We’re leaving Honest HQ, where I had the opportunity to check out the new Honest Beauty Liquid Lipstick (more on that later) and on our way to her close friend and facialist Shani Darden’s new spa for the signature Honest Facial when, at the last minute, Alba insists on driving.
I’m white-knuckling the passenger side door of her Tesla when Jessica Alba tells me of the latest “experiment” she’s cooked up in her Honest Beauty lab. “I’ve done a version of the Magic Balm with mica,” she says, while zipping through the back streets of West Hollywood. “But, you know, I want the chemists to feel empowered and like they have a say, so I usually just keep it for myself.”
Although I can hardly concentrate on anything but the road in front of us (I’ve got a weak stomach when it comes to riding shotgun), Alba’s passion about her line – and every detail that goes into ideating and formulating a single product – is so refreshingly authentic, that it’s hard not to be distracted by her vision of clean, accessible beauty.
“Consumers want something that’s cool and like them – youthful and current – and so I needed to compete with the big luxury brands,” she says. “But the health and wellness of the consumer isn’t the reason why these companies exist. Profit margins and coolness and building a business and having an idea? Great. But the health and wellness of the consumers is the only thing I care about. This was a social justice mission and I was like, ‘Do I ask the same five rich people for money every year or can I build a sustainable business around this idea and have the consumers fund this mission?’ And that’s what I’ve done.”
And done it, she has. Honest Beauty’s success is clear, in “billion-dollar company” headlines, constant restock requests, and a new sprawling space to ideate, craft, and test new products. Inside Honest HQ, Alba hosts brainstorming sessions, sketches out ad concepts with markers on chart paper, tinkers in the lab with in-house chemists, and crowdsources “the next cool thing” with fans on social media.
“I let the professionals really do it, but I test stuff out and I mix stuff up, and I get in there and I do it in my scrappy way,” she tells me. “They get annoyed with me, but I like to get their creative juices flowing and they have a lot of great ideas. I mean, I love the mosh-pit collaboration with the scientists and the brand marketers.”
The scientists, and more generally the lab in which they work, are why I’m in Los Angeles in the first place. Alba invited a few journalists to get a firsthand look at how Honest Beauty products are made and to learn more about the brand’s first-ever, long-lasting lip product, aptly named Liquid Lipstick.
True to Honest Beauty’s ethos, Liquid Lipstick isn’t your traditional, run-of-the-mill, long-wearing lip product. Sure, on the surface it’s a silky liquid formula that dries down to a demi-matte finish, but it’s also vegan and formulated with a cocktail of hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, avocado oil, and coconut derivatives to keep your lips from drying out. “It’s as matte as you would want it to be,” says Alba. “We’re not like, ‘Oh, I want to put powder over my face.'”
The science behind Liquid Lipstick is actually pretty neat too. In traditional liquid lipstick formulas, there are two main ingredients that work together to create the long-lasting finish: isododecane and film formers. From what I learned in the lab (and later confirmed with Ginger King, an independent cosmetic chemist), there’s a petroleum-based solvent called isododecane, which evaporates quickly. Isododecane is covered with a film former, which lays down on the skin to provide the long wear. The concept is similar to nail polish in that once applied, some of the polish evaporates and you’re left with a film on the surface.
The “problem” with this, according to Alba and co., is that isododecane isn’t sustainably sourced, which means it’s a no-go for Liquid Lipstick. (Other no-gos are synthetic film formers, silicones, fragrance, carmine, and animal byproducts.) Instead, Honest Beauty chemists found that coconut alkanes, which are derived from coconut, still evaporate, albeit slower, like isododecane. To prevent cracking, scientists add pine tree resins to the mix instead of a film former to create a flexible film.
It wasn’t easy, though. Alba says it took her team seven iterations until they landed on this final version, which currently comes in seven pinky-nude to bright-pink shades: Forever, Happiness, Passion, Off Duty, Goddess, BFF, and Fearless (a hue sold only on honest.com).
After swiping on the demi-matte formula with the doe-foot applicator, I usually wait a solid 5 to 10 minutes for the lipstick to fully dry before reaching for my morning coffee. That’s because I tend to lean toward a thicker, more pigmented application than Alba, so it needs time to dry.
“I’m more into a lip stain, even if it is highly pigmented,” says Alba of the dry-down. “I also like that you can kind of push it a little bit outside of your lip line, and it’s like a blurry, stain-y look.”
In terms of long-wear action, the chemists claim that once applied Liquid Lipstick sticks around (without budging) for up to eight hours. While I can’t say I’ve ever kept count of the number of hours the velvety-soft formula has lasted on my lips, I will say that after I apply it in the morning before hopping on the subway, my lipstick usually holds up through breakfast, lunch, and sometimes until I get to the gym in the evening. So, yeah, it’s definitely got staying power. (No wonder it won a 2019 Best of Beauty Award in the Clean category.)
As we’re nearing the end of the ride, I ask Alba what consumers should expect next from Honest Beauty. Although she’s a bit (intentionally) vague, Alba clearly has some Big Ideas. “The combination of skin and color, what is that world? I think that’s a huge space,” she says. But I need more, so I press on. What does that look like? I ask. “It looks like three to five products that everyone will want in their life, like transformative products that are multitaskers,” says Alba. “It will make their lives really good.” I’m listening…