Elizabeth Street interviews Jessica Alba about her new book, raising kids, and her business, The Honest Company.
Jessica Alba may be best-known for her onscreen roles as cool and sexy action heroines, but we’re more interested in the incredible work she’s done with her business, The Honest Company, which makes cleaning, beauty, and baby products without toxic chemicals.
For Alba, honesty doesn’t just have to do with her company—it’s how she lives every aspect of her life, and it’s exactly what she talks about in her new book, The Honest Life. The book contains everything from important information about what to look for and what to avoid on labels, to great style and entertaining tips. Just before her book launch, we sat down with Alba about the book and her philosophy. —Hally Wolhandler
Elizabeth Street: Did you have an “aha” moment when it came to reading labels for dubious ingredients?
Jessica Alba: When I became a mom, when I was pregnant, I was like, “Okay, now I’m responsible for this little person and I obviously want her to be as healthy as possible.” As soon as I was responsible for someone besides myself, I started researching these things and learning about the harmful side effects of toxic exposure. More and more of my girlfriends are having a hard time getting pregnant and having cysts and having fibroids and I was thinking, “What is going on?”… That’s really where it started. And it’s a process. The first thing was my child’s environment. It was all about: I’m putting together a nursery, I’m cleaning my house, what am I putting on my skin, does that go into my bloodstream? I targeted anything that I was kind of getting obsessed with at that moment and then I really dove into what to avoid and what was okay.
ES: What was the process of making your life “honest”? Did it happen slowly, or all at once?
JA: It was a process. As I educated myself, I started making different choices. I really wanted to put all the information I have in the book for people to take what they want from it. If you’re looking at your beauty routine and thinking, oh, if I eliminate a couple things, then I’m probably better off health-wise, if that’s your thing. Or, if you don’t care about any of that stuff at all and you just really want to hone in on personal style—maybe you’re thinking, “I feel like I’m always a slave to trends and it never works for my body.” So my girlfriends at Who What Wear put together a really simple guide on how to hone in on that, find that. So my book is really for anyone.
ES: How do you teach your kids about the honest life?
JA: Well, the honest life is about not being perfect. It’s about being authentic, it’s not about extremes. It’s not judgmental. It’s kind of a daily thing. It’s just the way that I live my life. And I think the best way to teach kids is to lead by example.
ES: How do you prepare them for when they’re out in the world and you can’t influence what products they eat and use?
JA: I’m not that extreme, and neither is my book. Of course they’re going to have birthday cake and eat whatever when they’re at grandma and grandpa’s house or when they’re out having fast food. I’m not freaking out about that. The majority of the time I want them to have nutritious, whole foods. And I want to go to a restaurant and have my kids be civilized. I don’t want to have them freaking out. And I want to travel with them. The more diverse their palate is, the easier it is to expose them to things, the easier it is to bring them with me. I don’t want to leave my kids at home. I just took Honor to Paris, and I took them to Tokyo and Kyoto and Seoul. So they travel really well.
ES: What would you say to people who say that natural products don’t work?
JA: I totally thought that as well. And then I did a ton of research and I tried everything and I have it all in the book. It is as effective. It’s about finding really cool boutique companies that challenge the process and make it better. At the end of the day, it’s higher quality ingredients anyway because it’s not just a bunch of cheap fillers and fragrances they’re slapping on top of stuff. It’s all high performance. If it doesn’t work, you shouldn’t use it, and if there isn’t an alternative… I am realistic and balanced. I’m not a vegan. I wear leather. I’m a normal person.
ES: What’s your one must-have beauty essential?
JA: Water. Water, drink a lot of water. And sleep! It’s really basic.