“I’ve tried dozens of different sunscreens and words can’t come close to describing how terrible this product compares even to the cheapest stuff you find at discount stores,” one customer wrote on Amazon.com, where 60 percent of those who rated the product gave it only one out of five stars.
“First, the product applies like a layer of grease — imagine putting melted butter on your skin. Next, the grease doesn’t wash off, even with vigorous scrubbing and multiple hand washes. Last, and most importantly, the sun protection from this product is about as good as no sunscreen. I was in the sun for less than an hour and my whole family was burnt.”
Alba, an actress-turned-businesswoman, co-created the business called The Honest Company in 2011 “to help moms and to give all children a better, safer start,” according to the company.
She said at the time that, as a new mom, she was alarmed by how many dangerous household chemicals were in a typical home. She said she decided to create a company to sell “eco-friendly” products such as diapers.
“We were able to create a safe environment for our family but it was very, very expensive,” she told US Weekly in 2011. “I understand that not a lot of families have the means to buy all new items and products … but there are a lot of great eco-sites out there are helping people buy safe products.”
By all appearances, the business became a booming success.
In 2012, its first year, The Honest Company brought in $10 million in revenue, according to Forbes. By last year, it had hit $150 million. And industry experts estimate the company will reach $250 million by the year’s end.
But its sunscreen woes have brought some unfavorable publicity in recent weeks as people started complaining and NBC Chicago discovered that the company had reduced the amount of zinc oxide in the product from 20 percent to 9.3 percent, putting in other ingredients. Similar sunscreens that list zinc oxide as the only active ingredient contain between 18 and 25 percent, according to the station’s investigation.
“The Honest Company has been transparent about the amount of zinc since the new formula came out in early 2015 as seen on the website and the new formula’s packaging,” the company told TODAY in a statement.
And the company says the sunblock meets federal requirements.
“The Honest Company is committed to providing safe and effective products, and we take all consumer feedback very seriously,” the company said in a statement to Business Insider. “Our Sunscreen Lotion was tested, by an independent third party, against the protocols prescribed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) monograph for over-the-counter sunscreen products. The results showed that our product is effective and safe for use as an 80 minute water-resistant (FDA’s highest rating), SPF 30 sunscreen lotion in accordance with FDA regulations when used as directed.
“The number of complaints received on our own Web site about our Sunscreen Lotion constitute less than one half of one percent of all units actually sold at honest.com. We stand behind the safety and efficacy of this product.”
Indeed, many people online stand behind the sunblock. It is sold out on the company’s Web site and 23 percent of those who reviewed it on Amazon.com gave it five out of five stars.
“I am not sure why this has gotten such horrible ratings,” another customer wrote on Amazon. “We have tried several non-chemical sunscreens and this one is a favorite. Some of the ones we have tried smell very weird — this has a neutral odor. It does feel a bit greasy when it goes on — this is most noticeable on the face — but I am just so thankful it does not go on white.
“We have used this for over a month now on all our outings and water trips in 80+ degree weather and the only time I got burned is when I failed to rub this on my legs. My children have gotten pink cheeks only when I have failed to reapply after an hour and a half. When used as designed, this is an excellent natural product, in this mom’s opinion. I will be purchasing it again.”
In any case, some dermatologists argue “all-natural” and “organic” products aren’t always superior.
“All natural isn’t necessarily good. And quote ‘chemical’ isn’t necessarily bad,” Chicago dermatologist Marjorie Rosenbaum told NBC Chicago. “I think sticking with the known products is probably a better idea than trying an off-label brand initially. They may be fine. But you don’t have the background or accountability and the years of some of these others.”