ColumnThere may be no greater consumer concern than what products we use on our children—particularly when they’re brand new. But trusting brands can be a challenge. They all seem to tell us they’re the best; that they completely understand us, honestly. Do they? This month, Behind the Label takes a look at Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company products for babies and children. How safe and healthy are they?
Actress and mom Jessica Alba launched the Honest Company in 2012 after starting a family. “When I became a mom, I finally became the person I am, that I always should have been,” she says on the company’s website. “It’s the most satisfying job in the world. But, it can also be overwhelming and confusing. I created The Honest Company to help moms and to give all children a better, safer start.” The Honest Company sells a wide range of baby products from toys and diapers to sunscreen and toothpaste all geared for children throughout the stages of young lives.
Alba partnered with Christopher Gavigan to create The Honest Company. Gavigan is a father of three and the former CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World, a national nonprofit empowering parents to protect their children from toxic risks. He’s also a best-selling author promoting healthy families. “Everything I stand for and all I’ve done over the last 15 years has come to this moment,” he says of The Honest Company. “I’m thrilled to launch a brand that offers some of the most thoughtfully designed, innovative, and safest products available.”
According to the company’s website, The Honest Company aims to make a positive impact for families and the planet. There are strict standards including creating a culture of honesty, creating inspiring and beautiful products that outperform and “exceed expectations.” The brand values its “incredible” customer service that it believes can build “a deeper level of trust.” It prides itself on “accessibility”—membership programs and direct delivery of products right to customers’ doors to make choosing healthy options easier. And for families, the ease of knowing more products are always coming can be a relief from the stresses of shopping.
The Honest Company’s detailed Health & Sustainability Standards outline values when it comes to making “an amazing product without harming people or the planet.” The company explains that it feels a “tremendous responsibility” to the planet and takes steps to create new solutions, reduce impact, cause no unnecessary harm, and make products that are “as non-toxic and healthy as possible.”
Social giving is a core principle for The Honest Company as well. “We are committed to both individual and corporate social responsibility – taking selfless actions that benefit others,” the website states. “This includes charitable partnerships, working with advocates on promoting policy changes that better protect our children and planet, and supporting the efforts of our employees with paid community service days and direct matches of non-profit donations.” Jessica Alba’s profile says she is “actively involved with charities such as Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, ONE, Habitat for Humanity, Project HOME and more.”
The Honest products, namely diapers, are better for the environment than conventional options because they’re not bleached with chlorine, which is energy intensive and damaging to the environment, not to mention those delicate baby bottoms. Honest says its diapers are also hypoallergenic and fragrance-free, which can be especially important for a super sensitive child.
Products like the Honest shampoo/body wash for little ones are promoted as being tear-free. Like all of the Honest personal care products, this is plant-based, hypoallergenic, biodegradable and gentle-on-the-skin. The website states the shampoo/body wash is free of: “SLS, sulfates, parabens, phthalates, fragrances, dyes, sodium chloride, formaldehyde, MEA, DEA, TEA, petrochemicals & most common allergens.”
Ultimately, what it comes down to is whether or not the products are really safe for babies. Some of the personal care products do contain sodium benzoate, which in combination with other ingredients, has been connected to cancer risks.
The Honest Company’s toothpaste came under fire by the Cornucopia Institute for use of carrageenan—a known carcinogen. Cornucopia explains on its website, “There is simply no way around it: dozens of scientific, peer-reviewed studies used food-grade carrageenan and found it caused gastrointestinal inflammation, ulcerations, lesions and even colon cancer in laboratory animals.”
The brand also uses cocamidopropyl betaine, which the Environmental Working Group gives a “moderate” risk rating. It’s a synthetic surfactant that’s been associated with irritation and contact dermatitis, EWG’s website notes. Probably not something you want on delicate baby skin. Some products also contain phenoxyethanol, a preservative that also gets near moderate risk rating from the EWG for skin, eye and lung irritation and potential damage to non-reproductive organs.
The popular Honest diapers are a source of controversy, too. While they may be much cleaner and greener than the conventional counterparts like Pampers, they do still contain sodium polyacrylate, a gelling agent that the EWG lists as a low to moderate risk to non-reproductive organs. Some parents report cases of chemical burns on babies who’ve worn disposable diapers because of the sodium polyacrylate in them. It’s so common in diapers (even the natural kind) that the only real way to avoid it is by using cloth diapers.
While the brand says social giving is a core principle, there’s little info on the website to support its efforts. The “Giving Back” tab is surprisingly slim on content, but states “with every product you purchase, The Honest Company donates product, money, time, and effort to addressing critical health & social issues affecting children and families.” With such a statement, you’d think there would be ample examples of social efforts; but no donations or charities are mentioned. (We did find a blog entry on the site from March 3rd detailing a partnership with the Garden School Foundation.)
And further questions about the company’s character surfaced after The Honest Toddler blog was reportedly threatened by The Honest Company, urging the account to change its name and delete its Twitter and Facebook page because of trademark infringement on the “honest” label. The Honest Toddler reported on its Facebook page: “Last year Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company interviewed me. Today they asked me to delete this Facebook page, my Twitter and blog because they feel like you might get a natural infant’s products company and satirical toddler confused. They say I should just do it because “it could get costly” for me.”
Trademarks are tricky things, and while The Honest Company may be fully within their legal right to pressure the blog about the conflict, it really does seem trite to try and monopolize the market on honest-child-related names. (And as of press time, The Honest Toddler Facebook page was thriving and promoting a book release…)
As to the investment of Honest diapers, the touchstone product of the brand, Slate reports that despite not being as effective at preventing leaks as other diapers (BabyGearLab reportedly tested them), they’re considerably more costly: “[A] bundle of 276 of their size 1 diapers and 280 wipes costs $79.95, but $66.98 will buy you the same number of Huggies size 1 diapers, along with 448 Huggies wipes, on Diapers.com.” If what you’re paying for instead of quality is honesty, hopefully you’re satisfied that the company is forthright.
The honest truth about The Honest Company is that while some products may be cleaner or more effective than others on the market, some aren’t. If you like the subscription model for diapers, it could be an effective choice for your family’s needs. If, however, you prefer purer products at different price points, you may be best served to consider more options.
Is there a brand you’d like us to investigate? Send your Behind the Label suggestions to jill [at] ecosalon [dot] com.
Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
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Images: (top) shingleback, all others via The Honest Company