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Was The Honest Company Set Up By The Wall Street Journal?

Jessica Assaf

Two weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal announced that “independent lab tests” found Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) in the Honest Company’s liquid detergent. SLS is one of many ingredients the company pledges to avoid. Though SLS is found in almost every mainstream product that foams, Honest received major backlash in the media, with top news sites claiming the company “may not be so honest.” But no one questioned the true motives behind The Wall Street Journal article, and there is evidence to suggest the story itself may not be so honest after all. 

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a synthetic surfactant found in many household products such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and cleaning supplies. It is a foaming agent, so any product that foams most likely contains SLS. The compound is commonly used because it is inexpensive, effective, and legal in the United States. As a detergent surfactant, sodium lauryl sulfate removes oils from the skin and can cause skin and eye irritation. Though I am not advocating for the use of SLS, irritation and skin dryness are the only real concerns. The ingredient has an exceptionally low score of 1-2 on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database. The reality is, there are hundreds of synthetic compounds that are far more harmful than SLS. 

The Honest Company decided to take a stand against the use of compounds harmful to human health and they created their own safety standards for consumers. Their Honestly Free Guarantee lists the synthetic compounds they will never use in their products, including irritants like SLS, but also including parabens, phthalates, and petroleum-derivatives, which are in many mainstream products, banned in Europe, and have been linked to cancer and reproductive harm. As a company, it is their mission to provide healthy, effective, and affordable products for families. 

The Wall Street Journal article states that Honest is “challenging giants such as Procter & Gamble and Clorox with a guarantee that its offerings don’t contain what it says are harsh chemicals found in many mainstream products.” The journalist, Serena Ng, lists on her bio that she covers “Procter & Gamble and other consumer product and beauty companies.” Every other article she has written reports on a company’s economic performance, with no reference to product safety or ingredients. She writes articles titled, “P&G Earnings: What to Watch,” “Procter & Gamble Sales Dip” and “Estee Lauder Posts Strong Profit, Raises Dividend”. This is the first article Serena has ever written that mentions a product ingredient. 

What is more troubling is that the “independent lab tests” that found Sodium Lauryl Sulfate in Honest’s laundry detergent were funded by The Wall Street Journal. These tests typically cost thousands of dollars and take months to conduct. In my opinion, the only way The Wall Street Journal could have justified the cost is if they knew they would find something

Honest uses a base ingredient in their laundry detergent called Sodium Coco Sulfate, which they chose because it is a gentler and less irritating alternative to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. While SCS and SLS are fairly similar in their chemical composition, independent studies have shown that SCS is safer to use in products. SCS can only be made from raw coconut oil, while SLS can be refined from many raw materials, like palm oil or petroleum. SLS and SCS are two distinct chemicals, and Honest intentionally chose SCS to create the safest products possible that are also affordable for mainstream consumers. 

According to Honest, The Wall Street Journal never gave the company an opportunity to respond to the claims, even after Honest provided evidence to the contrary multiple times. In Co-founder Christopher Gavigan’s recent Facebook post, he states that The Wall Street Journal refuses to share their data with the company or the media. They never even tested for SCS in Honest products. 

All of this evidence leads me to believe that The Honest Company was set up by The Wall Street Journal. 

The multi-billion dollar beauty industry is threatened by The Honest Co, and they should be. The company is worth $1.7 billion and Honest is a household name. Honest has changed the game by making safe and affordable products more accessible for the masses. But it is extremely disheartening to realize that even mainstream, well-respected media is inhibiting widespread change by misrepresenting mission-driven companies and misleading consumers. Not only does this false representation by The Wall Street Journal jeopardize Honest’s reputation, but it also jeopardizes the future of women, men, and children across the country who need safe and affordable products like Honest to stop using Procter & Gamble and Clorox.

We, as consumers, must respond with our buying choices. Don’t believe everything you read. Do your own research. And support companies like Honest, dedicated to health, transparency, and good, honest products.