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Honest Liquid Hand Soap – Safe or Toxic?

Written by Irina Webb

Honest Liquid Hand SoapThe Honest Company takes pride in making personal care, baby, and cleaning products void of toxic chemicals, which interested me in their products.  So far I have written reviews of the Honest company baby wipes, diapers, and shampoo and body wash.  I recommended baby wipes and diapers but was not a big fan of the shampoo and body wash.  In this post I will review the Honest liquid hand soap.

As the majority of liquid hand soap makers, the Honest Company utilizes synthetic surfactants (aka cleansers) as opposed to making soap by the process of saponification.  If you read my “Natural Bar Soap – the Mystery Revealed,” you know that I will choose soap made by the process of saponification, a safe process for the skin and the environment, any day.  The problem with liquid hand soap is that for some reason, probably due to the marketing appeal and cost, most of them are made with synthetic surfactants (aka cleansers).  And the Honest liquid hand soap is no exception, unfortunately. Synthetic surfactants, with a few exceptions, are at the very least skin irritants and their impact on the environment has not been fully understood.  Another problem I have with synthetic surfactants is that preservatives have to be used along with them; whereas, a saponified soap has natural antimicrobial properties.  So let me do my usual study of the ingredients.  And as always if you are pressed for time, skip the Honest liquid hand soap section and go to the bottom line.

Honest Liquid Hand Soap –  Ingredients

Purified Water: innocuous

Cocamidopropyl Betaine (Coconut-Based Cleanser): a synthetic surfactant, rated 4 out 10 (10 being the worst) in the Skin Deep database powered by the Environmental Working Group; it has been linked with irritation and allergic contact dermatitis due to the chemical itself or its possible impurities; may break down into Nitrosamines, possible human carcinogens;

Sodium Coco Sulfate (Coconut-Based Cleanser): a synthetic surfactant, a sodium salt of the sulfate ester of coconut alcohol; there is no data in the Skin Deep database; according to its MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet), it is a possible eye and skin irritant, but not a sensitizer or carcinogen, and it is biodegradable;

Cocamidopropylamine Oxide (Coconut-Based Cleanser): a synthetic surfactant, not much information on it available in the Skin Deep except that the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Board does not have sufficient data to determine safety; suspected to be an environmental toxin by Canada; study in the US National Library of Medicine suggests a low toxicity of the chemical;

Glycerin (Plant-Based Moisturizer): rated 0 by the EWG; non-toxic;

Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Seed Extract: rated 6 by the EWG; if it is not 100% natural, it might be contaminated with Benzethonium Cloride (rated 2), Methylparaben (rated 4, a hormone disruptor), and Triclosan (rated 7, a hormone disruptor, persistent in the environment); I contacted the Honest Company and here is their statement as to whether the Grapefruit seed extract is safe,

“While most manufacturers using GSE use the synthetic version (which is commonly contaminated, as you point out), ours is naturally sourced and doesn’t go through any processes that would result in these contaminants. In our search to verify the quality of this ingredient, we also learned that many manufacturers will add things like triclosan or other antibacterials to make the GSE have antibacterial qualities (but they don’t always reveal that to buyers or consumers). Our supplier does NOT, nor do we claim our products containing GSE have any antibacterial qualities.”

Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Oil (N.O.P. Certified Organic Lemongrass Oil): rated 4 by the EWG but the information they provide is confusing; according to the MSDS, it may cause “dermatitis, or allergic dermatitis on repeated contact with skin” but I think that applies to undiluted oil; otherwise, I did not find anything compromising on it;

Phenoxyethanol (pH-Sensitive Preservative): rated 4 by the EWG, may cause allergy or skin irritation;

Citral (Lemongrass Oil-Based): rated 7 by the EWG for strong allergic properties; but that seems to apply to synthetically derived citral; the Honest Company states that their Citral is harmless;

Benzyl Benzoate (Lemongrass Oil-Based): rated 6 by the EWG but it is the same scenario as with citral; the Honest Company assured me that their benzyl benzoate is not synthesized in a lab, and it is a natural form from lemongrass essential oil.

Honest Liquid Hand Soap – the Bottom Line

I did not find anything very dangerous in the Honest liquid hand soap.  However, I can’t recommend the Honest liquid hand soap either for the following reasons.  There are three synthetic cleansers in the Honest liquid hand soap, and all of them have the potential to irritate the skin and cause allergies, if not immediately then after prolonged use.  As a matter of fact, Cocamidopropyl Betaine is associated with a high rate of allergies developed over time (

In addition to the synthetic cleansers, the Honest liquid hand soap contains a preservative, one of the mildest ones but a preservative nevertheless, which also has the potential to irritate skin.  And there are other ingredients that are not easy to understand and can be harmless or harmful depending on their manufacturing processes. With the Honest Company assurances, I think we can conclude that they are not harmful.  It would be helpful if the Honest Company disclosed the details of their manufacturing processes on their website so people would not have second thoughts, especially because when I do inquire, it often takes the company representatives a long time to respond.

When I tried the Honest liquid hand soap, I did not have any strong feelings one way or the other.  My hands felt on the dry side but to the defense of the Honest Company I wash them so frequently that I have learned to expect that from just about any soap.

Still, I do not love the product, and so my search continued.  So far I have looked at Mr. Meyer’s hand soap, Method hand soap, and the Honest hand soap.  In my next post of this series, I will talk about liquid hand soaps that I actually like.  So you do not miss that post, please subscribe to my blog if you have not done so yet. I won’t spam you or sell your email.  I promise.

Update:  For liquid hand soaps I like, see My Favorite Liquid Hand Soaps post.



22 thoughts on “Honest Liquid Hand Soap – Safe or Toxic?”

  1. Try LEAP Organics hand soap. I just bought their soaps in lavender. They work and smell great. Almost everything is organic. I asked about the non-organic vegetable glycerin and got a response back that it was made of palm and coconut oil, so unlikely GMO.

  2. I read this after learning that the Honest Company isn’t so honest. A lot of their products contain toxic chemicals and this hand soap ingredient phenoxyethanol really seems to irritate my skin. It is found in a few of the other products that are in my home that have also caused some serious irritation to me and my toddler.

    1. Thank you for this article. My baby has severe eczema and we have switched all our detergent products to soap based products (shampoo, hand soap, laundry, dish, household cleaning items). I then switched to Honest products, thinking that it was just as good as real soaps, that have been saponified, but upon investigating their ingredients, realized they use synthetic surfactants, those of which you listed above. This is a shame given their assurances that their products are honestly good for you.

  3. Thank you for the wonderful research you’ve done here! I also agree that The Honest Company hand soap has some questionable ingredients, but I’m now using their foaming hand soap. It has different ingredients and does not contain the potentially harmful ones you mention in this review.

      1. I agree. Here they are: LEMONGRASS: Water, Potassium Palm Kernelate*, Potassium Oleate, Glycerin, Potassium Cocoate, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus (Lemongrass) Oil, Potassium Citrate, Citric Acid.

        Thanks! I enjoy using their foaming soap a lot .. good to know that its not toxic

        1. Regarding the citric acid, from everything I have read unless otherwise specified, citric acid listed as an ingredient has been genetically modified. It’s actually grown using GMO corn.

          1. Have you heard about synthetic biology? This is even more frightening than GMOs. They synthetically create bacteria to fulfill certain tasks. Speaking of unintended consequences! Anyway, I learned that a lot of citric acids are created by synthetically designed bacteria. And of course, nobody will disclose that. I am really happy that you are an educated consumer. Only together we can put pressure on manufacturers for safer products.

          2. Citric Acid starts with a mold called Aspergillus Niger, apparently this is the black nasty stuff that grows on onions and belongs to the penicillin family. Large scale production of CA grows the mold using high GMO corn or sugar beets. This is what produces citric acid. Now even the mold itself is genetically modified to produce higher yields. Once the mold is frankenfied in the lab it is grown on GMO corn.

            Not that long ago, I still thought that this was a harmless ingredient that came from citrus fruits. Silly me! CA is one of the most ubiquitous ingredients on the market.

          3. Thank you, Mary! It is good to know and avoid CA, if possible. Unfortunately, I agree that citric acid is one of the most ubiquitous ingredients on the market. You would really have to go out of your way to avoid it. Just curious, how did you become so educated about this type of things?

  4. I have read that phenoxyethanol is an edocrine disruptor with estrogenic effects. It is used in a lot of cases to replace parabens in hair and skin care products. It can be difficult to avoid too.

      1. I sort of accidentally came across your blog. I am so glad I found it. You are doing amazing work and the challenges are not lost on me. I feel much better knowing that you have vetted certain products I want to purchase.

  5. I used the Honest brand’s orange and vanilla body wash. My entire body flared up with severe rashes! The pain and discomfort was inexplicable at least for a week. I am still trying to heal myself from it by using hydrocortisone 1% and pain killers such as Claritin and Benadryl. I am hardly allergic to anything, but this has been a horrific few days for me…

    1. I am so sorry to hear that, Anu. That must be so hard. Have you figured out which ingredient you are allergic to? ~Irina

      1. I’m not sure, Irina. I’m normally not allergic to almost anything. I looked up on the ingredients and I am suspecting it is the chemical Caprylhydroxamic acid which has caused it. It causes an allergy to some people. I am recovering slowly but it has left severe marks all over my body like it does for chicken pox 😔

        1. Hi, Anu: So sorry to hear about that. That sounds so bad. If you get tested and know exactly what you are allergic to, I think it will make your life easier. ~Irina

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