Last Updated on February 25, 2023 by The Filtery
A lot of consumers (rightly) wonder if the recognizable “green” brands on the big box store shelves are truly non-toxic or if they’re just greenwashing. We’ve taken a look at brands like Mrs. Meyer’s, Method, Grove Collaborative, and Seventh Generation…
And now it’s time to deep dive into Honest – the company that makes baby supplies, cosmetics, and skincare for the whole family.
Is Honest a safe brand, or is it just greenwashing?
Let’s get into it.
This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase.
IN A NUTSHELL: Is Honest Beauty Clean?
- Honest is a company founded by Jessica Alba that offers a wide variety of cosmetic, personal care, cleaning, and baby products.
- Honest not only has a very thorough “Banned List,” but they are truly transparent about their ingredients (even fragrances!).
- There aren’t very many downsides to Honest’s ingredients in terms of safety. But those who want or need to avoid EU fragrance allergens (such as linalool or limonene) or phenoxyethanol will want to check the ingredient labels on specific products.
- Honest still uses quite a bit of plastic for their containers, but they do have several social and sustainable initiatives in place.
What Is The Honest Company?
Just in case you’re not very familiar with the brand yet, here’s a quick rundown:
The Honest Company was founded in 2011 by Jessica Alba. The brand manufactures and sells a wide range of products marketed as non-toxic and sustainable, including:
- Diaper & wipe bundles & subscriptions
- Baby care products like body washes, lotions, & more
- Adult personal care products like shampoo & conditioner, body wash, etc.
- Beauty products like skincare & cosmetics
- Home cleaning products like all-purpose sprays, laundry detergent, wipes, & more
- Supplements for pre-natal and general wellness
- Baby clothing
They have products for babies, teens, and adults (including pregnant ones). Their adult skincare and cosmetics products offer solutions for a variety of skin types, including dry, oily, combo, sensitive, acne, and aging.
Is The Honest Company Toxin-Free?
First, let’s look at some of the standards Honest has in place regarding ingredient safety.
1. Strong “No List”
A lot of companies that purport to be non-toxic or eco-friendly have a “banned list” of some kind, which basically consists of ingredients they never use in their products. Sometimes those lists include just two or three ingredients, while others consists of thousands.
Honest’s “NO List” is very comprehensive; it includes over 3,500 different chemicals of concern. (It used to include ~2,500 but they’ve added to it over time.) It includes things like:
- Synthetic fragrances
- Formaldehyde releasers
- Isothiazolinone preservatives
- Paraffin, petrolatum, & mineral oil
- SLS and SLES
- & more
You can find out more about the reasoning behind why these ingredients are banned on Honest’s website.
Some of those ingredients (like phthalates and parabens) are commonly left out by “clean” brands these days. But some others are still used even by brands that market themselves as non-toxic. Isothiazolinone preservatives, for example, are used by big “green” brands like Everspring, Method, and Mrs. Meyer’s. These ingredients are allergens and sensitizers (which means they can make you more likely to develop an allergic reaction over time), so they’re generally not suitable for people with eczema or sensitive skin.
Honest goes further than a lot of those “big green” brands, taking the precautionary approach with some ingredients (which is something you don’t see from companies very often!). For example, here’s what they say about why they don’t use Japanese honeysuckle:
“This natural preservative compound looks like a paraben, and in chemistry — structure determines function. While there is not enough data indicating that it is a potential endocrine disruptor (the concern with parabens), we avoid it out of precaution.”
Furthermore, when it comes to certain ingredients that some people choose to avoid, they provide some reasoning and explanation for customers. Several of these ingredients are non-vegan ingredients (like beeswax and carmine), phenoxyethanol (more on that in a minute), synthetic ingredients, certain types of silicones, and a few others.
Whether or not I ultimately agree with the Honest team’s decision to use these ingredients (and I generally don’t have a big problem with most of them), I really appreciate the explanations and transparency here.
2. True Transparency
Speaking of transparency, Honest is pretty good at it!
One thing that really sets them apart from other companies is that they fully disclose all of their fragrance ingredients.
Most other companies (even some other “clean” brands like Mrs. Meyer’s!) don’t actually disclose all of the ingredients they use in their fragrance. This is because of what’s referred to as a “fragrance loophole” in the law, which allows companies to include ~4,000 different chemicals in a product. (Some of those 4,000 allowed chemicals are perfectly safe, while others are endocrine disruptors, allergens, and more.)
But not only does Honest use all natural fragrance ingredients, but all of them are fully listed on each product label and web page so that consumers actually know what’s in the products they buy. (They also have plenty of fragrance-free options as well.)
3. Lots of EWG Verified Products & Other Badges
If you head over to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database, you’ll see that a lot of Honest’s products are EWG Verified, which basically means they’ve been third-party verified in terms of transparency and that the formulations have been checked against a list of concerning ingredients.
Other third-party labels you’ll see on a lot of Honest’s products include USDA Organic, National Eczema Association, and PETA Leaping Bunny Cruelty-Free.
It’s worth noting here that no third-party label is perfect; they all have their own pros and cons. However, these types of certifications do provide a certain level of accountability for brands and can signal to customers that they’re actually doing what they say they’re doing.
Other Pros About Honest’s Products
This is one of the best parts about Honest, in my opinion.
Honest is one of the very few brands that is both non-toxic/transparent AND is affordable and easy to find in stores (like Target, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, and Whole Foods).
The fact that they carry such a wide range of products may also help busy parents (and non-parents!) shop. You don’t have to do research on a bunch of different brands to find the products you want and need… You can just throw (almost) everything you need for you and your little ones in your basket.
They also have Subscribe & Save options on their site to help you save even more money.
2. Lots of Reviews
Considering that Honest is such a well-known and widely-used brand, there are a lot of reviews on their website for each product… That can’t always be said for smaller non-toxic brands.
This of course can help you make decisions on what to buy and decrease the risk of buying something you may not like.
None of Honest’s products are tested animals. They are third-party verified cruelty-free by PETA.
However, some of their products are vegan, while others are not (so just be sure to check the specific product before purchasing if that’s important to you).
4. (Semi) Eco-Friendly Packaging
While Honest does still use quite a bit of plastic, they’ve made some progress to increase the circularity of their products. For example:
- The paper/box packaging is made out of FSC certified materials, which means the paper is either recycled and/or sourced from sustainably-managed forests.
- Some of their products are packaged in aluminum, glass, or tin – materials that are much more recyclable than plastic (and also non-toxic!).
- Much of the plastic they use is recycled, decreasing the need for virgin fossil fuel materials.
- They make actually recycling your products a little bit easier by providing guidance on how to actually recycle the specific product on each web page.
- They started offering a few refillable cleaning products.
5. Give-Back Initiatives
- Various outreach, volunteering, and donation programs for disaster relief, Baby2Baby, March of Dimes, tree planting, and more.
- Discounts for teachers and military members.
Are There Any Toxic Ingredients in Honest’s Products?
I have spent a lot of time digging for potentially problematic ingredients in Honest’s products, and I honestly haven’t found very many at all.
Even the products that have been identified to have potentially problematic ingredients in the past seem to have been either reformulated or discontinued.
Here are the so-so ingredients you may want to consider before deciding if you want to buy Honest’s products:
Honest’s products include some ingredients that are on the EU’s list of fragrance allergens, such as limonene and linalool. These ingredients are very commonly used in both conventional and natural personal care and cleaning brands. They are not problematic for a lot of people, but they can cause allergic reactions for some.
If you want or need to avoid those ingredients, make sure you check the ingredient list of the specific product before buying and/or go with a fragrance-free option.
Phenoxyethanol is used in a few of Honest’s products: their Multi-Surface Cleaner, Beauty Sleep Resurfacing Serum, the Calm & Porefect Serum, and Conditioning Detangler (only the Sweet Almond scent).
This is definitely not the worst ingredient, but some people still have questions about it because there are usage limits in some countries.
It’s used a preservative, and it’s actually one of the better ones. Other preservatives include things like parabens (which are endocrine disruptors and linked to cancer and reproductive toxicity) and isothiazolinone preservatives (which can be very irritating and can lead to contact dermatitis). Many other kinds of preservatives, such as Triclosan, have been banned in soap products in recent years.
The problem is that we have to have a preservative of some kind in cosmetics and personal care/cleaning products in order to prevent bacteria and mold growth (which can also be toxic!). And in this case, phenoxyethanol seems to be one of the safest options currently available.
In general, the only people who should stay away from this ingredient are babies and people who are allergic to it.
When it comes to Honest’s products, it’s pretty easy to avoid since (at the time of publication) it’s only used in four of their products. You can read Honest’s statement about phenoxyethanol here.
What About Ethoxylated Ingredients?
Ethoxylated ingredients are in a lot of personal care, cleaning, and makeup products.
The problem with this group of chemicals is not with the actual ingredients themselves but with potential contamination via the manufacturing process. There are two main chemicals of concern that are used to process ethoxylated ingredients: 1,4 dioxane and ethylene oxide.
Ethylene oxide is an irritant that’s known to cause multiple types of cancer and infertility. 1,4 dioxane is also a known carcinogen. These ingredients aren’t added intentionally (and therefore won’t be found on any ingredient labels), but they’ve been found as contaminants in personal care products and cosmetics that use ethoxylated ingredients.
But there’s good news here! Honest actually vacuum strips the ethoxylated ingredients used in their products in order to eliminate potential contamination… So you don’t have to worry about this one!
Not All-Natural / Organic
Many of the ingredients Honest uses are natural, organic, and/or derived from plants, but they do use a lot of synthetics as well.
While some people may choose 100% natural or organic products out of preference, just remember that just because something is natural does not automatically mean it’s safe. And likewise, just because something is synthetic doesn’t automatically mean it’s toxic.
Some Synthetic Textiles
Despite the fact that their baby clothing is made out of certified organic cotton, some of the other gifts and accessories they offer (like headbands and diaper bags) are made out of partially synthetic fabrics like polyester, vinyl, and polyethylene. So you may choose to get these types of items from brands that use more natural and organic fabrics.
Okay, But Do Honest’s Products Work? (An Honest Beauty Review)
All of the above info is great, but rather pointless if the products aren’t high-quality and nourishing to your (and your baby’s) skin!
I’ve tried a lot of Honest’s products over the last several years, and here are some of my thoughts on a few of them:
Extreme Length 2-in-1 Mascara + Lash Primer
Apparently this is a bestseller in the Honest Beauty makeup collection, and for good reason.
I almost always use a primer with my mascara, and I love this one. I’m not kidding when I tell you that people always compliment my lashes whenever I wear this mascara.
The one downside I’ve found with this is that it’s not very waterproof. Whenever I have a hard workout and start sweating a lot, the black starts wearing off onto my eyelids. So these days, I don’t usually wear Honest’s mascara if I know I’m going to be sweating a lot. (I currently wear ILIA’s limitless lash mascara for that.)
Honestly Healthy Brow Gel
I have very light eyebrows, so a brow color is usually a part of my makeup routine. I’ve tried several brands and Honest is currently my favorite. It’s available in two browns, black, or clear. I’ve used both of the brown ones and they both add a color while still looking natural. It’s super easy and fast to apply, too.
Magic Beauty Balm
Have you ever been so desperate for lotion when you’re out and about that you put lip balm on your hands? I have…
Not anymore! Now I love having this “Magic” balm in my purse because I can use it as a chapstick, on my cuticles, or knuckles, or on a dry nose. It’s got a lot of nourishing ingredients, like olive oil, jojoba oil, argan oil, and shea butter. It has a pink-ish tint, but it rubs in clear for all skin tones. It comes in a stick version too, if you’d prefer that.
Eczema Soothing Therapy Cream
Just yesterday I cut open my bottle of this lotion so I could scrape every last bit of it out. I use it on myself and my eczema-laden husband all the time. It’s powerful enough to soothe dry skin BUT it rubs in easily and isn’t greasy.
The same can be said for a lot of Honest’s moisturizing products, like the Honest Beauty Hydrogel Cream. It works without feeling heavy or greasy on your skin.
Organic All-Purpose Balm
Unlike the creams listed above, this one is a heavier and more greasy moisturizer, so I use it for things like scar prevention, really dry skin, or even hair gel.
It’s one of our top picks for a non-toxic alternative to petroleum jelly!
Gentle Gel Cleanser
I always have a gentle gel face cleanser around for taking my makeup off at night or for an everyday face wash for the shower. This one is a great option – it’s simple, my skin likes it, and it gets the job done!
The smell isn’t great in my opinion, but I got used to it pretty fast. I can’t put my finger on what exactly it smells like… it just has a generic ‘soapy’ smell.
Prime + Perfect Mask
This one does smell really good, though! It’s a great alternative to other charcoal masks which are great for unclogging pores but can leave my skin dried out if I use it too much. This Prime + Perfect Mask gives my skin a bit of a “detox” but moisturizes at the same time. I’ve used it on my face and my pits!
Elevated Hydration Mist
Honestly, this just feels luxurious and refreshing on my skin. Great for an afternoon pick-me-up or a refresh on a hot day.
All things considered, I think Honest is paving the way for other big brands, proving that it’s possible to be truly transparent, non-toxic, and accessible all the at the same time… And to continually make improvements along the way.
Where to Buy Honest Products
The best place to purchase Honest’s products is right from their website because that’s where they have their full selection available (and you can also save money on bundles and subscriptions).
However, you can also find a selection of Honest products in stores like:
- Amazon & Whole Foods
- Other retailers
P.S. Honest is also featured in some of our guides, like:
- The best non-toxic baby diapers
- Non-toxic hand sanitizer brands
- Organic hooded towels for babies and kids
- Non-toxic skincare for tweens and teens
- Natural alternatives to petroleum jelly
- Non-toxic lipstick
- Shampoo & conditioner
- Non-toxic drugstore mascara brands
- The best non-toxic lotions and moisturizers
Summary of The Honest Company Pros & Cons
- Safe formulations with a long list of banned ingredients
- Very transparent about ingredients (even fragrances!)
- Accessible (affordable prices, available in stores, lots of options)
- Good for the whole family (gender-neutral and good for teens, babies, and adults)
- Products truly work
- Still use a lot of plastic for containers (although they do have certain measures in place to reduce waste)
- Many products use EU allergens such as linalool and limonene, which some people may want to stay away from
- Not all-natural/organic (may not be a preference for some)
Who Owns The Honest Company?
Although Jessica Alba is the founder and part-owner of Honest, it is now a publicly-traded company.
What’s the Difference Between Honest Beauty and The Honest Company?
There’s not really a difference; they’re just different arms of the same company. Honest Beauty generally refers to the “adult” products like makeup and skincare and The Honest Company consists of the baby and home cleaning products.