This story originally ran on March 28, 2016. Scroll down for updates.
Jessica Alba's eco-friendly household, beauty and baby product business The Honest Company has been hit with another lawsuit over allegations that it's not quite as honest as it purports to be. A class action complaint filed last week by one Margo Smith in Missouri claims Honest "deceptively marketed its popular consumer liquid laundry detergent, dish soap, multi-surface cleaner and other products" as not containing sodium lauryl sulfate, when tests published by the Wall Street Journal on March 10 found "significant amounts" of the foaming cleaning chemical. A similar lawsuit concerning the company's mislabeling of products as "natural" was filed in New York in February with reference to 41 different items. Last year, Honest, clearly a target for class action firms, was also hit with two class action lawsuits over ineffective sunscreen.
The Honest Company responded to the WSJ's March 10 report by standing by its products and clarifying that the brand uses sodium coco sulfate (SCS) instead of SLS. In a blog post, it faulted the paper for not testing for SCS, which it describes as "less irritating and safer to use." The brand went so far as to break down the molecular structure of both compounds. Herein lies the point of disagreement: Honest says SLS and SCS are different chemicals because SCS can only be made from raw coconut oil, while SLS can be made from palm oil or petroleum. However, the WSJ reports that SCS always contains SLS, in addition to other compounds. The new class action complaint agrees, stating: "SCS necessarily and, without exception, always contains SLS." In its response to the WSJ, Honest stood its ground: "We also want to dispel the myth that Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Coco Sulfate (SCS) are the same. They are not." A rep for Honest could not immediately be reached for comment in regards to this new lawsuit.
If the defendant's science doesn't hold up in court, and if the suit grows into a larger class action, The Honest Company could face serious damages because it has disavowed the use of SLS and built a reputation on providing alternatives to chemical irritants in household products. In 2013, Alba wrote in her book "The Honest Life" that this very chemical was a toxin that should be avoided and that gave her an allergic reaction.
UPDATE, June 8, 4:05 p.m.: The Honest Co. has agreed to pay a $1.55 million class action settlement in response to claims of "dishonest advertising" about the ingredients in its cleaning products, according to Daily Mail. The company will reformulate its products to remove the ingredient in question (SCS), and issued the following statement to Daily Mail:
"We vigorously deny any and all allegations alleged in the lawsuit – specifically that any of our cleaning products contain SLS. However, given the fact that continued litigation could be protracted and expensive, we have settled this lawsuit to limit further costs and distraction to our business. We stand behind the safety and effectiveness of our products and the responsibility we have to our consumers, and are gratified by the loyalty of both our customers and retail partners.
As a modern brand, we are always focused on progress and innovation and remain committed to making purposeful changes to update and improve our products. We are constantly listening to our customers, hearing their needs and desires, and making continual product upgrades for aesthetics and overall product experience.
As part of that process, we will soon be launching a new breakthrough cleaning line, utilizing an advanced sugar-based surfactant technology to further improve the efficacy of our products."