This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
We all know Jessica Alba as the beautiful, over-the-top star of Sin City and a slew of other blockbusters. But, she’s also totally devoted to creating a healthy, nontoxic life for herself and her family. That’s why she launched The HonestCompany with her business partner, Chris Gavigan, two years ago. Both parents, Alba and Gavigan saw a need to make safe, natural, andsustainable products for kids, adults, and the home.
Now, Alba juggles the demands of stardom with being an entrepreneur and mom so she supports quick, easy fixes to create the healthiest life possible — but not without giving herself a break. Ahead, we chat with Alba and Gavigan on the origin of their company, their go-to snacks, and how to balance parenting with a totally demanding work schedule.
What spurred you to start The Honest Company?
Jessica Alba: “You know how exhausting it is when you realize moms know everything? Well, they don’t start out that way — we’re a work in progress and we’re doing the best with what we’ve got. Growing up on a tight budget and cutting coupons, my mom was a master of doing a lot with a little, so when she told me about a fancy laundry detergent she used for my clothes when I was a baby, I knew this recommendation was a big deal.
“I was so surprised when I started sneezing from the fragrance and even more shocked when I broke out in a rash after folding the first load. It turns out the products my mom remembered may have looked the same, but, since then, so many toxic chemicals have entered the consumer marketplace that they’re virtually unrecognizable (and unpronounceable) and definitely unhealthy for developing babies: They’ve been linked to chronic illness in children, allergies and asthma, learning disabilities, obesity, and childhood cancers. (For more info, check out the Dr. Phil Landrigan Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai and Healthy Child Healthy World.)
“That was when I started asking questions — not just about this detergent, but also about everything that I was about to introduce to my new child. It’s what inspired a very pregnant me to corner Christopher at his book launch for Healthy Child Healthy World and ask him why there wasn’t just one brand to trust for safe, environmentally friendly, effective and affordable family products. It wasn’t too long after that when we went from idea to action, and The Honest Company was born!”
What are your go-to healthy meals and snacks?
JA: “If you follow my Twitter or Instagram, you know I’m an adventurous eater, to put it mildly. I travel a lot, but I can’t eat like I’m on vacation all the time, so I try to keep it simple on the go. Fresh and dried fruits and raw nuts, especially almonds, are good. I’m actually more of a popcorn person than a chocolate person — it’s always popping in my office! I have a mini ‘movie theater’ popcorn-maker and pretty much every day around 4 p.m. I’ll be snacking on popcorn made with grape-seed or olive oil. If I don’t have a choice on the go, I’ll choose the healthier option: Pop Chips instead of the usual potato chips, for example. Otherwise, I say no to packaged foods and preservatives.
“I’m crazy about fresh and seasonal fare, but I love good food from all over the globe. Asian is for sure on my list of faves — Thai, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Indian from all the different regions — along with Mexican and Middle Eastern. And, yes, I love a good spice. In another life, my husband and I would be exotic seasoning and condiment smugglers because they make everything better, from popcorn to backyard barbecue. Getting a crazy-nuclear hot sauce or a hard-to-get Persian kebab spice is like finding the Hope Diamond for us.”
You talk a lot about living “honestly.” What does that mean to you?
JA: “It’s about being your authentic self, and sometimes that means you just aren’t the coolest kid in the room! I know people think the pants I wear grocery shopping are supposed to say something about me (it usually means I spilled something on the pants I wanted to wear and had to change), but starting The Honest Company really shows what I’m all about: standing up for something I believe in and making the world a better — and more stylish — place for women, children, and families to thrive.
“Living naturally is true to me, but I think everyone can do it and still live honestly. I wrote my book, The Honest Life, to be an everyday resource that gives you answers — about toxic chemicals, parabens, GMOs, ‘organic’ vs. ‘natural,’ to name a few — and resourceful ideas for beauty, fashion, food, and home, but it’s up to you to figure out how that’s going to work in your own life. Paying attention to your health, your family, and your home and making it a priority is as honest as it gets. That could be enjoying a bowl of fresh strawberries or campaigning for a healthier, safer world. It’s all about keeping it real…in the best possible sense.”
How has the reception to your brand changed? It seems like healthy alternatives are becoming more and more acceptable.
Christopher Gavigan: “Today’s consumers increasingly want to live naturally and simply, and The Honest Company is proof that safer products can work just as effectively as traditional counterparts and be affordably priced. And, it’s part of our long-term mission to get better, safer products into everyone’s hands. As more people buy nontoxic products, the market shifts to meet the growing demand. Ultimately, prices will fall and eco-friendly options will be the norm, not an ‘alternative.’
“In the meantime, I like the approach of adopting a greener lifestyle as an insurance policy of sorts. Ultimately, you are investing in your long-term health and reducing the risk of questionable, risky chemicals having ill effects and causing health challenges in the future, and I think our customers realize this, too.”
Interesting, and how have you seen a change, Jessica?
JA: “Beige packaging and the promise of all-natural ingredients was a luxury product for too long. We’ve proven that truly safe, nontoxic family goods can be affordable, effective, and beautiful. Good design is a part of everyone’s vocabulary now. Changing the image of healthy alternatives was a big step to showing people it’s what’s inside that counts! So, living naturally looks different, but I think it feels different, too. Hopefully, it’s a little less judgmental. We’re there to make good choices easier for parents, but there isn’t one right way. There’s just the way that’s right for you.”
How can we take small steps toward living more sustainably this spring?
CG: “If you’re new to living more consciously and clean, simply start by reading labels — on food products, household products, and what you put on your body. It’s important to take the time and do your research. You don’t have to be a weekend toxicologist, but inform yourself about what is in your everyday household products, the company’s ethos and ingredient approach, and what specific ingredients you must avoid due to their links to certain disease and illness.
“A simple thing you also can do to improve the air quality in your home is take off your shoes at the door. A study from 1991 by the EPA showed that lead-contaminated soil from outside causes most of the lead dust inside homes built before 1978. Just by removing your shoes at the front door you can reduce lead dust by 60%, as well as other pollutants the bottoms of your shoes pick up outside.”
How has parenthood affected your life and health goals? What would you say to those planning to have children soon about the transformative quality of starting a family on your values?
JA: “It’s not just about you anymore! Parenthood completely refocused my energies and gave me a purpose for all that I did. I was a sick kid growing up, and I can appreciate how hard my parents worked to make sure I was OK just being myself, in addition to what they did to pay the bills. Being a parent won’t necessarily transform your values, but it will teach you what you’re made of. You’ll realize how those values permeate everything you do.”
How do you pass those values along to your kids?
“Wanting to protect your children and make them good people will make you do crazy things like start a whole company! I mean, I’m not just a spokesperson: It would be a lot easier to just license my name to a perfume. I am in the office working on ideas [for products] I’d want to have in my own home and meeting moms all over the country who bring me into their lives, because it’s a way of life for me and my loved ones. I hope I’m teaching through example. I want my girls to dream big and achieve everything they want by using their heads and working hard.”
Which bath and body products are the most important or, at least, the easiest to switch out for more safer, more natural alternatives?
CG: “The first step in making over your body products is to again read labels. I would start with body wash, lotion, soap, and shampoo and conditioner, because typically these are products we use every day. There are over 10,000 chemicals used in the skin-care and beauty industry, and only about 10% of these ingredients have safety data. Research by Bionsen, a natural deodorant company, found that the average woman’s daily grooming and makeup routine means she ‘hosts’ a staggering 515 different synthetic chemicals on her body every single day.
“Opt for natural, nontoxic, organic, and plant-based bath and body products (especially for your children!) that are free of chlorine, parabens, phthalates, petroleum, dyes, sulfates (SLS/SLES), sodium chloride, formaldehyde, and fragrances. Because what goes on your body is just as important as what goes in. Most personal-care products are filled with unhealthy ingredients and questionable chemicals. And, human skin is the largest organ, that is porous and like a sponge — this might make you think twice about what you are using. So, please read labels and support companies like The Honest Company that are doing the hard work for you and being the watchdog of your beauty shelf.”
What about home products?
CG: “The average American household has approximately 63 hazardous chemical products, which translates to roughly 10 gallons of toxic waste. And, to think, we’re unknowingly spraying, wiping, and washing these toxins down the drain, impacting the health of our family and the planet while we’re at it! Typically multipurpose cleaner is the most often used household product and covers the most surface space in your home. Search for a cleaner that’s free of ammonia, SLS, SLES, fragrances, glycol, dyes, phosphates, 1,4-dioxine, chlorine, bleach, DEA, formaldehyde, triclosan, and caustics.”
What habits or routines do you focus on when you’re combating stress?
JA: “Diet and exercise really affect my emotional and mental health. I keep food as fresh and simple as possible, and I have to say, it’s already made me calmer. My husband appreciates not being woken up in the middle of the night because I think I’m having a heart attack. Workouts work best when they become a habit, but if they become routine, I get bored! I like to mix it up with dance classes, sprint/walk interval treadmill training (with loud hip-hop and dance music to keep me going), and I’m doing hot-yoga power-flow strength-training classes.
“I’ve also definitely been obsessed with the UCLA meditation app! It has convenient options for three- to five-minute meditations, so it’s the most realistic way for me to incorporate ‘quiet time’ into my otherwise full day.”
What’s the single most important choice you advise people to make for their health and the health of their families?
CG: “Relax! No one can do everything, but everyone can do something, so simply do YOUR best. Do all you can and continue learning as much as you can. And, finally, lead by example — for your children, family, and peers.”
Same question — what advice would you give?
JA: “Simplify! We made Honest so that families wouldn’t have to drive themselves crazy figuring out how to stay healthy and stay within budget. It’s not about knowing it all or having the most luxurious things. It’s about giving yourself space to focus on what’s most valuable: just being present. Truly living in the moment and being there for your family lays the groundwork for a healthy household. We worry about this stuff so you don’t have to.
Photographed by Miha Matei.
Hair by Davey Newkirk;
Makeup by Lauren Andersen.
Click HERE to read more from Refinery29.