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Organic grooming

Could your pet’s shampoo be affecting their behaviour?
Troy and Luna, The Conscious Way

This article first appeared in our International Women’s Day issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published 08 March 2024. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Many of us are paying closer attention to the ingredients in the products we use to wash our hair and skin.

We don’t want toxins in direct contact with our bodies, and we don’t like the idea of washing a cocktail of nasty chemicals down the drain and into our waterways every time we take a bath or shower.

While we’re starting to wake up to the dangers of dirty personal care routines, we don’t always give the same consideration to the products we use on our pets – and when we do it’s not at all easy to find the products we want.

‘There are only a couple of certified organic pet care products across the globe’, say Jacquie Walby, founder of The Conscious Way. ‘We can only assume that the remainder are based on conventional formulations that use some or all of the dirty chemicals and microplastics that damage skin and hair, and pollute our waterways and therefore our soils.’

Making connections

During a business assignment for her freelance role in health services, Jacquie gained an insight into the organic cosmetics market. ‘I realised two things’, she tells us. ‘First, all organic cosmetics, health and beauty products command a huge premium; second, I could not find anything certified organic for my precious dogs and horses. I did not find either of these things acceptable.’

During extensive research, Jacquie discovered pets were increasingly suffering from skin complaints. ‘One lady had been through every medicated shampoo she could find, plus others promising relief from skin problems’, Jacquie says. ‘Nothing worked – in fact she reported that some even made her old dog’s skin problems worse.’

Jacquie was already aware of the potential impact of chemicals on wildlife. When she and her husband took on a 140-acre farm in a rural area on the edge of the Cotswolds, she was astonished to notice there were no birds.

The land had been growing arable crops, conventionally and intensively, for many years.

The decision was made to convert to organic farming, and 25 years later the land is alive with insects which attract redwing, fieldfares, starlings, pigeons, crows, swallows and seagulls.

It didn’t take Jacquie long to make the connection between pet health and the products their owners were using.

‘Without the harsh chemicals and detergents in pet care products, I honestly believe we would see far fewer skin problems and also behavioural issues in animals’, Jacquie tells us. ‘As all mammals absorb 60% of whatever is put on their skin into their bodies, all the chemicals must be contributing to health and wellbeing issues. Research in humans is revealing the importance of the microbiome and the positive impact of an organic diet.’

Organic certification

Jacquie set out to create her own versions of the products she wanted to use on her own pets – and The Conscious Way was born.

The range comprises a dog wash, equine shampoo and paw balm – all vegan, certified organic by the Soil Association and packaged in recycled and recyclable plastic bottles.

‘What a lot of people don’t realise is that ingredients used in grooming products can be described as natural when in fact they are highly processed and not permitted in certified organic products’, Jacquie explains. ‘I am sure we all wished that we lived in a world where we could be confident that we were being told the truth. Sadly, that is not the case – particularly when it comes to marketing to the public. We wanted to do the right thing by producing organic grooming products, but we did not think we should expect the public to take our word for it.’

Organic certification from the Soil Association guarantees a product contains the levels of organic and natural ingredients stated on the label, and also that it will not contain synthetic ingredients dressed up as natural.

These shampoos are used just like any other; they lather well but rinse out really easily.

‘I think this is the thing that most users find surprising’ Jacquie shares; ‘it is because our products don’t contain detergents.’

In contrast the paw balm – a new addition to the range – is different from other balms on the market in that it’s a spray-on liquid. It comes in a pocket-sized 100ml bottle and is very easy to use, without leaving any messy residue on your hands.

Costs and savings

Jacquie started trialling the shampoos over a year ago and has found – with her own animals as well as her customers’ – that hair becomes increasingly soft and silky over time. It also seems to repel dirt, meaning it doesn’t need washing as frequently.

So far so good – but with financial worries still on many people’s minds, is it realistic to expect pet owners to pay a premium for organic shampoos?

‘We recognised before we began this journey that if organic products come with a price premium, nothing will change’, Jacquie acknowledges. ‘We have cut margins and are keeping overheads to a minimum in order to place this product at a competitive price. It’s actually cheaper than some conventional products.’

Jacquie has got lots of ideas for new products – a fly repellent shampoo for horses will be available this spring and others are set to launch later in the year.

‘Now we need to spread the word and persuade more people to try organic’, Jacquie says. ‘That is what The Conscious Way is all about.’

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