Better Grooming Starts in the Tub typography in bubbly blue letters
Better Grooming Starts in the Tub typography in bubbly blue letters
playful illustration of a Husky in a foam filled bathtub
And It's More Than Rinsing Away Dirt & Stench typography between two blue bubbly parentheses

by Dave Campanella

I’m amazed how far technology has brought us in the last decade. No doubt, these are exciting times we live in. And the advancement in professional grooming liquids is no different. Hair care chemistry has made incredible leaps in product performance and the results are truly mind boggling.

Unfortunately, though, many salon professionals are not fully capitalizing on grooming technology and often fail to integrate hair care science into their daily bathing and prepping. Some don’t realize the basic differences between professional grooming liquids compared to retail pet brands sold at chain stores either. There’s so much more to bathing than getting a dog clean or what it smells like afterwards.

Odds are, you’re working much harder than you should. It’s time to STOP the mindless practice of hastily getting client dogs washed, dried, on the table and out the door. Mindfulness and science only work together when you let them, so I’m encouraging everyone to take a step back and reimagine bath time as intentionally pretreating the coat with proven science that leads to better results.

Let’s face it, regardless of breed, coat type, a full haircut or not, almost every dog requires a bath. This is ground zero. And while cleaning the dog goes without saying, conditioning is what matters most. Whether you’re just prepping or specifically de-shedding, de-matting, detangling or deodorizing, conditioning treatments yield better results upon completion. Embrace the fact that hair can be managed more effectively through deliberate means of conditioning.

This article will discuss the grooming logic behind pretreating the coat using professional liquids engineered to manipulate the hair’s cuticles for optimal finish and effect.

Hair & Skin Science

The skin’s sebaceous glands produce sebum, a naturally oily substance which protects each hair strand by coating cuticle scales, sealing in moisture. Sadly, sebum acts as a virtual dirt magnet, attracting debris and oil. Washing with soap or synthetic detergent strips away the protective sebum along with the many other unsavory deposits it collects along the way.

Regardless of how mild or harsh a detergent is, all the cuticles on each hair fiber are exposed. And when left untreated without conditioning, static occurs, manageability suffers and further damage is more likely. This is precisely why it’s so critical to replace the sebum washed away with an appropriate conditioner. Thankfully, today’s advanced cationic conditioners make superior sebum replacements.

Whether you’re just prepping or specifically de-shedding, de-matting, detangling, or deodorizing, conditioning treatments yield better results upon completion.

Hair and skin are anionic. This means they are negatively (-) charged by nature. Now imagine dry, rough adjacent hairs rubbing against each other. A transfer of electrons is produced by each of the negative hair charges repelling from each other. This explains how fly-away hair and static occur. Conversely, conditioners are cationic (+) so they will bond to the hair and skin, closing lifted cuticle scales and keeping them closed for extended periods. This explains what manageability is.
Before starting your next client dog, consider its coat type, hair porosity and the pH of each liquid product you plan on using. Fig. 1) Dog hair can be characterized as low, medium or high porosity based on the degree to which its cuticle scales lift open over time and how well they retain moisture. Dry, damaged hair has more open, ragged cuticles; while healthy hair appearance has more closed cuticles. Fig. 2) Open cuticles can snag and hook like Velcro, fighting the groomer throughout the bathing, drying and brushing processes.
Figure 1: Hair Porosity Types / Figure 2: Open cuticles
Professional conditioning treatments are formulated to enhance appearance, as well as repair and postpone further damage. Grooming liquids with acidic pH levels from 6.5 down to 4.0 will notably close lifted cuticles, while those with harsher alkaline pH levels open cuticles. Did you know typical soap products range from 9 to 10 pH, while synthetic detergents range from 6 to 7 on average?

The Benefits of Professional Pet Grooming Liquids

Professional Shampoos:

They have low suds and rinse quickly because they lack many of the irritating foaming agents found in typical consumer pet shampoo. This reduces the likelihood of skin irritation outbreaks.
Many feature hypoallergenic fragrances or are dye and fragrance free to avoid possible negative reactions.
Professional Conditioners:
They replace the sebum washed away with a superior alternate designed to repel dirt and oil rather than attract them.
They reduce the likelihood of skin irritation from detergents and other potentially harsh ingredients.
They also help soothe, moisturize and protect the skin. (Think of them as your salon’s reassurance policy!)
Rinse-off and spray-in conditioners:
These rehydrate, strengthen and reduce further damage from grooming tools.
They close (smooth over) cuticle scales, which extends manageability.
They help safely release tangles, minor mats and shedding undercoat.
They speed drying time and reduce static.
They enable your tub’s spray nozzle and your force dryer to be the brush, further reducing coat damage, and reducing physical strain and effort.

Application of Grooming Liquids

Close/Further Close/Fully Close Method

While there are additives one can purchase to boost shampoo and conditioner performance, it’s not fully effective to blend shampoo mixtures together with conditioner mixtures. Adhering to separate shampoo, conditioner and finishing-spray steps nets better results. Each phase of this process strengthens and repairs, further closing lifted cuticle scales until finally sealing each hair fiber with a spray-in, leave-in conditioner.
Fig 3) Slides 1 & 2 show filthy hair of a Newfoundland before being treated. Slide 3 depicts after cleaning and conditioning. Slide 4 reveals how a spray-in, leave-in application benefits by shining and keeping the cuticles closed.

Fig 4) The magic behind this method rests in how it efficiently conditions the coat repeatedly through each phase—1) shampoo, 2) conditioner, 3) finishing spray. This ensures more of the coat’s hair fibers are hydrated, strengthened, smoothed over and sealed before drying. Think of this as “Close/Further Close/Fully Close” logic.

Figure 3: Newfoundland hair slides / Figure 4: 3-Step Bathing Method
Using this logic, groomers note how they can now safely release more shedding undercoat in the tub, especially with the high porosity hair of many double-coated breeds. Often, 30-50% of undercut can now be released in the tub with robust water pressure from a quality spray nozzle while rinsing. Coats will also dry and brush out with considerably less physical effort, appear full-bodied and stay more manageable for weeks.
The Power of Air
Water-saturated hair becomes spongy and more prone to breakage when wet combing is applied, contrary to what many were taught. This is why it’s also critical to fully dry the coat down to the skin and hair follicles after pretreating the coat in the tub. Now you can use the dryer in place of a brush, leaving many coats free of tangles and mats. Imagine that; brushing with water and air to reduce the snap/crackle/pop of tool damage. All these benefits equate to less stress—and that’s great news for groomers and pets alike!

However, some groomers continue to rely solely on a cream rinse for tangles, mats and shedding, failing to understand or apply any science. Still others rely totally on a detangling spray while vigorously pre-brushing before the bath. The main objection to pre-brushing is that the hair’s cuticles are typically severely dry, damaged and lifted when a pet enters your salon, so why risk further damaging the hair scales by severing them with grooming tools, exposing the inner cortex or fraying split-ends?

Condition/Shampoo/Condition Method
One emerging trend for salons over the last few years has been what’s commonly referred to as the “C-O-C” method, a.k.a. “Close/Open/Close.” This method has sparked a lot of buzz on social media and further acknowledges how conditioning manipulates cuticle scales for more desirable finish effects. However, as professionals we should be very careful selecting the terms used to describe things to avoid potential misunderstandings.

I like to refer to this process as “Condition/Shampoo/Condition,” and here’s why: While conditioning notably closes lifted cuticles, the synthetic detergents groomers use is pH neutral to acidic (< 7.0 pH) and therefore will not open cuticles. Opening cuticle scales is not necessary to clean hair whatsoever. In fact, chemically lifting hair scales can be an extremely harsh process that should be avoided, especially when treating multi-coated breeds.

Consider how 75% or more of the dog breeds we encounter in the salon shed or molt their coats. Opening the coat with an alkaline grooming liquid (>7.5 pH) may not only damage hair fibers, but also make it extremely difficult to rinse, comb through or release shedding undercoat while wreaking further havoc using grooming tools.

So why would we want to lift hair cuticles open? Well, let’s look at hair coloring. A harsh alkaline solution is applied after a hot water rinse. Together this softens the hair fiber, lifting the cuticles open. Next a potent color pigment blend is added and given time to set up under the lifted scales before rinsing with cool water. A very acidic conditioner is applied next to seal in the pigment by fully closing each lifted cuticle. Conditioning regularly extends both the hair’s manageability and color retention. Harsh detergents are typically avoided in-between color treatments to prevent premature lifting and color loss.

Of course, proponents of the Condition/Shampoo/Condition method remark how notably desirable the results can be. And many have switched from using solely shampoo to using not one, but two additional conditioning treatments. To my earlier point, effective conditioning is a game changer for pet groomers!

I wholeheartedly encourage you to further explore all that can be accomplished by mindfully pretreating with shampoo and conditioners during bath time. I promise you will be thrilled with the results as you grow in confidence, understanding and experience. However, it’s important to progress at your own pace and be attentive to each pet’s unique circumstances.

So whether you opt for the Close/Further Close/Fully Closed or Condition/Shampoo/Condition method, get intimate with the results provided by each product. Remember, you’re in control, so start working smarter not harder. Have faith in hair care chemistry and start trusting your grooming liquids!

Dave Campanella is a PGC Educator, entertaining seminar speaker, popular podcast guest, and industry columnist. He is Best Shot Pet Products sales and marketing director with over 30 years of pet industry wisdom. He and his wife Tracy co-owned a full-service pet salon and self-wash in Ohio prior to relocating with Best Shot to Kentucky 20 years ago. Together they enjoy exhibiting at grooming shows, being industry ambassadors, breeding and showing Kerry Blue Terriers along with their Samoyed and Lowland Polish Sheepdog at AKC events.