Hands-on Gear Review
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Price: $0.55 list
Pros: Exceptionally unique and cute graphics, earth friendly and baby health conscious
Cons: Below average absorption compared to other green diapers in our tests, not available in regular retail, expensive
Bottom line: Good fit, great graphics, eco and health conscious made this one of our favorites, but performance wasn't on par with other green diapers.
Manufacturer: The Honest Company
We like the mission of the Honest Company, and their diapers have a lot positive features. But, given the high cost, competing green diapers are a much smarter option in our opinion, based on our tests of 9 green diapers. Absorption was not impressive compared to other diapers we tested, both green and traditional, and performance on other metrics was met or exceeded by most other green diapers we tested. Out of 9 green diapers we tested, the Honest Company diaper placed a disappointing 6th, yet it was one of the most expensive. The Honest Diaper offers cute graphics, and are legitimately a health conscious and earth friendly brand. The company has made a sincere effort at delivering an eco-friendly diaper, which we appreciate, but at this time we feel there are superior options elsewhere at significantly lower cost.
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BabyGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Honest Company appears to be a place where celebrity endorsement got mashed up with eco-health wonk analysis to create a unique blend of great looks and eco-brand marketing. The company was founded by actress Jessica Alba and eco-health thought leader, Christopher Gavigan, author of Healthy Child Healthy World (a fabulous book we wholeheartedly recommend with advice on how to create a healthier, less-toxic, and more environmentally sound home for your baby).
We love the mission of Honest Company, and respect the efforts the company is making to create a quality line of eco-health oriented products. However, the actual performance of the Honest Diaper in our tests was not as impressive as we'd hoped relative to competing green diapers. We also have objected, in multiple emails to the company co-founder Christopher Gavigan (he has never replied in writing), to the company's repeated use of marketing claims that we feel mislead customers into thinking the diaper is entirely plant-based, when in fact it is not (more on this later in "A History of Misleading Marketing Claims" below).
Bambo Nature cites as compostable in their diaper, but less than the 100% natural claimed by Broody Chick). Note that we are unable to independently audit and verify these claims, and considering that Honest Company has made multiple statements on their website we feel are misleading, we're not sure we should take these claims at face-value.
Mostly Plant-Based, But Still Relies on Petro-Chemicals for Absorbency
The Honest Diaper is one of the few diapers offering a top layer (the layer closest to baby's skin) that is made of plant-based PLA (a type of bio-plastic, similar to the plant-based plastic cups you may see used/sold at eco-health oriented stores). This may be a significant differentiator when compared to other diapers, even competing green diapers, as many use a petroleum-based material such as polypropylene for the top layer. Honest Company founder, Christopher Gavigan, told us that he believes the plant-based PLA does retain more surface moisture than petroleum-based top layer materials (thus possibly scoring worse in our absorbency test), but has a better pH which results in reduced skin rash. However, the Honest Diaper is not 100% plant-based, despite statements on their website which seem to imply otherwise. Like Pampers and other traditional diapers we tested, Honest Diapers include the petroleum-based chemical SAP, as a key moisture absorbing ingredient in their diaper's core. This petro-chemical is in the absorbency layer close to baby's skin, and in a statement on the Honest Company website (1/18/13, later removed), can be considered "in direct contact with infant skin 24x7." We'd recommend that those Moms who wish to avoid petroleum-based chemicals in their diapers look to cloth diapers instead. Honest Company claims to use a "reduced" amount of petroleum-based SAP in their diapers, but when we asked co-founder Christopher Gavigan to quantify what was their approximate % reduction of petroleum-based SAP relative to competing diapers, he declined to answer because he considered the details proprietary. We find the Christopher Gavigan's refusal to clarify how much petroleum-based chemicals are included in their diaper relative to competing diapers to be disturbing, especially so given the company's stated philosophy of transparency and integrity. We're left concluding that the company is hiding something that they'd prefer the public didn't know.
When compared to the field of green diapers in our test, and we tested 9 green diapers, the Honest Company diaper finished a disappointing 6th place, yet it was one of the most expensive. Perhaps most importantly from our perspective, the Honest Diaper did not do well in our absorption testing relative to most other green diapers.
Relative to the other diapers in our test, both green diapers and conventional, Honest Diapers are among the most expensive. Honest Diapers are not sold by national retailers at this time. Instead, they promote their monthly subscription service which bundles in wipes in a combined package. We feel the requirement to buy both diapers and wipes in a subscription bundle makes it hard to figure out the actual cost per diaper. Fortunately, Honest Company allows you to buy in smaller quantity packages without signing up to a subscription, but the cost is relatively high per diaper compared to competing bulk packages. Adding to expense in the Honest Diaper case, we feel per unit price needs to be calculated including shipping costs since you can't buy the product at your local big box retailer. Thus we calculate the Honest Diaper price at: $13.95 for a pack of 36 size 3 diapers + $5.95 shipping = $0.55/diaper. To get a lower price per diaper (still high compared to alternatives), you need to sign up to the subscription which is delivered in higher volume packages. The subscription price for size 3 is about $0.40/diaper at the time of this review, $79.95 per month + $5.95 shipping gets you 216 size 3 diapers, and has the added benefit of including 280 wipes for free, an $11 value. If you subtract $11 for the wipes, the net cost per diaper is $0.35. However, other diapers are available for steep discounts if you buy them on subscription. For example, Earth's Best subscription price from Amazon (which includes free shipping and 20% off if you join their free Amazon Mom's program) is $0.24 per diaper, a substantial savings compared to Honest Diaper's subscription price, and for an excellent green diaper that offered better overall performance in our tests.
We believe that a subscription model can be a convenient and economic option, once you've settled into a specific brand, but we prefer the simpler subscription model offered by Amazon which offers more flexibility to choose the product(s) you want, a straight-forward discount, clear per unit pricing, and free-shipping. Amazon's subscription discounts vary, but range from 5% to 20% off the regular Amazon price. The deepest discount, of 20% off, is available if you join Amazon Mom's. Unfortunately, Honest Diapers are not available from Amazon. Too bad, because with Amazon's discounts the Honest Diaper might be much more compelling.
A History of Misleading Marketing Claims
Lastly, but perhaps least importantly, we find the Honest Company's marketing to be more than a little misleading when it comes to describing their product's inclusion of synthetic materials.
Synthetic Chemical Free, or Ummm, Actually Not?
While company co-founder Christopher Gavigan told us the Honest Diaper is 80% plant-based (which is laudable), the most prominent page of the website (as of Jan 18, 2013) about the Diaper Bundle described the product as "100% plant based" and not exposing your baby to any "synthetic chemicals (ever!)" (see highlighted section of this screen capture from 1/18/13). Yet, the website also clearly notes on other pages that their diapers do include petroleum-based sodium polyacrylate (SAP) for absorbency, just like conventional diapers, and they openly admitted to their use of petroleum-based SAP when we inquired for details. We don't know how the diapers can simultaneously include the petroleum-based chemical SAP as a key ingredient and also be 100% free of synthetic chemicals.
Is SAP a Skin Irritant?
In a section on the Honest Company website titled, "What's Inside Disposable Diapers", the company is highly critical of competing diapers inclusion of SAP in their absorbent core, stating "sodium polyacrylate (SAP) is the main component of those absorbent gel crystals found in many diapers and it can be a skin irritant." They mock competing diaper companies for including SAP by stating, "Great idea to use it in something that's in direct contact with infant skin 24x7, right?" This is very ironic, and really not very honest in our opinion, when you consider that Honest Diapers also includes SAP as a key ingredient in their diaper's absorbent core. In contrast to their comments about SAP causing skin irritation when criticizing competitors' use of it, when talking about their own use of SAP in their diaper's core, Honest Company states, "[SAP has] been rigorously tested and found to be safe and non-toxic." In reply to our inquiries about their use of SAP, the company's Senior Product Manager said, in justifying their use a petroleum-based chemical in the diaper, "no one's going to use a diaper if it doesn't work!"
Is Putting a Petro-chemical in a Diaper "Earth Friendly"?
Similarly, the company's other co-founder, Jessica Alba, described in the April 2012 issue of Parenting Magazine her disappointment in learning that "some so-called 'earth-friendly'" brands of diapers include petroleum-based chemicals as ingredients. Describing a brown diaper she used on her own baby, she said in Parenting, "But then I found out that the inside of the diaper had that same petroleum-based stuff in it that other diapers had." She failed to disclose in the interview that her own Honest Diapers also include petroleum-based stuff inside their diaper. We feel that kind of omission is deceptive, and likely leads consumers into believing that Honest Diapers don't have any petroleum-based chemicals inside. We asked Honest Company if Jessica could provide clarification about her comments in Parenting, and whether she was aware at the time of the interview that Honest Diapers include a petroleum-based chemical as a key ingredient. In her reply to BabyGearLab she said, "It's really difficult in quick interviews to get into all the nuances of product design and the science behind each ingredient. I've learned it's best to keep things simple. I am well aware our diapers contain a small amount of SAP and never meant to imply otherwise. Also, while I'd prefer everything to be totally petrochemical-free for ecological reasons, everything has to be balanced with effectiveness too." We believe as a founder and celebrity endorser of the Honest Diaper, Jessica has a legal responsibility to be careful to avoid misleading consumers in her widely viewed promotional interviews and public relations on behalf of the company. The FTC guidelines for celebrity endorsers make it clear that, "both advertisers and endorsers may be liable for false or unsubstantiated claims made in an endorsement."
How Do You Define, Honest?
We feel the company makes an interesting product, but these statements — which in our opinion are misleading to consumers — both on the website and by celebrity co-founder Jessica Alba are a distraction from their product's genuine integrity and serve to somewhat undermine the sense of trust and ethics so emphasized in the company philosophy (and name!). If the Honest Company really believes that SAP is a skin irritant that should not be placed next to baby's skin 24x7, then why would they include it in their diapers? To continue to include a petrochemical in the Honest Diaper that the company identifies as potentially harmful, and yet strongly imply that the Honest Company would never include such a synthetic chemical or anything harmful, just seems plain wrong to us. While we are not very familiar with the details of the FTC's Section 5: Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices (pdf) guidelines, we have to wonder if the company has crossed an ethical and perhaps a legal line in these marketing statements. To us, the statements seem misleading, and we see consumers posting on the web that are [mistakenly] convinced that the Honest Diaper is free of petroleum-based chemicals as evidence that consumer confusion exists. We have contacted the company to express our concerns, and we hope to see future revisions to the company's marketing efforts that are a little more, well, honest.
Despite very cute graphics, and a strong green offering, we feel these diapers did not perform well enough in absorption testing relative to other eco/health brands to justify the price.
Top performing green diapers in our tests such as Bambo, Attitude, and Earth's Best all offer similar green-features, with better performance in our tests, and lower prices.
For those Moms seeking a diaper completely free of petroleum-based chemicals, the Honest Diaper does not qualify, and we'd recommend you consider cloth diapers instead.
Strong Similarities to Earth's Best
Earth's Best diaper, which won our Editors' Choice award, appears to be quite similar in design and construction to Honest Diapers. This has been noted in other reviews of the product as well. Both Earth's Best and Honest Diapers include the manufacturing mark of "VB LLC" on the closure tab, which we believe designates the Valor Brands company, a manufacturer of multiple environmentally-oriented diaper product brands including their own brand, Nurtured by Nature. We suspect that both Earth's Best and Honest Diapers may be manufactured in the same Valor Brands factory in Mexico. However, while the looks are similar, significant differences were revealed in our tests. The fact that the same manufacturing company may be used doesn't mean two diapers are identical. Many companies use common suppliers, yet create their product uniquely. Here's some observations we made in our tests between Earth's Best and Honest Diapers:
Editors Note: this review was originally published in Oct 31, 2012. We updated the review in January 2013 following an email dialogue with Honest Company and subsequent phone interview with Honest Company co-founder Christopher Gavigan.
Following our complaints to the company founder about their misleading marketing claims, in the Spring of 2013 they removed the claim from their website regarding competitor's use of the petro-chemical SAP which may be a skin irritant (yet they still include that same SAP petro-chemical in their own diapers), and also eliminated the false claim that their diaper does not expose your baby to synthetic chemicals. However, their marketing and advertising continues to imply that their diapers are 100% plant-based, when in fact the company is well aware that it is not true. We have repeatedly communicated our concern with these misleading marketing claims to company founder Christopher Gavigan, and attempted to document our belief that Honest Company has, in our opinion, repeatedly violated FTC laws related to deceptive marketing practices. We hope the company will take these concerns seriously in the future and modify their future marketing and advertising practices.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD
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Most recent user review: January 26, 2014
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