Book Review! The Honest Life, by Jessica Alba

[This review is based on the Nook Book Enhanced Edition from Barnes and Noble, published by Rodale Books in 2013.]

So here’s the deal:
Before I begin, let me just take a moment to say that most of my book reviews will probably not be this long. I just wanted to be as thorough as possible and cover each section of the book.

So! Jessica Alba, whom you’re most likely to remember from her acting roles in The Fantastic Four, Honey, and the TV series Dark Angel, is now a married mom of two beautiful girls, Honor and Haven. She grew up with lots of allergies and other health issues, and as a result was constantly seeking out healthier and more eco-friendly alternatives to mainstream cleaning and personal-care products. While pregnant with her first daughter, she discovered some alarming practices happening within the baby care industry. She starts the book with an anecdote about washing a load of unborn Honor’s laundry (because, of course, a baby needs clean clothes the day they are born!). Her mother had told her to wash the clothes in a special detergent marketed for babies; one would presume that since the detergent was meant for babies, that it would be gentle, right? Apparently not: Alba started sneezing uncontrollably upon smelling the stuff, and when she went to fold the first load her hands broke out in welts. If that was happening to an adult, how much worse would it be on a newborn’s delicate skin?

One other particularly astounding factoid concerns babies’ and children’s eyes; you know that “no more tears” shampoo? Do you know how it prevents tears? Guess what – the chemicals in the shampoo that sting children’s eyes have been masked by another chemical that numbs the eyes so the sting can’t be felt!

Ex-cuse me????

The book focuses on other aspects of what Alba calls “the honest life”, aside from baby care. These include food, personal care, beauty, style, home, and inspiration. I’m going to admit right off the bat that, while I read the entire book, I didn’t care much for the style and beauty sections. I know I probably should care more, but those topics just aren’t really my thing. (So I’m indifferent to designer handbags and eyelash curlers. My apologies in advance.) Every other section of this book, however, I found myself glued to. As I mentioned in my inaugural post, I’m overweight and my home is about to undergo a major renovation. For those reasons alone, the book became a sort of healthier-living-for-beginners bible for me. It also served as a huge advertisement for Alba’s new Honest Company line of personal-care and cleaning products. I ordered quite a bit from the company, and will review those things in a separate post.

But back to the book! Like I said, it’s broken down into six sections. The first, Honest Food, talks about why it’s important to eat a plant-based diet and to try letting go of “fast” and processed foods that currently comprise many of our daily diets (mine included). Alba offers tips for eating “honestly”, from shopping at farmer’s markets and choosing organic meats to what to keep in the pantry. She even offers recipes for stocks, baby food, and homemade pizza, among other things.

Section two, Honest Clean, offers a view into “greenwashing”, or words that manufacturers use to put a positive spin on some negative chemistry. The “no more tears” example I gave earlier applies here! This is also the section where the “Dishonest Ingredients” blurbs begin appearing: SLS, which can be either sodium lauryl or sodium laureth sulfate, is a sudsing agent found in shampoos, bubble bath, and soaps. When SLS is made, it “releases a toxic by-product…that easily penetrates our skin and may cause cancer and birth defects” (Alba, 69). Lovely, right? This section is basically a reminder to read labels when purchasing your personal care products!

Section three focuses on Honest Beauty. Full disclosure, I didn’t care much for this chapter; that being said, if beauty was an interest of mine, this chapter would be very informative! There’s a whole lot of name-dropping going on in here, from which tinted moisturizers are “cleanest” (those would be by 100% Pure and Hourglass) to which manufacturers make the most eco-friendly (read: containing low to no levels of lead) red lipstick (Alba says Hourglass, 100% Pure, and Tarte are the best). Haircare and nail polish are discussed briefly in this section; she also mentions more “Dishonest Ingredients” here, including phthalates and mercury, and the reasons to avoid them. In my Nook’s Enhanced Edition, I found a video of Alba demonstrating her “10-minute face”.

Honest Style can be found in section four. As someone almost completely uninterested in fashion trends, this section didn’t do much to pique my curiosity. However, again, if style is your thing, this is a chapter you’ll want to read! A tutorial on finding your style is described in the chapter, including creating an inspiration board (either a physical one or virtually, on Pinterest) and figuring out which basics should be in your closet (like a little black dress, a denim jacket, and a fitted blazer – I have none of these. Oops.) Alba goes on to talk about vintage clothing, maternity style, and what she calls “new mommy style”. There’s also another video of Alba talking about how to organize a closet on the Nook Enhanced Edition of the book, as well.

I’ll be “honest” for a second (ha-ha). I didn’t think I was going to care for section five, Honest Home, either. I was surprised by how much I learned, though! As I’ve said, we’re going to be remodeling several rooms in our house over the next year or so, and I pulled some useful information from this chapter! I had no idea that there was a company called FLOR that makes modular carpet tiles, or that IKEA (one of my faaaavorite stores) is among the most eco-friendly home furnishings stores! I can afford IKEA and was planning to use their stuff all over my house, so that was great news for me. Also recommended: buying used or vintage furniture and cleaning it up yourself on the cheap; scouring flea markets; using nontoxic cleaning products; and using indoor plants to keep the air clean. There are also recipes for DIY cleaning solutions, including all-purpose cleaner, window cleaner, tile cleaner, and oven cleaner.

Section six is all about Honest Baby. Alba starts out talking about how to survive pregnancy (and let me just say that “survival” is the perfect word to describe how I got through my pregnancy) and how to deal with “pregnancy paranoia”. She goes on to tell us how to design the “honest nursery” and, later, the “honest kid’s room” (read: eco-friendly and nontoxic), and throws in her two cents regarding the breastfeeding vs. formula and cloth vs. disposable diaper debates. There’s a brief discussion about how to get babies on a sleep schedule (it’s too late for me to try it out with Joshua now – he’s too old for it – so I can’t personally speak to its success rate) and what to pack in a diaper bag. It’s mainly common sense.

Finally, you’ll find Honest Inspiration in section seven. This is basically a collection of recipes and sets of instructions for various things described in previous chapters, including recipes for homemade pizza and coffee facial scrub, how to build a treehouse, and how to restore vintage furniture (among other things). She closes the book with a list of every single resource she mentions throughout the book – it’s quite lengthy!

My thoughts:
At times, I felt like I was being preached at about why I should go completely green and organic; I felt a bit of pressure to throw out every conventional product in my bathroom and every non-organic package of meat in my freezer. Of course, I didn’t – that would just be wasteful – but at the same time, it did make me think about how I live, what I feed my family, and what touches my skin (and my family’s). I’ve slowly started making some changes around the house, and I also ordered a bunch of stuff from the Honest Company. I’ve been road-testing the products and will share my review of my haul tomorrow. If you care about making changes and leading a healthier life, this is a good book for you to read.

So would I recommend this book?
Oh, yeah – especially if you’re thinking about going “green” at home. Happy reading!

Follow Jessica Alba on Twitter here.
Follow The Honest Company on Twitter here.
Like The Honest Company on Facebook here.
Visit The Honest Company’s website here.

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