Have we gotten so stupid that we are willing to believe the toxicological and environmental gibberish that we are now hearing from Jessica Alba?
It would seem so, since the company created by the actress — who never went to college, yet has clearly earned an honorary B.P. degree (Bachelor's of Prettiness) — managed to extract $1.7 billion from suckers who were convinced that substituting one harmless detergent for another with identical properties would save both the Earth, and their skin.
Even in a world that is filled to the brim with junk science products, this one rises to the top. But, do not mistake Ms. Alba for being stupid simply because of her looks. You would be very wrong. But, smart notwithstanding, she simply either has no idea what she is talking about here, or is a liar.
The recent scandal — some say earth-shattering, should we call it Waterspot Gate? — which was recently reported in the Wall Street Journal, was that the "bad" detergent SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate), which Alba claimed to have replaced by a "good" detergent SCS (sodium coco sulfate), was nonetheless found to be in her product. Oh my! Better yet, the name of her company — The Honest Company — can only be seen as Bernie Madoff-quality irony.
Let's take a look at the two chemicals and see what all the noise is about. First, a little chemistry lesson. Detergents work because that have both piece of "like dissolves like" in the same molecule. The oily part gets the grease off of your plates, and the water soluble part make it, well, water soluble. When two seperate chemicals, each with one of these properties, are combined, you get oil and vinegar salad dressing. The oil layers on top of the vinegar, which is why you have to shake it before use.
The detergent SLS (above illustration) is made from lauryl alcohol. What is lauryl alcohol, and how is it made? The answers: (1) it is a very common alcohol, which can be obtained from both plants (normally corn, or palm kernel oils) and cattle (tallow). The oil or fat is then reacted with hydrogen to form the alcohol; (2) it doesn't matter how it's made, whether from plant or animal; it's still the same stuff. But in terms of sleazy advertising, it matters plenty.
Here are two common ways to make the stuff:
Why a bunch of other stuff? Because if you start with a mixture of oils, such as you'll inevitably get from a plant, you will necessarily end up with a mixture of detergents.
SLS an everyday, long-used product that is just about harmless. It can irritate your skin, but you pretty much need to apply it with a belt sander to have any real problems. Yet, Alba claims that it is gentler on the skin and better for the planet (retching sounds). Is it? Shall we take a look?
First of all, there isn't even a chemical called SCS. Sodium coco sulfate, in fact, a mixture of detergents that are formed because the coconut has many different oils in it, each of which forms a slightly different detergent — one of which just happens to be same SLS that Alba claims isn't in there.
Well, guess what? It is not only in there, but it is the major component — about half of the complex mixture! Huh? How can this be? Let's take a look at a few of the oils that come from coconut:
The whole thing is a big fat lie. What Ms. Jessica and her enviro-buddies really mean is not what they want you to know: No — they don't use SLS to make their junk. It is already in there, and plenty of it. Why? Because the BS about being "derived from natural coconuts" is naturally BS. This statement is meaningless and almost certainly intentionally misleading. There is nothing natural about SLS, SCS, or any other sulfate detergent — no matter how you manufacture it.
Kevin Ewell, the company’s research and development manager, came up with this beauty:
“We do not make our products with sodium lauryl sulfate.” He is technically correct. They do not MAKE their products with sodium lauryl sulfate. Why bother? It is already IN THERE. Cute.
Other amusing items:
- SLS is one of the ingredients that the imbeciles at Whole Foods not only use, but even label it "Whole Foods Market® Eco-Scale™." The company says the same about SCS.
- Forget about the environmental nonsense. Sulfate detergents are used because their precursors, phosphate detergents, are fertilizers and caused algae blooms, which contributed to water pollution. The phosphates, which work better, were banned in from dishwasher detergents in 2010.**
- But, as NPR reported, the sulfates don't work as well, which caused one woman, who thought the problem was with her dishwasher, to proclaim, "I looked at a plumber's rear end for about two months this summer sticking out from under my sink."
Some people have all the fun.
**Psst. To make your sulfate detergent as effective as the old phosphate stuff, you can chuck some sodium phosphate in there, and this will make it work as well. I am not recommending this. At least not oficially.
And worse ... a spokesperson from Earth Friendly (good lord, are they shameless or what?), the company that makes this crap, maintained that its detergent contains SCS, not SLS said, “Conducting testing to break up molecular chains to show that one substance ‘contains’ another creates an inaccurate representation of the science.”
Guess what? The spokesperson was a lawyer! Here is an approximation of the same quote in English: "Make sure that you don't analyze the individual components of SCS, because if you do, you will find enough SLS to scrub down the starboard side of an aircraft carrier."
Even worse: Earth Friendly gets its raw material from another sleazeball outfit called Trichromatic West Inc. In case you have any lingering doubts about the magnitude of dishonesty here, the company takes care of that: "the “SLS content ... was listed as zero because it didn’t add any SLS to the material it provided to Earth Friendly ... and there would be no reason to test specifically for SLS.” Any possibility of a logical flaw here?
Well, duh. If you know it's in there, sure, why bother to test for it? And if you didn't add it, it doesn't count. Nice.
The company also said that the product in question “was fairly and honestly represented” to its customers. Some might disagree.
The only difference between this farce and the ones that we point out regularly from our parade of moron celebrities (see: Gwyneth Paltrow) is that Jessica Alba's hoax is harmless. If people want to pay a lot more money from for the same thing, good for them. At least she's not doing any harm to the public by talking about steam cleaning her vagina.
Alba is simply a very pretty version of Whole Foods. Lots of style, little substance and perhaps a bit lacking in the ethics department. And P.S. Good luck keeping your breakfast down after you read this:
"I think there are ambitious girls who will do anything to be famous, and they think men in this business are used to women doing that. Contrary to how people may feel, I've never used my sexuality." -- Jessica Alba, 2008
I feel a little dirty after writing this. At least I know how to get my hands clean.
Another quiz!! If you missed out on the first mug, you can now redeem yourself. Question: Just like detergents, soaps have both an oily portion and a water soluble portion. It works in the same way. So, why is it not suitable for use in your dishwasher?
Here's the prize for the first correct answer:
Update 3/16: WE HAVE OUR SECOND MUG WINNER! Congrats to Steve for getting it right. The calcium in water exchanges with the sodium from the soap and forms the calcium salt of the carboxylic acid, for example, calcium stearate, which has lousy solubility. It forms scum, which could hardly be more appropriate, given the nature of this story. -JB