Questionable Ingredient Found in Jessica Alba's Honest Company Detergent

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After promising not to use sodium lauryl sulfate in any products, The Honest Co. is under scrutiny after two lab tests found significant amounts of the chemical in its laundry detergent.

Celebrity actress Jessica Alba obviously knows something about business – or at least she has excellent advisors. The Honest Company, which Alba founded in 2011, is now valued at an impressive $1.7 billion. It sells cleaning supplies, diapers, wipes, bottles, formula, breast-feeding products, skincare, vitamins, and more, all of which are marketed as safe, natural, and non-toxic. The product line appeals in particular to parents who wish to minimize their children’s exposure to toxic chemicals.

A recent discovery by the Wall Street Journal, however, has called The Honest Company’s commitment to transparency into question. Two independent lab tests, commissioned by the WSJ, have found significant amounts of sodium lauryl sulfate in the company’s liquid laundry detergent, one of its original and most popular products. It was not just a trace amount, but roughly equivalent to the quantity of SLS found in Tide detergent.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a cheap cleansing agent that is often added to products to make them foam better. Its toxicity is debatable; some green-minded companies like Seventh Generation continue to use it, arguing that it is safe when formulated properly, and even the widely respected Environmental Working Group gives it an overall low hazard rating. But Alba herself has called SLS a “toxin that consumers should avoid.” It is on the list of ingredients not used by the company.

The Honest Company has disputed the findings from the two lab tests commissioned by the WSJ, saying that its own testing has not found any traces of SLS. It provided a copy of a certificate from its detergent manufacturer, Earth Friendly Products, saying there was “zero SLS content” in the product.

Earth Friendly Products, however, said its chemical testing is done by Trichromatic West Inc. This really threw a wrench into things, since Trichromatic told the Journal that “the certificate wasn’t based on any testing and there was a ‘misunderstanding’ with the detergent maker.”

WSJ reports: “[Trichromatic] said the ‘SLS content’ was listed as zero because it didn’t add any SLS to the material it provided to Earth Friendly and ‘there would be no reason to test specifically for SLS.’ It said the product in question ‘was fairly and honestly represented’ to its customer.”

The Honest Company uses sodium coco sulfate (SCS) instead of SLS, but more than a dozen scientists told the WSJ that SCS is made of palm and/or coconut oils and a mixture of cleansing agents that always include SLS. The Honest Company, on the other hand, argues that SLS is not a component of SCS.

This is very bad news for a company that claims it is committed to “providing clear, credible, transparent information. No smoke and mirrors. No confusion.” And yet, it's not surprising. There have been several fallouts recently in the ‘green’ cleaning world, as companies such as Ava Anderson and Branch Basics have also been accused of dishonest ingredient lists. These problems seem to arise when the manufacturing and testing of products is outsourced to third parties. It reflects badly on the entire green cleaning industry and makes customers even more reluctant to fork out extra money on safer products.

I'll stick with my plain old soap flakes in a paper bag, thank you very much.