The Honest Truth About So-Called "Natural" Products

There has recently been a lot of press about natural cleaning brands and the ingredients they use. As a Chemical Engineer with over 20 years of experience formulating laundry detergents and other cleaning products, I feel the need to set the record straight on the science behind the marketing spin.

The Wall Street Journal has recently reported Jessica Alba's Honest Company is using chemicals that contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (abbreviated as "SLS") when in fact Honest claims on their packaging the products are "SLS free."

Honest uses a blend of chemicals called "Sodium Coco Sulfate" or "SCS" as their main cleaning ingredient in products such as their laundry detergent, multi-surface cleaner, and hand dish products. These ingredients are commonly known as "surfactants" in the detergent industry. Honest isn't the only company that uses this so-called "natural" surfactant: Earth Friendly Products under their Ecos brand name uses SCS too, as well as other brands such as Johnson and Johnson's Natural Baby Shampoo.

Unfortunately for consumers, using the ingredient name "Sodium Coco Sulfate" hides an ugly truth: the number one chemical found in SCS is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate! Over 50% of the chemicals found in SCS are in fact SLS.

To emphasize this point, SLS is not a trace chemical found in SCS, nor is SLS left over in the manufacturing process as a mistake. The very reason a company would want to use SCS is because it contains SLS as the number one ingredient. The Sodium Lauryl Sulfate found in SCS is the reason these products are able to foam, create bubbles, and clean well. The SLS is in these products by design, not by mistake.

What exactly is SLS? To be precise, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a surfactant with 12 carbon atoms lined up in a row (called a "C12 chain" for short) and comes from coconut or palm oil. SLS is also known by its more formal name "Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate" or "SDS".

In order to make SLS/SDS, the fatty alcohols from plant oils are treated with reactive chemicals such as sulfur trioxide gas. This is hardly a "natural" process!

The resulting chemical formula for SLS looks like this: C(12)H(25)NaO(4)S

This is what SLS molecule looks like:

SLS Molecule

Ironically, Honest has recently admitted in a blog post this C12 sulfated surfactant pictured above is in their formula, and confirmed the C12 surfactant is part of the SCS blend they use. In other words, there is no debate that the chemical shown above IS in Honest's laundry detergent, dish products, hard surface cleaners, etc. Honest admits this themselves.

But Honest refuses to call this surfactant by its correct scientific name: SLS! Honest can't simply make up names for chemicals when the correct reference is well known and understood by everyone.

To make no doubt about it, all one has to do is look up the formal chemical name for this molecule used in Honest's products on the US Government's National Institute of Health website. The NIH calls this molecule "Sodium Lauryl Sulfate" - case closed!  To put it simply: the C12 surfactant referenced by Honest in their blog post is SLS, according the the National Institute of Health.

What is a concerned consumer to do? Are there any other cleaning products that don't contain SLS?

Yes! Simply choose cleaning products that are certified USDA organic. Unlike the marketing claims on Honest's or Ecos' labels, which are not reviewed or approved by any government agency before they are shipped, all certified organic products must have their formulations reviewed, the labels and claims checked for accuracy, and the manufacturing facilities audited by outside third parties to make sure there are no violations. It is simply illegal to sell a certified organic cleaning product that contains SLS in it - period.

I personally created the line of Fit Organic cleaning products with the goal of FINALLY giving naturally minded consumers what they really want: cleaning products that work without the worry of using harsh chemicals like SLS. Our independent certifications from organizations such as the Oregon Tilth Company (OTCO) confirm to consumers that they are not getting harsh chemicals they want to avoid.

In summary, don't be fooled by green-washing marketing tactics. Don't pay a premium for cleaning products that use a celebrity actress as a spokesperson but are not really natural.

If you want to buy truly SLS-free cleaning products, buy brands that proudly display the certified USDA organic logo instead. We would be honored if you would try FIT Organic as a new way to clean - organically!


Todd Wichmann
CEO, President & Founder
HealthPro Brands Inc.
Makers of the Fit Organic Brand