Puppy Kisses May Be Good for The Soul, but are They Bad for Your Skin?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

This new fad for bringing home a new addition to the family makes sense: in a time full of uncertainty and anxiety, pet companionship has shown to be great for our physical and mental health.

As anyone who’s been around a young, overly excited canine companion would know, these friends absolutely adore eating, running (zoomies, anyone?), and covering their beloved humans in big, wet displays of affection. Why do our puppy pals love to lick our faces so much anyway? The answer lies somewhere between evolutionary habits and social conditioning.

Where does puppy display of affection come from?

ishonest No.222 - Fine Lines & Wrinkles

No.222 - Fine Lines & Wrinkles

When wolf cubs transitioned from their mother’s breast milk to something more solid, they tend to lick the mouths of their adult counterparts for some uh, fresh leftovers. Yum! Knowing this, it’s no wonder our dogs use their super olfactory senses to hop onto our laps for a lick after we’ve devoured a slice of pizza or returned from the gym. As Community Medicine Veterinarian Tierra Price, DVM, MPH points out, “Whether you just finished a steak or if you just came in from a workout, the taste of your face may be the appeal for some dogs.”

While many pet owners relish the abundance of slobbery kisses from their fur babies, I’m not so sure the skin on our faces feels the same. Dogs constantly eat whatever they find on the floor or outdoors, they lick their genitals, and then come over for a big ol’ smooch. Are their kisses (and the drool that inevitably comes with) harmful to our skin or harmless? We asked the experts.

Docs on doggy kisses

New York-based dermatologist Dr. Julie Russak, MD, FAAD of Russak Dermatology Clinic informs, “There is nothing specific in dog saliva that is damaging to the skin, unless you have allergies to dog saliva or dandruff, which is relatively common. It’s never a good idea to put anything dirty on your face, which would apply to dirty dogs too. If the dog is groomed and bathed regularly then it is completely okay.”

Dr. Hadley King, MD of HCK Dermatology adds, that while dog saliva contains bacteria, it also has “antibacterial properties and would be an unlikely cause for infection.” While many dermatologists and other skin experts in the field would agree with Russak and King on the overall harmless nature of this behavior, the consensus isn’t unanimous.

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Dr. Joshua Zeichner, MD of Zeichner Dermatology hints that if you’ve been meticulously adhering to your skin routine, letting your dog have a lick is not recommended. “If you’re taking good care of your skin with the right moisturizers and cleansers, I do not recommend allowing your dog’s saliva to come in direct contact with your face,” he says. “Dog saliva likely will do little harm to intact human skin, but could lead to irritation or even infections if there are any breaks in your skin barrier. You are most at risk if the saliva comes in contact with your mucous membranes, such as your mouth.”

You also don’t want your dog ingesting whatever ingredients might be in the skin care products you’re wearing on your face.

Beyond breakouts and infections however, some doctors warn against more perilous outcomes. Harkening back to a New York Times article from 2016 on the same topic, Dr. Neilanjan Nandi of Drexel University College of Medicine warns that most animals’ mouths are home to “an enormous oral microbiome of bacteria, viruses, and yeast.” While the act of licking themselves can result in psychological or physical well-being (think stress relief or cleansing themselves), prior research on the topic states that some bacteria specific to dogs is “zoonotic,” meaning it can spread disease from dogs to the humans they love so much. Yikes!

Professor of virology at Queen Mary University of London and expert microbiologist John Oxford agrees, saying he wouldn’t let a dog lick his face merely on the basis that dogs spend most of their time engaging in unsanitary behavior as part of their natural inclination to sniff around and cover themselves in excrement or other “nasty corners.”

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