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Green Washing: The Honest Company Isn’t so Honest

Greenwashing: The Honest Company

Green washing is when a cosmetic company would rather sell you the idea of being ‘green’ and ‘natural’ than actually be that. It’s pretty easy to see why; reformulating products take lots of time, money and effort and you might never be able to get the exact look or feel people are accustomed to.

Plus, since we’ve yet to define what a ‘natural’ cosmetic actually is, it gives companies leeway to define it however they want (like how some people tried to call ketchup a vegetable once 😆 ).

Q: So how do I avoid being green-washed?

A: Pay attention to the labels, not the packaging! 

If you look at the de-tangler below, you’ll notice that it mentions it has olive oil by the side, which of course is going to draw people in. But how much olive oil is actually in there and does it actually do anything?

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Here’s the ingredients list of this product:

AQUA (WATER), PEG-12 Dimethicone, Glycereth-26, Dimethicone PEG-8 Meadowfoamate, Polyquatermium-22, Polysorbate 20, Polyquatermium 11, Panthenol, Parfum (Fragrance), Silk Amino Acids, Magnesium Nitrate, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Magnesium Chloride,Methylisothiazolinone, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, PEG-50 Shea Butter, Hydrolyzed Triticum Vulgare, Hiemale (Horsetail) Extract, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil, Urtica Dioica (Nettle) Extract, Romarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract.

The Olive oil is after the preservative Methylisothiazolinone (I know, it’s a tongue twister). That means it is present in a 1% or less concentration and will have little effect on the product. The ingredients actually doing the job of conditioning and detangling I’ve highlighted in purple, and none of them are particularly sexy (or found in nature).

I’ve said it before but I’ll definitely say it again:

Natural doesn’t always equal good and synthetic also doesn’t always equal bad. Click To Tweet

Why do I need to say this? Because there’s a serious myth passing around that whatever is ‘natural’ will automatically perform better and that’s just not true.

Again, what is ‘natural’? Because if natural is defined as gotten from the environment with no or little manipulation, then petrolatum is natural. But that’s a no-go ingredient for some reason.  CAPB is also sometimes described as ‘natural’ just because coconut oil is used to make it. If so, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate that is also made with coconut oil should be natural too but apparently it’s bad.

[Okay that was the most perfect way to get into what The Honest Company did]

Why The Honest Company Isn’t so Honest

In case you’ve never heard of them, The Honest Company supplies all kinds of cleaning and baby supplies  with the promise that it won’t use any of the harsh chemicals the other companies are using (oh well). It is now currently worth $1.7bn and is doing pretty well.

In March, The Wall Street Journal published an article accusing them of using Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) in their laundry detergent. This is a surfactant they specifically say they are free from on their website. I checked:

From The Honest Company

There’s a lot I’m finding wrong with the labeling


Then The Honest Company replied and said they used Sodium Coco Sulfate (SCS), which WSJ never tested for.  I laughed when I saw that because Sodium Coco Sulfate contains Sodium Lauryl Sulfate.

fatty acid profile of Coconut oil

Notice how Lauric acid is almost half of coconut oil’s fatty acid profile

To make SLS, coconut oil is refined to get Lauric acid only, reacted with sulfuric acid and then neutralized with sodium carbonate. For SCS, you skip the refining and do the rest. That means if SLS is harsh and dangerous, then so is SCS  😆  😆

A lot of ‘green’ brands do things like this and I will get into more detail in my next article. However, I  found their rebuttal so hilarious, and a bit sad. My genuine opinion of this incident (and more generally of companies like this) is that they prey on people’s ignorance; it’s very easy to think SCS and SLS are totally different, since SCS sounds less science-y. Thankfully that’s where people like me come in to show they are not.

Thank you for reading and always remember you can send me your beauty questions through here.

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