Jessica Alba’s Honest Co. is fighting claims that it might not be so honest after all. The $1.7 billion eco empire recently came under scrutiny for using an ingredient in its laundry detergent that it pledged to avoid.
The company, which is most known for its adorable baby products and environmentally-friendly cleaning supplies, has been giving corporate giants like Procter & Gamble and Clorox Co. a run for their money. This is largely due to the fact that Honest products offer a guarantee that they don't contain the harsh chemicals often found in mainstream brands.
However, according to a recent report commissioned by the Wall Street Journal, the company’s liquid laundry detergent contains a cleaning agent called sodium laurel sulfate, or SLS. The ingredient, which is found in everyday household items from Colgate toothpaste to Tide detergent, is one of the primary ingredients the company tells its customers to avoid.
“Our findings support that there is a significant amount of sodium lauryl sulfate” in Honest’s detergent, said Barbara Pavan, a chemist at one of the labs which conducted the test, Impact Analytical. Another lab, Chemir, a division of EAG Inc., reported its test for SLS found "about the same concentration as Tide, which is made by P&G.”
The Honest Co. is not taking this allegation lightly and has disputed the labs’ findings. “We do not make our products with sodium lauryl sulfate,” said Kevin Ewell, the company’s research and development manager.
The company claims that its detergent contains sodium coco sulfate (SCS) instead, an ingredient it says is a "gentler alternative." The company reported conducting "rigorous testing" and said the Journal's article is wrong and “reckless."
According to a blog post published on the company’s website, it claims the Wall Street Journal article included “many factual inaccuracies and misleading statements,” with “the goal of harming the reputation and good will” that the company has built.
The article states that the research commissioned by the Wall Street Journal did not even include tests for SCS. And, while many brand detergents use SLS to create suds, the company "has always chosen SCS" due to the fact that it is "less irritating to the skin and safer to use," the company said. It disputes all claims that sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium coco sulfate (SCS) are the same.
Even though both ingredients are derived from coconut oil, their molecular makeup is quite different. And while SCS can only be made from raw coconut oil, SLS can be refined from many raw materials including palm oil or petroleum. Although the ingredients might appear to be quite similar, the difference in their molecular form is vast.
"At the Honest Co., our mission is to develop safe and effective products for our families to use and for families everywhere to feel great about,” the company said in a statement. “Despite providing the Wall Street Journal with substantial evidence to the contrary, they falsely claimed our laundry detergent contains sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS).”
“Rigorous testing and analysis both by our internal research and development teams as well as further testing by external partners have confirmed this fact. The Wall Street Journal has been reckless in the preparation of this article, refused multiple requests to share data on which they apparently relied, and has substituted junk science for credible journalism. We stand behind our laundry detergent and take very seriously the responsibility we have to our consumers to create safe and effective products."
Joi M. Sears is the Founder and Creative Director of Free People International, a social enterprise which specializes in offering creative solutions to the world's biggest social, environmental and economic challenges through the arts, design thinking and social innovation.