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Honest Shampoo and Body Wash Review

If you have recently switched from a shampoo scented with artificial fragrance, colored with petroleum dyes, and containing carcinogenic ingredients to Honest Shampoo and Body Wash, give yourself a pat on the back.  I can tell you right away that Honest shampoo and wash is safer than a lot of shampoos.  For comparison, you can read my review of Head & Shoulders’ shampoo ingredients.  However, I do not recommend using the Honest baby shampoo as a body wash, especially on babies.  To find out why, read my review of the ingredients of the Honest Purely Sensitive Fragrance-Free Shampoo and Body Wash.

Honest Shampoo & Body Wash Review

Honest shampoo and body wash ingredients

Let’s go over some ingredients of the Honest shampoo and wash called Purely Sensitive Fragrance Free so you can see for yourself what I am talking about.

Water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine, Sodium Laurylglucosides Hydroxypropylsulfonate, Disodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Sodium Chloride, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit Extract, Glycerin, Caprylyl Glycol, Panthenol, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Sodium Benzoate, Sodium PCA, Coconut Acid, Glutamic Acid, Citric Acid (source)

I accessed these ingredients in March 31, 2020.  If you are reading this much later, click on the link and make sure that the ingredients are still the same.

To save time, we will go over three building blocks of a typical shampoo: surfactants, conditioners, and preservatives.  These are the groups of ingredients that normally have some concerns.

Surfactants in Honest body wash  

To begin, with very few exceptions, every shampoo lathers.  The ingredients that produce lather are called surfactants.  Normally, they are listed at the beginning of the ingredient list.

Some surfactants have health concerns.  Others have not been sufficiently studied for safety, and some have not been studied at all.  That’s why in an ideal world it is better to use all-natural shampoo bars

Sodium Laurylglucosides Hydroxypropylsulfonate

The first surfactant in Honest shampoo and body wash is rated 1 (with 10 as most toxic) in the Skin Deep Database powered by the Environmental Working Group, but it has no safety data.  That is to say, there simply isn’t data out there to assess how safe or unsafe the ingredient may be.  Under these circumstances, the EWG assumes that the ingredient is safe – something I do not do.  In other words, if you use the Skin Deep database, pay attention to data availability.  To learn more about the shortcomings of the EWG Skin Deep database, please read my Skin Deep database post.

Also, I always check the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel’s reports on the ingredient I am researching.  Additionally, I look up independent studies that have not been mentioned in the report.  I do that as my full-time occupation, and you can subscribe to my weekly emails to make your life easier.

Now, as for sodium laurylglucosides hydroxypropylsulfonate in the Honest shampoo and wash, the CIR Expert Panel has not reviewed it, and I have not found any independent scientific studies on it, no information at all.  From what I see, one of the components here is glucoside.  That tells me that it should not be very concerning.  You can read more about glucoside surfactants in the post Are Glucosides Safe?

Disodium cocoyl glutamate and sodium cocoyl isethionate

Both disodium cocoyl glutamate and sodium cocoyl isethionate have limited data on the EWG Skin Deep database, which rates them at 1. 

Disodium cocoyl glutamate is the disodium salt of the coconut acid amide of glutamic acid.  It is biodegradable and not an irritant.

As for sodium cocoyl isethionate, from 1993 to 2017, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Panel reported this ingredient to be non-mutagenic and non-sensitizing.  Additionally, it appears to be non-irritating, causing no birth defects in animal studies, and practically non-toxic (source).  In short, it is considered a mild surfactant. 

Cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine in Honest shampoo and body wash

The Skin Deep database has limited data on cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine and gives it a rating of 1.  However, I do not agree with their rating.  Cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine is related to cocamidopropyl betaine, which was named the allergen of the year in 2004 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.  Like cocamidopropyl betaine, cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine has a sensitization potential mainly due to the impurity both share.  The name of the impurity is DMAPA.  To read more about it, head over to my post about the safety of cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine.

Conditioners in the Honest wash

Here we will skip botanical conditioners and talk about synthetic conditioners since they are the ones that may have health concerns.

To clarify, most shampoos have synthetic conditioners that enhance the beauty of our hair.  That is to say, they produce immediate results by coating the hair.  Similar to surfactants, normally these coating agents have little or no safety data about them.

Guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride in Honest shampoo and body wash

Originally, it is derived from beans, but there is a synthetic part to it.  They add 3 chloro 2 hydroxypropyl trimethyl ammonium chloride to convert bean-derived guar into guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride.

In 2015, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel reviewed data pertaining to guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride and its relatives called galactomannans.  They concluded that guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride was not genotoxic.  While there is no data on the risks of cancer, birth defects, allergic reactions, and endocrine disruption per se, the Panel decided that they had sufficient data on its relatives to assume that guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride was safe, too.

In short, guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride does not have enough health data to determine its safety.  The good news is that its molecules are too big to penetrate the skin. 

From my study of numerous shampoos, I can say that guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride is a very common ingredient in the safest shampoos.  Despite its common use, I have not found any reported cases of allergic reactions in the medical literature.  Besides, the American Society of Contact Dermatitis does not list it as an allergen, which is great. 

In sum, I believe it is okay for the Honest shampoo and wash to use guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride.  It imparts a “slippery” feeling to the hair so you can comb it more easily and spread your conditioner better all over your hair.  Also, it helps control frizz and has an antistatic function.

Preservatives in Honest shampoo and body wash

All liquid shampoos must have preservatives because they are mostly water – a breeding ground for mold and bacteria.  While mold is something we can see, bacteria are not visible to the human eye.

The Honest Company uses four preservatives that together protect the product from growing mold and bacteria.

Caprylyl glycol and caprylhydroxamic acid in Honest baby shampoo and wash

Firstly, caprylyl glycol has a rating of 1 with limited data in the Skin Deep database.  After reviewing its safety data in 2012, the CIR Panel declared it non-genotoxic, and that it had no irritation or sensitization potential, even in high concentrations.  This report, prepared for the Environmental Defense Fund, passes caprylyl glycol on all criteria as a safer chemical.

As for caprylhydroxamic acid, it is an amino acid derived from coconut oil.  As you know, amino acids are organic compounds that are essential building blocks of life.  The CIR Panel has not rated it for safety yet.

While it sounds innocent, apparently it is possible to have an allergic reaction to it.  In 2016, Finnish dermatologists concluded that caprylhydroxamic acid was a new contact allergen that caused a widespread allergic reaction to a lotion containing it (source).

Sodium benzoate and trisodium ethylenediamine disuccinate in Honest shampoo and wash

Another preservative, sodium benzoate, used to have a rating of 3 in the Skin Deep database, and now its rating is 1-3.  By the way, I noticed that the EWG recently has been changing ratings and making them better.  Sodium benzoate is a very common preservative in baby wipes and in so-called “green,” “natural,” and “organic” skincare products.

On the other hand, it may cause an allergic reaction in some people if used in concentrations over 5%  (source).  I do not have information about how much sodium benzoate there is in the Honest shampoo and body wash.  But considering the alternatives, in my opinion, sodium benzoate is one of the safer preservatives.  To learn more about how to avoid the worst preservatives and other ingredients and gain a superpower to know in a few seconds if a product is harmful, please visit here.

Finally, trisodium ethylenediamine disuccinate is a chelating agent that improves the efficacy of sodium benzoate.  According to this Australian report, it is neither a skin irritant nor a sensitizer.  The in vitro and in vivo tests showed that it was non-mutagenic.  Additionally, it has low acute oral and dermal toxicity.

Conclusion about Honest shampoo and body wash

As you can see, Honest shampoo and wash has no obvious red flags.  I believe it is one of the safest shampoos.  However, Honest baby shampoo and body wash has some concerns.  To clarify, most clean shampoos have these concerns.  They are ingredients that lack safety data and that can cause irritation or an allergic reaction.  Check out how it compares with many other shampoos and conditioners on my Shampoo and Conditioner Rating Lists.

Thus, as a shampoo for adults and kids with long hair who actually need these ingredients for their hair to look good, I believe it is a relatively good option.  However, I do not recommend using Honest shampoo and body wash as a body wash, especially for babies.  As a body wash, I believe the safest product is natural bar soap.  You can find out five reasons I prefer non-toxic bar soap to liquid soap in my post.  In addition, you can find great options for safe soap in my non-toxic hand soap guide and in the IRLFY shop.

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With this easy unprecendented method, you will be able to spot potentially harmful personal care or skincare products that may cause irritation, an allergic reaction, or increase the risk of endocrine disruption or cancer.

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40 thoughts on “Honest Shampoo and Body Wash Review”

  1. Oleic acid is a fatty acid, also known as Omega 9. Not harmful at all, it is found in oils like olive oil. If you have ever gotten oil in your eyes, you know it is definitely an eye irritant! I cant imagine why it would be considered an environmental toxin, though….

  2. I started using this about a week or so ago and I really love this product, however, I have started to develop itchiness all over my body and even rash like redness where I have not been itching and I am not sure if it is from this product or not. I have not changed anything else like my laundry detergent or anything so I am sadly going to have to stop using this product to see if my itchiness/rash subsides..Any suggestions? I was using Dove unscented body wash for years up until this product, should I just go back to that?

    1. Hi Jes, how do you feel about bar soap? In my research, I found that they are the best for your health and for the environment. The ones I use and recommend are made with organic plant oil – so good for your skin! Check out my list here. Let me know what you think.

  3. We recently switched to this shampoo/body wash for our two year old. She has been dealing with a irritating rash for the past week and a half and I think I finally realized it could be this soap. I feel terrible for using a product that has made her so uncomfortable. Do you have any recommendations for baby wash?

    1. Hi, Amanda! I would switch to true castile bar soap by Valenti Organics. How do you feel about using bar soap instead of liquid wash? This is what I have been using for my son and never had to use any moisturizer. You can read about the soap here as well as about other options. I hope your daughter will feel better soon! ~Irina

      1. Thank you so much for your quick response! I’m totally up to trying bar soap for her body wash, but what about shampoo? Do you use it as shampoo as well for your son?

  4. I really enjoy reading your blog and have gotten quite a few products thanks to your research.
    Currently I use baking soda to wash my hair and although it doesn’t suds the way shampoo does it seems to leave my hair clean. Have you ever tried this method? I still use shampoo once in a blue moon but the baking soda just seems to work.
    Would love your input

    1. Hi Batya, yes – I have tried this method and I really wanted it to work. Unfortunately, baking soda has high pH, which means that it is drying for the hair. After a month of use, my hair got dry and brittle. How long have you been using it?

      1. I did it for about 6 months and my hair started to fall out. I am not sure if it was my thyroid or the baking soda but my hair got dry at the ends as well. The fullness has now returned yet but the falling out has stopped.
        I am now using herbaliz shampoo.
        I will see how it goes.
        Thanks

  5. Have you ever analyzed the ingredients in the Whole Foods brand shampoo, 365? I love the big jugs that it comes in. Thank you for analyzing and recommending John Masters. It’s easy to find. I’m switching to that based on your recommendation.

  6. I’ve been doing it for about 6 months. I only wash my hair once a week or twice maximum if it’s hot out or if I workout hard. I haven’t found it to be drying even though I have dey skin to begin with. I use trader joes tea tree hair shampoo once in a while. Seems to work ok.

  7. Hi dear
    What is you opinion on the honest co multipurpose cleaner? How many bad ingredients? It works well thouhg on everything

    1. Hi Mehnaz, I like that there is glucoside cleanser and that there are no artificial fragrances in it. My concern is that there are two ingredients that are concerning to me: PPG-4 Laureth/Myreth-5 and Methylisothiazolinone. PPG-4 Laureth/Myreth-5 is a cleanser initially derived from coconut oil, somewhere in a chain of chemical reactions carcinogenic ethylene oxide is added, which means that if the company does not use vacuum process the by-product of this reaction – carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane – may remain in the product. The other concerning Methylisothiazolinone is banned in the European Union from the use in cosmetics. What’s interesting to me that the EPA says that the only uses of methylisothiazolinone that come in contact with food they tolerate and regulate are paper, paper products, and adhesives. So I would not use the Honest company multi-purpose cleaner on the surfaces that come in contact in food. Most cleaning products have some concerns about them. I recommend using homemade cleaners if possible. And use commercial cleaners only if you have to. Here is a post where you can find some of my recipes.

  8. Thank you for the in depth review! Even for someone like me who has researched body product ingredients a lot, I always learn something new from your reviews. I agree with your recommendation that we should not use adult products for babies and children. Their skin is more sensitive and we should try to limit exposure to toxins as much as possible. I am very careful about the products we use on our toddler. We stick with natural soap for our son’s hair and body. He is clean and his hair looks great!

    One thought that came to mind when reading your assessment of the ingredients is the “processing” method for extractives. The process to come up with the extractives or derivations of plants/herbs/etc. could include toxic chemicals that might be left over in the final product. Do you have any insight on how the extracts above are manufactured?

    1. Nice to hear from you, Katie! You are absolutely right about the fact some extractions are done with solvents and thus their trace amounts may remain in the products. I wish I had more information about that. Unfortunately, my communication with Honest co. is limited. For that reason I prefer to buy from smaller business where I can get in touch with people who make products directly.

      1. Thanks Irina! I always make a note about the extractions with solvents in my reviews of beauty products, so I thought I would mentioned it.

        I prefer to buy from smaller businesses also! 🙂

  9. Thank you for this insightful post. I’ve ised the Honest Company shampoo/body wash on my one year old daughter since she was born. I recently bought a new bottle and she has developed an irritating rash since using it. I will be purchasing the Valenti True Castille bar soap for her, but am wondering if you have any recommendations for a safe shampoo to use on her? Thanks so much!

  10. Hi Irina

    Thanks for your helpful reviews. Do you have a list of products you recommend for use during pregnancy? I need shampoo,conditioner, body wash and moisturiser and face wash and face moisturiser. Thank you

  11. Thank you for such a wonderful article dear and from my side I want to say that i am using multivitamin shampoo for my hair Because this antioxident rich shampoo helps to perfect and renew vibrancy to dull, lackluster hair. When used in our 10-IN-1 RENEWAL SYSTEM it provides Sulfate-free cleansing, anti-aging benefits, color protection, hydration, nourishment, rejuvenation, anti-stress, manageability and softness without build up.

  12. I recently bought the Honest sweet orange and vanilla and used it on my 4 month old. The first day we used it to bath him we noticed that his eyes got irritated but didn’t pay to much mind to it considering that it says tear free on the bottle. By the third day one of his eyes got red and really irritated. I stopped using it on him and the irritation in his eyes cleared up. I wanted to give the wash the benefit of a doubt and used it on my special needs kid who is 12 and the same exact thing happened to him too. I’ve since stopped using the product and have gone back to using Aveno.

  13. I have been researching for days for a good shampoo. I came across Honest shampoo. But you left out one ingredient in your post, Honest uses sodium chloride (table salt) which is a thickener but also causes dryness and hair loss. I have had little luck finding one shampoo and conditioner which doesn’t have at least one bad ingredient. Honest was close but the table salt added makes it not good either (at least makes me skeptical of buying it).

  14. Vanessa Leigh Perry

    Thank you for helping to make the tricky task of buying safe products easier for families!

    I recently joined with Beautycounter, a company dedicated to getting safe, clean products in the hands of everyone. They have strong values with what they will not include in their products, and have banned more than 1500 harmful chemicals from use in their products!

    I’d love to know what you think about their products and their mission to change the unregulated beauty industry! Check out the products and mission.

    Thanks!
    Vanessa

  15. Thanks for the article and thank readers responses. I’m having a 2nd round of “eczema” flaring up right now. I have the unbearable itchy rashes on my face and arms and upper body. I use Honest Face and Body wash. I’ve never doubted about the product and thought it was save until now. I thought it might be the fabric softener. I thought about food too. I’ll stop using it right away and see. I went the dermatologist and allergist when I first had this without much help. It went on for months. I might be allergic to a combination of things. It’s hard to tell.

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