The Honest Company: A Manufacturer’s Perspective

Written by: | April 12, 2016 | 6 responses


Natural and Organic Wholesale

Laura Badcock Sr. Vice President Licensed Aesthetician Cert. Cosmetic Formulator

Do you know what’s in your bottle?

You may have heard about the problems Jessica Alba and the Honest Company are facing. Due to what have turned out to be inaccurate claims in the Honest Company’s marketing materials, they are confronted with a potentially costly lawsuit as well as a dent in what had been an excellent reputation. The Honest Company’s fault in this matter is most likely failing to have all the facts rather than a planned deception of the public.  At least that’s my opinion.

The Honest Company’s troubles are the result of their claim that their products are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) free. This no doubt seemed like a perfectly reasonable claim. After all, even if they had scrutinized each one of their formulas they would not see “Sodium Lauryl Sulfate” listed anywhere, and their ingredient listings are correctly written without any reference to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS).

So if SLS doesn’t appear in their formula, why shouldn’t they claim that their products are free of SLS?  The Honest Company’s products are manufactured with Sodium Coco-Sulfate (SCS).  SCS is a surfactant composed of complex fatty acids. Moreover, SCS is a “bundled” ingredient which includes Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. There is SLS in their product. However, it isn’t immediately identifiable as it is bundled inside another ingredient. And in all probability, the Honest Company had no idea it was there. Unfortunately, they lacked some relevant information and consequently made an inaccurate claim which is now affecting their reputation and will end up costing their company in many ways.

Hidden Ingredients Lead to False Claims

It is very easy to get into trouble by labeling a product inaccurately or by making false claims. The most common reason people make inaccurate claims is ignorance rather than the intent to deceive. Companies often don’t know what is really in their product. They may not realize that not all ingredients have to be declared in the ingredient list. For example, if a manufacturer uses a preserved ingredient the preservative used is considered incidental by the FDA and does not need to be declared in the ingredient list. As a more specific example, if one uses witch hazel water preserved with alcohol, the alcohol is considered incidental and does not have to be declared in the ingredient list. Like every other manufacturer, this is precisely how Essential used to list ingredients. In the past, Essential did not include alcohol in the ingredient list but then customers relabeling our product began claiming the products were “alcohol-free”. Just like the Honest Company, our clients were making false claims. While they had all the information the law entitled them to, they didn’t have all the information that might serve to prevent them from making false claims.

Essential recognized that this was not in the best interest of our customers. Yes, we were following the law; however, we also acknowledged that the law wasn’t doing enough to protect our clients. We have been working to rewrite our ingredient lists in a manner that clarifies the composition of our products so there is a much lesser probability that anyone will make an inaccurate assumption when purchasing, or worse, make a false claim when marketing an Essential Wholesale & Labs product. It is typical to see “Vitamin E (Tocopherol)” on an ingredient deck, but it is less often that the vegetable oil carrier for the Vitamin E, usually Soybean Oil, is also identified on the ingredient list. Of course, if the carrier isn’t identified customers may make the mistake of marketing the product as “soy free”. Essential is letting you know about all these incidentals, so you are in a better position to accurately market your product.

How you can Protect Your business

There are ways to make sure you know what is in the products you have made for you.

  • Ask your manufacturer to ‘unbundle’ the bundled ingredients
  • Ask your manufacturer to list everything, not just what the FDA requires
  • Ask your manufacturer to review your ingredient deck with you so you understand what each ingredient does for your product.

Consumers are savvier than ever when it comes to natural and organic cosmetics. As they demand transparency, so do the companies who serve them. To educate and support our customers, Essential made a decision to expose all ingredients in a product, even those not required by the FDA. We have been rewriting our ingredient lists to include the incidentals not required by the law. This does occasionally result in customers concluding that we are changing our formulas, but that is not the case. The only thing that is changing is that our ingredient lists are being made clearer than they were before. Our label updates are happening gradually, so we invite you to make inquiries wherever you have questions.


If you have any questions or concerns, please let us know.  You can email your questions to


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