Kick It Up a Notch

Easy techniques to get your black coats blacker, and your white coats whiter

By Teri DiMarino

As professionals, we are constantly striving to bring the best to our clients. At least we should be trying, as sometimes it’s a fine line that separates us from our competition. Customers may not be able to put their finger on why their dog comes out of your salon looking and feeling better than the salon down the block, but it just does and that’s the reason they keep coming back. Happy customers are important and I have found that one thing that will make a client change groomers is when something is “not quite right”. Once again, they may not know exactly why they were unhappy but they may tell you that the dog is not coming as clean as before or it just didn’t feel the same. I have always used this as a barometer of a salon that is in trouble. One of the first things these floundering salons seem to cut back on when times are lean is the quality of the shampoos and conditioners they are using. I believe this affects the finished product and, believe me, the customers notice.

Shampoos are the number one expendable product in our salons; meaning it is something that we constantly have to keep on buying over and over again, unlike a pair of shears or clippers. I do not believe there is a “one size fits all” shampoo and an efficient bathing room should be stocked with product to compliment every coat type to enhance what we intend to do with it. Most salons have their favorite general purpose, cleansing shampoo and this can be considered the meat and potatoes of the bathing area while the medicated and texture altering ones are the gravy. What about desert? It gives the meal (or the job) that finishing touch. I’m talking about some of those color-enhancing products that give your work that final “WOW” factor. Notice I did not say “color changing” or “dyeing.” I said, “color enhancing.” Creative styling and color application is fun but it isn’t in everybody’s agenda. I want to take what I’ve already got and make it one step better. I want my blacks blacker, my whites whiter and give an added dimension to all the other colors. You may ask how this can be accomplished without the addition of chemicals or bleaches. The answer is in your shampoo bottles and your knowledge of its proper application.

There are many excellent quality color enhancing shampoos and conditioners available to us, but many groomers are not crazy about the results they get with them.  We’re going to quickly explore how proper application can, and will, change your mind. The average pet stylist usually looks for shampoos that brighten a white dog. Period! They forget about the black Pomeranian whose coat has a dull, tired appearance or that washed out looking brown Cocker or apricot Poodle. It’s true that white coats are easier to get whiter than black coats blacker, but there are things you can do, to once again, show the client that you are “super groomer.” Proper use of your products will give the client reason to come back as they will have a difficult time getting the same results from other salons… that is, unless the competing salon is a reader of this column or an attendee at my Bather/Brusher seminars.

First, let’s look at the individual hair. Hair readily absorbs the first thing it comes in contact with. We know this from the processes a hairdresser uses on our own hair. Let’s think of this in terms of a skunk dog. The oily, putrid liquid from this lovely little beast has blasted the dog and it absorbs into the hair shaft. You know this as every time the dog comes into the salon and you wet him down, you get a whiff of skunk as it rehydrates in the hair shaft. Typically, the average groomer wets the dog down before applying any shampoo. The hair shaft becomes saturated with water, leaving little room for much else. There’s nothing wrong with this if your only concern is the cleansing of the outer cuticle of the hair. But if you’re desire is to have that strand of hair sparkle with a vividness it didn’t have when you started, why not take advantage of these absorbing qualities by having the first thing that hits the coat contain some kind of color enhancer? A nice, even application of a diluted solution of black color enhancing shampoo to a dry coat will not change that Pom’s coat color, but it will give it a dimension it lacked when the owner last saw it. Many of the “darkening” shampoos contain the bonus of added anti-oxidants. It is usually oxidation that causes the “dulling” of the hair shaft; similar to what happens to the paint finish on a car. And, seeing as the undercoat of many of these pets can be quite porous, it absorbs the color a bit more intensely, thus giving a nice, healthy looking depth to the coat. Brown and red coats can be treated the same way, by applying the diluted shampoo solution directly to the dry coat. We can, however, take this fun little technique one step further.

While the surfactants in our shampoos are made to cleanse the hair shaft of oil and the dirt that sticks to it, the surfactants in conditioners are made to help carry the conditioning ingredients of the product deep into the hair shaft and replace what we stripped out with the shampoo. Why not add some color to the conditioner and have it taken in as well? Try mixing one part diluted conditioner to three parts diluted color enhancing shampoo and apply directly to the dry coat. Leave on for 5 to 10 minutes. Rinse and repeat with the same solution. This will condition as well as soften some coats, so just know that and adjust the type of conditioner you use. This technique will leave you with a subtle change the owner will enjoy. For a more intense enhancement, use and apply concentrates in the same formula, one part conditioner concentrate to three parts color shampoo concentrate and put in just enough water to help it travel on the dog.  There are also color enhanced conditioners available and that can help finish the job for you.

Whitening products can be used in the same way but, with a bit of more care. You want to avoid ending up with a blue dog! Keep in mind that many whitening shampoos work with optical brighteners that absorb into the hair shaft and help reflect the light, letting us see either a blue or purple cast to the coat. Purple-whitening shampoos counteract yellow staining, but may leave a grayish cast to the coat after repeated use. On the other hand, bluing products help remove this gray cast, but can leave a yellowish build-up after awhile. These residual build-ups are normal, so wouldn’t it seem a smart move to keep BOTH of these shampoos on hand? If you alternate your blue shampoo with your purple shampoo each month, you will avoid these build-ups on your regular clients, leaving the pet’s coat “the whitest in town!”

Creative use of these whitening products can help you gently lift stains from certain areas. Urine or kennel stains can tarnish the appearance of a white dog. Think about a white, male Standard Poodle. Some of these dogs are so short in body that they are constantly urinating on the back of their front legs. While it’s difficult to stop this from happening, you can turn the dog out of your salon looking like a million bucks with this easy-peasy recipe. Take a solution of one part lemon juice mixed with two parts concentrated whitening shampoo, preferably a purple shampoo. Add enough water to loosen it up and make application easier. Apply to the stained areas of a coat only and leave it on for 5-10 minutes. Rinse those areas thoroughly and then shampoo as usual with the regular mixture of diluted shampoo. The lemon juice has a very mild bleaching action and the stained areas of the coat will be visibly whiter. This helps gently lift the stain without overly damaging the coat. But you should also condition after this procedure, as the lemon juice can make the coat in those areas more porous and the stain will set in quicker next time. Work on eliminating the source of staining with the owner by having them brush through some corn starch when the dog pees himself and that will help keep the stain from setting. It also gives the owner an instant gratification of a white, non-pissy coat and gets them to swing a brush at their dog every now and then.

Disclaimer!!! – I DO NOT recommend this, or any bleaching or color lifting technique, for use around the customer pets’ eyes or faces. I never want to chance eye irritation on a customer’s dog. I know they often ask us to whiten the faces of their dogs, but I still refuse and will not teach that it in this column. Safety first! Beauty second!

When the owners pick up their dogs they will notice “something different”, but as I mentioned, they may not be able to put a finger on it. They just know the dog looks better coming out of your place than anywhere else. What do I have to say about that? Mission accomplished!

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