step are being used to treat patients with drug–resistant bacteria with great success. Sometimes daily sessions are needed for deep infections. 

The myth about not bathing your dog very often was born in an era when the skin barrier was not as understood as it is today. Including a nourishing conditioning step allows for more frequent bathing without compromising the health of the skin.

There are many types of conditioning products and they have many different purposes. This is how my brain categorizes conditioners and is not necessarily a sanctioned list of terms:

  • Rinses are usually thin, contain a small amount of oil and rinse easily.
  • Conditioners are more substantial than rinses.
  • Balsams are thicker and may contain vitamins, ceramides and minerals. These are good for making a conditioning mask for extremely dry or overworked hair.
  • Leave–in conditioners are thin but may contain vitamins, minerals and other hair treatment ingredients. 

The main difference in conditioners that are left in the coat and those that are rinsed off is usually due to the amount or type of preservative and certain ingredients that may or may not be safe if left on the skin for prolonged periods of time. There may be pets that require more than one type of conditioner depending on the condition of the skin and hair.

For those of us who don’t currently use a conditioner, a good start would be to use a leave–in or a rinse. Experimentation is encouraged so that you find the products that are suited to your region and climate as well as the types of pets you serve and the skin issues they present with. 

Beautiful hair is the byproduct of healthy skin, so I hope I have helped you to reignite your excitement about the nourishing value of your conditioning products! ✂️