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Manage teat dip products to prevent dry teat skin

Chris Elliott and Paul Virkler for Progressive Dairyman Published on 30 November 2018

Skin can chap due to frequent washing, repeated wetting or exposure to cold, dry or windy weather. Teats are subjected to these processes during every milking. Teat dips with effective emollient packages can rejuvenate dry teats.

Skin conditioners come in many varieties. Emollients smooth and soften skin. Humectants like glycerin transfer moisture from the air to the teat.



Barriers like lanolin protect skin moisture from evaporation. Producers often get excited about using a certain percentage of a specific conditioner. I caution against this. There is no magical amount or type of conditioner that works best.

We can learn about conditioning from the cosmetic industry by looking at lip balm or hand cream labels. First, there are hundreds of products on the market. Most are good products with research and science behind them, but some are inferior imitations.

The same goes for teat dips. Second, cosmetics usually contain multiple different conditioning ingredients, and each has unique advantages and disadvantages. They work better together than when used alone.

Last, cosmetics rarely list a percentage of conditioners. Recently, a producer who was using an iodine with 10 percent conditioners changed to an exfoliating product with 3 percent conditioners, and teat health has improved because of the better blend of conditioners.

Don’t get hung up on the absolute percentage of conditioners. Look for a dip with a good blend from a reputable manufacturer.


Just as there are various types of conditioners, there are various types of teat dips. Each of these types interacts in a different way with the teat skin.

Pre-dips clean and disinfect. Post-dips disinfect and condition. In combining the applications, we can sometimes lose functionality.

High-conditioning pre-dips may not clean well due to the stickiness of the conditioners. Lower-emollient post-dips may sacrifice teat health.

If you are faced with a teat conditioning challenge, it may be best to separate the two applications. Use one with good cleaning ability on the front end of milking and one with excellent conditioning on the back end.

Barrier post-dips should be used with caution when there are severe teat problems. Some barriers are just thick products. True barriers contain a polymer film.

In either case, they tend to stay wetter longer. This can dry out the teats. The barrier can also hold the dead skin cells on the teat and slow the natural exfoliation process.


If teat ends are rough, use of an exfoliating dip may be helpful. If teats are chapped, use a high-conditioning winter dip. Stay off the barrier products until the teats have recovered.

Winter teat dips

Cold-weather dips can also be very helpful in healing chapped teats. There are a variety of products on the market. They range from 50 percent to 78 percent conditioners.

Many have just one emollient; a few have blended emollient packages. A blended package will likely condition faster. These dips do not exfoliate the dried skin, but they do rehydrate the outer layers and help restore moisture balance.

Some of these products may take several weeks to work; others may work in three to four days. Though they are called winter teat dips, they can be very beneficial at any time of year in restoring teat conditioning.

Producers must be very cautious when choosing a product. Some have had extensive testing and are proven to be effective against mastitis pathogens. Others may look the same but have minor formula differences, making them less effective.

Ask your supplier for efficacy data. This group of products is finding a niche in rehydrating teats on herds bedded with manure solids.

There are also several powdered winter dips on the market. They help dry the teats to prevent additional chapping but contain few emollients for restoring teat condition.

Exfoliating dips

Exfoliating dips contain ingredients for removal of dead skin. The most common exfoliant is lactic acid, which is often paired with chlorine dioxide.

Exfoliants generally work by loosening the bonds holding dead skin cells together. They work best when combined with a good conditioning package.

The last category of products are not really teat dips. They are additives to increase teat dip conditioning ability.

Some examples would be glycerin and propylene glycol as well as commercially available blends of conditioners. These must be used with care.

Use products recommended by the teat dip manufacturer and only use them as directed. Using the wrong product or the wrong proportion may inhibit the germicidal ability of the dip.

The timing and method of application of the teat dip can also play a major role in teat conditioning.

As far as application method goes, a few years back several producers asked if we had changed the winter dip formula. They claimed it was not working like it used to.

We investigated and found the ones with problems had switched to dippers with brushes or foamers. They were using less dip, which meant smaller amounts of skin conditioners were being applied. If conditioning is an issue, use a conventional cup.

Producers ask when they should switch from a low-emollient summer dip to a winter dip. That varies by farm, location and weather.

There comes a time in the fall when I find myself reaching for lip balm – that’s the time. If your lips or hands are chapping due to the weather, so are the teats, and you should be using the higher-conditioning dip and protect those teats.  end mark

Chris Elliott is an executive account manager with Ecolab Inc. Paul Virkler is the senior extension associate with Quality Milk Production Services. Both serve on the board for the Empire State Milk Quality Council, a not-for-profit organization made up of people from all aspects of the New York dairy industry. Email Paul Virkler.