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Hands-on Gear Review
The Honest Company Diapers Review
Price: $0.41 List | $0.50 each (in 34-pack) at Amazon
Pros: Cute graphics, green
Cons: Expensive, concerns about company's "honesty"
Bottom line: Competing green diapers have lower price w/ similar performance
Like many consumers, we resonate with the stated mission that Honest Company markets, and we consider their diapers to be a legitimately green brand. But, given performance in our tests and the relatively high cost, buying competing green diapers is a much smarter option in our opinion. Out of the 11 green diapers we tested, The Honest Company diaper placed 4th overall; yet, it was one of the more expensive diapers. The Honest diaper offers cute graphics, and are legitimately a health and earth-friendly brand. But the company has also engaged in marketing tactics and made statements in the past that we feel exaggerate, and in some cases completely mislead consumers in our opinion, into thinking their products are more green than they really are. We are also concerned about the number of users who have written to us complaining about feeling misled by the so-called "free trial offer" the company makes, and then are horrified to find they have been automatically subscribed to the company's diaper service (only to find it then challenging to undo the subscription). In the end, it is our opinion that this company has a history of being less than honest in their marketing habits, and it is our opinion that the company appears to be more concerned about making a profit than in being fair and honest with their customers.
Bottom line: we feel there are other superior green diaper options worth considering before buying the Honest diaper. In our tests, BAMBO Nature product offered significantly performance at a slightly higher price for those looking for the best green diaper for their baby, and Earth's Best Tender Care offers similar performance at a significantly lower price.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
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 stated mission of Honest Company, and yet we wish the company's actions were more in line with the kind of behavior we'd expect from such a lofty mission (and a company named "Honest"). However, the actual performance of the Honest Diaper in our tests was not as impressive as the top competing green diapers, and the Earth's Best Tender Care diaper offers similar performance for significantly lower cost. We also have objected, in multiple emails to the company co-founder Christopher Gavigan, to the company's previous use of marketing claims that we feel mislead customers into thinking the diaper is entirely free of petrochemicals, when in fact it is not (more on this below, see Other Pretty Important Information).
We feel it is important to note early in this review that there is no single baby product company that we have received more negative consumer feedback about than The Honest Company. This is of obvious concern to us, and moreso because so many of the complaints describe situations where customers feel they were misled by the marketing tactics of the company. Some consumers expressed a feeling that they were oversold on how green the product is, or felt they were misled by the so-called free trial offer which resulted in them being signed up for the automated subscription service. The situations consumers have complained about impress us as the kinds of things a company is in control of, and frankly we expect more from a company who literally calls themselves Honest.
Absorption and Leaks
The Honest Company diaper scored fairly well for absorption in our tests, earning an 8 in this metric, which tied with both Pampers brand diapers. Only BAMBO Nature and Nature Babycare scored higher with a 9 and 10 respectfully. Attitude and Broody Chick came close with a score of 7. It is worth noting that Honest outperformed the well-known Seventh Generation Free & Clear diaper handily on absorption, which scored a disappointing 4 of 10 on this metric.
Relies on Petro-Chemicals for Absorbency
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 as noted in a statement on the Honest Company website (on 1/18/13, which was later removed), can be considered "in direct contact with infant skin 24x7." We'd recommend that those parents who wish to avoid petro-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.
In terms of leaks, the Honest Diaper scored above average for leaks in our tests with a 6 of 10, but that was still on the low side for the top green diapers. Earth's Best scored much higher, with a 9 of 10 in our tests, and it is significantly cheaper on average. BAMBO Nature and Broody Chick both scored higher in this metric, with a 7 and 8 respectfully. Broody Chick was higher than The Honest Company for price, and scored only slightly better overall in our tests.
The absorption test for The Honest Company (left), Nature Babycare (middle), and BAMBO Nature (right) are shown below. The larger green area indicates more surface moisture; less green indicates better absorption.
Comfort and Durability
Babyganics Rear Gear. Honest earned some points for the overall softness of the materials compared to the other diapers we tested, and extra points for friendly side and back elastic that was nice on baby's skin and increased overall comfort and fit.
For our durability tests it scored a 4 of 10. Both Best Value pick, Earth's Best Tender Care, which scored a 6, and Editors' Choice, BAMBO Nature, which scored a high 8, did better in this category. Price did not seem to be an influencing factor for this metric, with diapers in every price range scoring high and low with no real discernible pattern. Honest did score better than Nature Babycare by a point, and it tied with Broody Chick again, which also earned a 4.
Eco and Health
In our eco and health metrics, Honest did fairly well with 5 for health and 7 for eco. Honest earned health points for being free of chlorine, latex, lotions, fragrances, common allergens, phthalates, PVC, heavy metals, organotins (MBT, DBT, TBT) and what they describe as "harsh" petrochemical additives. However, the fine print is important here because the petrochemical Sodium Polyacrylate (SAP) is explicity noted as included in the product, and as far as we can tell, is the crucial ingredient in the absorbent core of the diaper. Honest is engaging in some fancy marketing-speak by using the words "no harsh petrochemicals" in a way we think many consumers will be misled into thinking they mean "no petrochemicals" at all, but instead are simply saying they don't think the petrochemicals they rely on are particularly "harsh."
In addition to the petro-chemical Sodium Polyacrylate, Honest also adds in what they call a "natural citrus and chlorophyll odor inhibitor", but we aren't fans of odor add ins no matter what they are, and we feel a diaper doesn't need an odor inhibitor. If a diaper smells, in our opinion, it really ought to be changed not altered so it doesn't smell as bad as quickly.
In general, Honest gives a good nod to baby's developing systems. But it did have some healthy competition in our tests. BAMBO Nature earned an impressive 8 of 10 in this category, which was the highest of any diaper we tested. Nature Babycare also did well with a 6 of 10. Both diapers scored higher in our tests than Honest, and both diapers cost less and are more widely available.
It is fair to note that Honest scored well in Eco-friendly in our tests, scoring a 7 of 10 in this metric. It had some good company near the top with Nature Babycare and Attitude scoring them same. Broody Chick was almost as good with a 6, but once again BAMBO Nature outdid them all with an 8 out 10. Honest earned points in our tests for using sustainably harvested pulp, plant based components, no chlorine processing, and for earning several eco-awards including being cruelty free and being a Certified B Corporation.
Relative to the other diapers in our test, both green diapers and conventional, Honest Diapers are among the most expensive. Honest Diapers have started to become available from some traditional retail channels including Amazon, Target, and Bed Bath and Beyond. Prices vary widely, but we've seen Size 3 as low as $0.38/diaper in larger quantity packs. This seems to be good news and we hope the product continues to become more generally available and lower prices.
Honest provides a discount if you sign up for 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. 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 $0.37/diaper at the time of this review, $79.95 per month 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 $0.32. However, other diapers are available for steep discounts if you buy them on subscription. For example, Earth's Best Tender Care subscription price from Amazon (which includes free shipping and 20% off if you join their free Amazon Mom's program) is $0.26 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 deeper discounts, of 20% off, are available in some cases if you join Amazon Mom's. Unfortunately, Honest Diapers are not available from Amazon's subscription program at the time of this review. Too bad, because with Amazon's discounts the Honest Diaper might be much more compelling.
Parents swayed by the marketing and famous figure endorsement might be drawn to this diaper.
Despite very cute graphics, and a strong green offering, we feel these diapers did not perform well enough in our testing relative to other eco/health brands to justify the higher price. Both BAMBO Nature and Nature Babycare scored higher overall, and both were higher in the key metric of absorption. In addition, they both scored better in the eco/health; metrics that green diapers should excel in. Both are significantly cheaper than Honest. This diaper wasn't bad, it did rank 5 out of 24 in our tests, a bump up from last year, but its high price still makes us shy away from recommending this diaper. It just isn't as good as diapers that are cheaper.
Other Pretty Important Information
A History of Misleading Marketing Claims
Last, we found the Honest Company's previous marketing to be misleading when it came to describing their product's inclusion of synthetic materials. Which led us to wonder how honest they are really being.
Synthetic Chemical Free, Ummm, Not Really
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 published in 2013 titled, "What's Inside Disposable Diapers", the company was 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 mocked 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?" We raised concern about these statements, and they were subsequently removed. We found it 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 they were criticizing competitors' use of it in their marketing materials, when talking about their own use of SAP on their blog 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 the petro-chemical SAP 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 that same 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 and ethical responsibility 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 the history of their misleading marketing both on the website, and by celebrity co-founder Jessica Alba, are a distraction from their product's genuine integrity and only serve to somewhat undermine the sense of trust and ethics so emphasized in the company philosophy and name.
While we are not very familiar with the technical legal 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 their previous marketing statements. To us, the statements were misleading, and we see consumers posting on the web that are [mistakenly] convinced that the Honest Diaper is free of petro-chemicals as evidence that consumer confusion has been created. After contacting the company to express our concerns about their marketing on several occasions, we are happy to report that some improvements were made, and we consider that a good step in the right direction. Yet, at the same time, we continue to receive more complaints from consumers about The Honest Company, than any other baby product company. We hope we continue to see this trend toward being honest from The Honest Company.
Editors Note: Our original review of Honest Company diapers was published on Oct 31, 2012. We updated the review in January 2013 following an email dialogue with Honest Company product management and a subsequent phone interview with Honest Company co-founder Christopher Gavigan. This review, updated May 2014, is our third significant revision of the Honest Diaper review that includes new test results of their updated product.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD & BabyGearLab Team
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