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It’s really excellent marketing: Beautiful celebrity (Jessica Alba). Two adorable children. Add in the facts that natural products are all the rage and a population of mothers who will go to great lengths to protect their children, and voila! – honest products are born.
Unfortunately, my problem with honest products is that they keep saying their products are “non-toxic.” This somehow implies that other products are “toxic” or contain ingredients that are, which is not the case.
Despite popular belief right now, just about all (if not all) ingredients are safe in the concentrations they are used in skin care and cosmetics. While I think places like the Skin Deep Database and others may mean well by flagging studies, I feel these databases are best for review by scientists, not the general public. For instance, parabens are proven to be “toxic” in doses 20,000 or more times the average concentration in skin care and cosmetics – but so is vitamin C! It takes years of scientific training and patience to review dozens of studies to come to educated conclusions on whether or not ingredients are safe.
Example: honest Hand Soap
Take, for instance, honest Hand Soap. The problem with the ingredients here is that there is a high concentration of sulfate, which is known to be drying to the skin. The brand tries to get around this by using sodium coco sulfate instead of sodium lauryl sulfate, which is something of an improvement, but it is still somewhat drying. In fact, sodium coco sulfate itself has been shown to be drying in studies amongst hairdressers (Contact Dermatitis, 1994).
Another problem is the inclusion of citral. I see what honest is trying to do – they include citral from lemongrass, so it sounds more natural and safe. But citral is a known skin irritant (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2008). It also has been shown to make skin more sensitive to the sun (NYU.edu, amongst others). In the concentration citral is included in honest Hand Soap, it’s not likely to be a problem – but I still wouldn’t use it without sunscreen layered over top.
My final problem with this product is the lack of bacterial/fungal preservatives. The best known system is parabens, but this product is paraben-free. So I question the shelf life of this product, as well as its ability to resist germs over time. Have we all forgotten that many illnesses and diseases spread through bacterial growth and proliferation?! And please, don’t even get me started on the hand ‘sanitizer’. Sigh.
Product Rating: 3/10
Purified Water, Cocamidopropyl Betaine (coconut-based cleanser), Sodium Coco Sulfate (coconut-based cleanser), Cocamidopropylamine Oxide (coconut-based cleanser), Glycerin (plant-based moisturizer), Citrus Grandis (grapefruit) Seed Extract, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Oil (N.O.P. certified organic lemongrass oil), Phenoxyethanol (pH-sensitive preservative), Citral (lemongrass oil-based) and Benzyl Benzoate (lemongrass oil-based)
Example 2: honest Sunscreen SPF 30
I like this one a lot. Zinc oxide is my all-time favorite form of sunscreen. As a physical blocker – as only zinc and titanium oxides are – it doesn’t need to be absorbed into the skin for 30 minutes in order to be effective. Just slather it on and go.
Of zinc and titanium, I do prefer zinc oxide, as it blocks a significantly longer portion of UVA rays (Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, 2005).
I also like that this product declares that it contains extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olives, and is believed to have a higher nutrient content than other types. Yet less than 40% of olive oils tested met requirements for extra virgin olive oil labeling, and even less than that in skin care products (The New Yorker, 2007). So the fact honest Sunscreen contains certified extra virgin olive oil impresses me.
So while it’s not the most cosmetically appealing sunscreen in the world – those contain micronized zinc oxide – I do like this product.
Product Rating: 9/10
25% Zinc Oxide, Eldorado Springs Artesian Water, Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Vegetable Glycerin, Organic Shea Butter, Vegetable Emulsifying Wax NF, and Vegetable Vitamin E
Jessica Alba is a beautiful woman and superb celebrity, and I’m sure she just wants to do what she believes is best for her children and teach other women to do the same. Unfortunately, just like Jenny McCarthy propagated the belief vaccines were bad and encouraged other mothers to avoid them (to many pediatricians’ despair), the honest products propagate the belief that non-natural products are toxic, when that is not the case at all. The FDA is not involved in a money-making scheme, I promise you: the ingredients groups of FDA scientists declare to be safe really are safe in the concentrations they are used skin care and cosmetics, even cumulatively over time. And the fact every non-company-affiliated dermatologist I have ever interviewed is fine with (or approves of) parabens is further indication that the natural product companies, not the government, are being misleading.
Truth be told, many lines like honest contain natural ingredients like citral and sulfates that can be drying, irritating, and make skin more sensitive to the sun. They also do not contain many preservatives, which makes me question their shelf life, as well as their ability to resist bacterial and fungal growth. And while I would never go so far as to turn the tables and call honest products “toxic,” I would say that these products are not as honest as they are well-intentioned but still somewhat misleading.
While I’m not a fan at all of their messaging, I will be honest and say I do not like their Hand Soap, Hand Sanitizer, or Bug Spray at all, but think their sunscreen is superb and Body Oil is nice.
Hope this helps!