Product Line Review: honest by Jessica Alba

Reviews, Skin Care

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.

Jessica AlbaUnfortunately, 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

Hands put over another, palms down.
Some of the ingredients in natural products can be ineffective or damaging — like sulfate, which dries out skin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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 (, 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.

Olive Oil
This product gets credit for having certified extra virgin olive oil. (Photo credit: ReneS)

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

Bottom Line

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.

birefringent bacteria
Not including preservatives could lead to bacteria in the products. (Photo credit: nebarnix)

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!

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  • Hey Nicki! Late post, but wondering if you have any thoughts as to why the Honest SPF is coming under fire? I’m just starting to look into it myself, and my first thought is that the percent of Zinc (9.3%) seems awfully low for a SPF 30 where Zinc is the only active. I’m also wondering if there could be dispersion issues since this uses non-micro ZO. Thoughts?

  • @Kaye – Hi! I just answered these above, too, but I wanted to address you directly.

    So I do like the honest body lotion and honest body wash. Are they my favorites? No, but the honest body lotion will hydrate pretty well, and the body wash will get the job done.

    I’m doubtful that the honest detergent does the same job as stronger, harsher cleansers. Until I see data that proves it removes 99.9% of bacteria and viruses like the stronger brands, I can’t recommend it!

  • @Erika – To be completely honest, I’m trying to find a hand soap I like as well. I tend to use facial cleansers in my bathroom! I like Olay ProX cleanser with ~4% niacinamide; NIA 24 cleanser, with ~1.5% nicotinic acid; or Aveeno cleanser with soothing colloidal oatmeal. For something stronger, there are Glytone cleansers, with concentrated alpha hydroxy acids. Hope that helps!

  • @Kristina – Hi! I mentioned this above, but I wanted to answer you directly as well. I do like the honest Body Wash. (Not as much as, say, Amore Pacific Cleansing Oil for the face, or Aveeno Body Wash for the body, but yes, I do like it).

    It has two components I like: One, the number of oils are great for dissolving other oils and sebum. Remember: like dissolves like, so if you want to dissolve oil and sebum, use oil (or sebum, but that’s just plain gross!)

    Two, it has a lot of soothing agents and antioxidants, like olive oil.

  • @Erika – I like the honest lotion, not the laundry detergent.

    The honest lotion is not an anti-aging treatment. (For that, look for things like Peter Thomas Roth or Glytone body lotions – they’re pretty sensational for anti-aging results).

    But as a hydrator, honest lotion does the job. I give it an 8/10 – nothing spectacular, but solid. Just apply to mildly damp skin fresh out of the shower for best results.
    Organic Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) Leaf Juice*, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil, Ethylhexyl Palmitate (from coconut), Glyceryl Stearate, Sorbitan Olivate, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Glycerin, Rosa Centifolia Flower Water, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Hydroxyethylcellulose (Cellulose Gum), Xanthan Gum, Organic Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract*, Organic Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract (Calendula)*, Capryloyl Glycine, Undecylenoyl Glycine (amino acids), Sodium Benzoate (kosher/food preservative), Potassium Sorbate (kosher/food preservative). *Certified organic ingredient

    As for the laundry detergent, I would be shocked if this works on tough stains. I’m honestly not a detergent expert, so I should try it before saying anything. But based on ingredients/chemistry alone, it doesn’t have sodium bicarbonate or sodium perchlorate or any other known and common cleansing ingredients. Unless you’re someone who gets allergic reactions after using regular laundry detergent, or someone can present definitive scientific proof that these cleansers are as effective as regular detergents at killing 99.9% of bacteria and viruses, I would stick with regular laundry detergent and cleansers. Remember: bacteria and viruses lingering on your clothes are much more likely to cause colds and flu than ordinary use of regular detergents are to cause cancer. Please don’t forget the Germ Theory of Disease: I’d rather live in a sterile world of too many harsh chemical cleansers than one inundated with bacteria and viruses and “natural” cleansers that are allowing bacteria and viruses to propagate.

    Purified Water, Cocamidopropyl Betaine (coconut-based cleanser), Sodium Coco Sulfate (coconut-based cleanser), Cocamidopropylamine Oxide (coconut-based cleanser), Phenoxyethanol (pH-sensitive preservative), Methylisothiazolinone (preservative), and Equisetum Hiemale (horsetail plant) Extract

  • @Casey: About the honest Body Wash, I do like it. It has two components I like: One, the number of oils are great for dissolving other oils and sebum. One law of chemistry: like dissolves like, so if you want to dissolve oil and sebum, use, well, oil (or sebum, but that’s just plain gross!)

    Two, it has a lot of soothing agents and antioxidants, like olive oil.

    I still like products like AmorePacific Cleansing Oil for the face and Aveeno Oatmeal Body Wash for the body; however, this is a solid product. Here are the ingredients:
    Aqua (water), Decyl glucoside (vegetable origin), Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine (from coconut oil), Disodium Cocoyl Glutamate (from coconut oil), Sodium Lauroyl Oat Amino Acid (from oat), Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein (gluten free), Dimethyl Lauramine Oleate (from safflower oil), *Organic Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (Aloe Vera), Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Aleurites Moluccana Seed Oil (Kukui Nut Oil), Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil (Macadamia Nut Oil), Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil, *Organic Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract (Calendula), * Organic Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Panthenol (Pro Vitamin B-5), Tocopherol (vitamin E), Sodium Benzoate (food preservative), Potassium Sorbate (food preservative), Capryloyl Glycine (amino acid), Undecylenoyl Glycine (amino acid), Glycine (Amino acid), Vanilla Planifolia & Citrus Tangerina, Citric Acid

  • Kaye

    i just bought a coupon deal for the honest line…thanks for letting me know which ones to skip!

    any advice about the: shampoo/body wash, lotion, and laundry detergent?

  • Kristina

    what about the honest body wash? is it harsh as well?

  • Erika

    Thanks for this Nicki..I was just about to buy their hand soap for my household!

    What do you think about their:

    –Honest Lotion

    –Honest Laundry Detergent

    Sulfates tend to dry out my hands. Do you have a hand soap that you’d recommend?

  • Casey

    This post helped a lot…thanks Nicki!

    What would you say about their Honest Body Wash?

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