About The Honest Company
Actress Jessica Alba is on a mission to provide safer products for your home and personal care. As founder of The Honest Company, Alba promotes a variety of organic and eco-friendly options meant for babies and grown-ups alike.
The cornerstone of The Honest Company’s promise to consumers? To produce products that are free of health-compromising chemicals or compounds—while remaining beautifully designed, accessibly priced, and easy to get.
Their message appears to have hit home with many consumers. The Honest Company may have started off with only 17 products, but it is now a veritable empire, selling everything from vitamins to tampons. Additionally, they’ve just expanded into beauty last year with an 83-piece makeup line.
Based in Santa Monica, California, Jessica Alba’s Honest Company has been valued at 1.7 billion dollars—which is a big deal for a start-up that was founded just four years ago. However, now that Alba’s Honest Company is working towards going public, there are increasing suspicions that they might have been less than, well, honest about some of their ingredients.
Before we review allegations made against The Honest Company, let’s take a closer look at their promise to customers. But first...
What’s the Inspiration Behind Alba’s The Honest Company?
How Alba got the idea to start The Honest Company sounds like the sort of home-spun pitch you’d hear on Shark Tank.
While pregnant with her first child, Alba received gifts of onesies and other baby items at her shower. But, when she went to wash the items with a recommended detergent, the actress broke out in hives—then hysterics.
Alba worried that she wouldn’t be able to recognize it if her baby had a similar allergic reaction, or something worse that could affect the newborn’s breathing. The official story goes that she Googled every ingredient on the label and learned that some toxins can be called fragrances.
Whether the ingredients were actual toxins or ones that she considered toxic isn’t made clear. (We’ll discuss why chemicals are included in products shortly.) However, it was due to Alba’s distrust of chemicals and the idea that “it’s better to be safe than sorry,” that The Honest Company was born.
What Are The Honest Company’s Popular Products?
The Honest Company offers hundreds of personal care products for adults, infants, and every age between. While we can’t list them all, here’s a sampling of the brand’s more popular products, including information about pricing and what sets them apart from alternatives.
The Honest Company Organic Cotton Feminine Hygiene Products
The Honest Company recently started offering organic cotton tampons (sold with and without plant-based applicators), pads, and liners.
According to Honest, their feminine hygiene products are 100 percent Global Organic Textile Standard certified. They’re made without rayon, polyester, fragrances, deodorants, glues and adhesives, phthalates, pesticide residues, chlorine, or chlorine dioxide processing. They’re also free of polypropylene, myreth-3-myristate, synthetic zeolites, alcohol ethoxylates, glycerol, glycerol esters, polysorbate-20, or antibacterial agents.
A box of 16 tampons with applicators costs $6.95—that’s $1.66 more expensive than a similar product from Seventh Generation. Pads (sold in boxes of 10), liners (sold in boxes of 24), and thong liners (sold in boxes of 30) cost $5.95 each.
“While it's true that there are no studies of long-term tampon use, there's also no medical data suggesting women should use organic products instead. Rumors that tampons contain harmful chemicals like asbestos and dioxin (a controversial rayon-bleaching byproduct that's been linked to hormonal changes) are indeed rumors.”
Tampons are considered class II medical devices subject to FDA oversight and manufacturers use a newer rayon-bleaching process that results in only trace amounts of dioxin. As far as the risk for toxic shock syndrome (TSS) goes, natural fibers aren't any safer than synthetic.”
Bottom line, these products might be a good option for those concerned with the environmental impact of their feminine hygiene products. However, there isn’t evidence supporting the idea that chemical-free feminine hygiene products are better than your standard Kotex brand.
The Honest Company Diapers
If your family is trying to make more environmentally friendly product choices, disposable diapers are often a first stop. So, it’s no surprise that The Honest Company’s eco-friendly diapers are one of their most popular products.
According to Honest’s website, their diapers are ultra soft, hypoallergenic, free of chlorine processing, and additives, including fragrances, lotions, and latex.
The price of The Honest Company’s diapers varies slightly with the age that they’re intended for and whether you buy a single pack or bundle. However, Baby Gear Lab breaks down their estimated cost at 41 cents per diaper.
How do these diapers hold up to the competition? According to baby product connoisseurs at Baby Gear Lab, they didn’t outright stink, but Honest’s diapers aren’t a recommended brand.
They provide several reasons in the full article. However, it comes down to performance (they ranked fourth) and cost (these are some of the most expensive organic diapers).
Baby Gear Lab’s recommendation? “We feel there are other superior green diaper options worth considering before buying the Honest diaper. In our tests, BAMBO Nature product offered significantly performance at a slightly higher price for those looking for the best green diaper for their baby, and Earth's Best Tender Care offers similar performance at a significantly lower price.”
How do they compare to non-organic options? While the choice to go chemical-free is personal, one reviewer noted that there is an unexpected side effect: These fragrance-free diapers mean that there’s no pleasant perfume scent to camouflage other smells.
Best & Worst of The Honest Company’s Catalog
Depending on which of their hundreds of products are used combined with a consumer’s own views on the importance of eco-friendly and chemical-free products, reviews of The Honest Company can land anywhere from love to dislike. Instead, here’s a short list of what reviewers consider Honest’s winners:
- Multi-surface cleaner ($5.95): Light, fresh scent that depends on grapefruit and other citrus oils to repel dust, instead of an ammonia-based solution.
- Hand sanitizer ($5.95-6.95): Uses plant-based ingredients instead of harsher anti-bacterials, such as triclosan, that have come under scrutiny. Reviewed as having a pleasant smell and less drying than Purell.
- Bathroom cleaner ($5.95): Receives positive reviews for its eucalyptus mint scent and power to tackle soap scum. Unlike many bathroom cleaners, it is non-toxic and grey water safe.
- Dish brush ($4.95): Every review of Honest’s products mentioned this brush. Features a bamboo handle and plant-based bristles.
Pricing is similar to what you’d expect from a department store brand: a primer base is $27, foundation compact is $30, and single pots of blush or eyeshadows are $22. However, we feel it’s worth noting that many of these reviews are focusing on the look and feel of the product, not their claims.
What didn’t receive high marks from consumers? Many reviewers said that The Honest Company’s diapers just weren’t for them. Additionally, there are few families willing to try Honest’s sunscreens after the product received negative press for being ineffective. (More on that soon.)
The Honest Company’s Commitment to Customers
The Honest Company promises to provide clear, credible, and transparent information to their consumers, including:
- A broader definition of safety that considers the long-term impact of ingredients, including their potential to be carcinogenic, allergenic, or toxic due to in less-than-likely circumstances for which they might not normally be tested.
- All products and packaging are made without an ever-growing list of ingredients that includes phthalates, mineral oil, phosphates, and more.
- To stay on top of the latest scientific evidence that any particular ingredient might be bad for consumers, and immediately modify their approach or formulas, should a risk be identified.
The Honest Company also promises not to engage in fear-mongering to sell their products, specifically by claiming that products are free of chemicals that they already wouldn’t include, due to legal or practical restrictions. For example, they claim not to advertise that a detergent doesn’t include gluten, when there’s no logical reason that it would to begin with.
Is The Honest Company as Trustworthy as Their Name Implies?
Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company is not having a great year, as they’re dealing with multiple lawsuits claiming that Honest has violated its promise to produce products free of health-compromising chemicals or compounds—including one filed by the Organic Consumers Association.
Here’s a list of the current allegations against The Honest Company:
1. That their Organic Premium Infant Formula contains 11 synthetic substances not allowed in organic products. The Organic Consumers Organization, a Minnesota-based organization that represents the views of around 850,000 members, filed a suit against The Honest Company in a Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming that Honest’s formula is falsely labeled as “organic.” 
2. That their soaps and body washes are incorrectly labeled as non-toxic. A New York couple, Brad and Manon Buonasera, have alleged that The Honest Company “falsely” and “deceptively” labeled its products natural while containing synthetic chemicals. 
3. That their cleaning products contain synthetic ingredients. Jonathan Rubin, another New York-based Honest customer, claims that several items, including the brand's hand soap, dish soap, multi-surface cleaner, and diapers, were marketed as having only natural ingredients, but in reality also have "unnatural" ingredients. These include "a synthetic preservative" and "a synthetic surfactant", as well as a petrochemical-based additive in the diapers. 
4. That their sunscreen isn’t effective. Complaints about the effectiveness of The Honest Company’s sunscreens went viral when customers started tweeting photos of their painful-looking sunburns that happened when using the brand’s supposedly-tested SPF formulas. 
It wasn’t just one customer complaining of burns, either. This Racked article shares screenshots of eight different customer tweets claiming sunburns on either themselves or their children.
The article also notes that Jessica Alba’s response was to defend Honest’s sun protect formulas in spite of her customer’s complaints, posting “It pains us to hear that anyone has had a negative experience with our Sunscreen.”
The Honest Company has responded similarly to all allegations against their products, claiming that each is baseless and without merit.
Despite the controversy around The Honest Company’s claims, customers haven’t stopped buying the company’s products—or their promises of healthier living through the removal of a few ingredients in your detergent and shampoo.
But, a better question might be, should it? Are the ingredients that The Honest Company promises to leave out, whether deceptively so or no, really the potential cause of harm?
Turns Out That It’s Okay to Have Chemicals in Your Baby Products
The Honest Company might stock personal hygiene products, but the NY Post argues that the company’s main commodity is fear and “a false promise that its products are better and much safer for you and your child than those sold by other companies.”
But, what about all those toxic chemicals in store-bought baby food and other products that Alba discovered prior to starting up Honest?
Yeah, it turns out that they’re there for a reason.
First, products containing only natural, organic ingredients are very difficult to formulate in terms of being effective, stable, and antimicrobial—they just don’t stay fresh on the shelf as well as products with preservatives overall.
Additionally, you can’t “hone” natural products by tweaking them as much as you can with synthetic ingredients due to chemical limitations. Essentially, you are limiting the ability of otherwise wonderful and effective ingredients to stay “natural.” 
And, after all, who wants to spend money on a product that doesn’t work? Which is why even The Honest Company’s products include chemicals (though they loathe to mention them), including a dish soap that contains cocamidopropyl betaine, phenoxyethanol, and methylisothiazolinone, and facial wipes that contain polysorbate 20. 
How Companies Like Honest Further Fuel Irrational “Chemophobia”
Alba is often cited boasting that she really, truly cares about her customers—implying that her competition does not. The Honest Company’s expression of care extends to warning customers about two more cornerstones in the chemophobia movement, claiming that:
- These inorganic ingredients may lead to cancer, reproductive deformities, or other diseases
- The Food and Drug Administration is pulling a fast one, and that no one has tested this many scary-sounding ingredients, ever
Of course, neither of these could be further from the truth. The problem is that well-meaning consumers often allow themselves to get riled up over emotion-enticing headlines or irresponsibly reported news that doesn’t share the whole story.
Instead of believing the same media channels that have tried to tell you that drinking a glass of wine is the same as spending one hour in the gym, we headed over to peer-reviewed resources such as the Society of Toxicology to better understand the risk of chemicals in our products.
In Are Chemicals Killing Us?, a survey of toxicologists by George Mason University, experts accuse media of overstating the risk of chemicals:
“From baby bottles to shower curtains, iPods to lipstick, and “new car smell” to non-stick frying pans, thousands of news stories have warned the American public about the hidden dangers of toxic chemicals in everyday items. But a groundbreaking new survey of scientists specializing in toxicology calls into question the risks associated with many of these chemicals as they are routinely depicted in the media. Majorities of toxicologists rate most government agencies as accurately portraying chemical risks, but they rate leading environmental activist groups as overstating risks.”
To summarize what we learned: Sure, chemicals can be toxic—if consumed in certain amounts. Did you know that even water is dangerous in high doses?
Further, saying that something contains a carcinogen in and of itself is meaningless. Dr. Bruce Ames, a world-famous biochemist and winner of more awards than I have fingers and toes to count, was interviewed by ABC News on the topic of how carcinogens relate to cancer. (You can view a similar 20-minute speech at UC Berkeley here.)
Dr. Ames explained that almost everything in the grocery store has carcinogens at the parts per billion level. In fact, even one raw mushroom contains more raw carcinogens than what you’ll drink from polluted water.  Yet, vegetables are still good for you. (Gasp!)
But, what about the idea that no one is testing certain ingredients? The truth of the matter is that the FDA will only test what toxicologists recommend for a reason. If brands tested each ingredient, and in every way those ingredients could act in unlikely scenarios, no one would be able to afford their products!
The Bottom Line? Be Honest With Yourself About Risks Before Buying The Honest Company’s Products
It’s easy to be afraid of what we don’t know. Additionally, long, multi-syllabic words that are hard to pronounce and even harder to understand don’t exactly instill confidence in protective parents.
And, since everyone just wants to do the best for themselves and their families, it’s easy to empathize why consumers are so quick to whip into a frenzy over the idea that their shampoo might cause cancer later in life.
However, not understanding something doesn’t relieve us from the responsibility of learning—especially before making statements that further the fear of otherwise helpful ingredients.
Consumers should rest assured that The Environmental Protection Agency continuously reviews the safety of chemicals and requires chemical manufacturers to provide the agency with all available health and safety data as part of the approval process required before manufacturers can use a chemical in their products.
What about The Honest Company? After reviewing both their marketing strategy and the pending allegations against the company, it’s my opinion that they’re responsible for a different kind of toxicity—thriving off of alarmism and the promise of safer, healthier products at a higher price.
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- The Beauty Brains: Are natural products as good as drugstore brands?
- The ‘toxic’ lies behind Jessica Alba’s booming baby business
- Story of Cosmetics, The Critique - Lee Doren