Jessica Alba Leads Mommy War on Synthetic Chemicals

PHOTO: Actress Jessica Alba arrives at the 2nd Annual Baby2Baby Gala at The Book Bindery, Nov. 9, 2013 in Culver City, Calif.
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Jessica Alba, famous for her roles in "Dark Angel," "Sin City" and the "Fantastic Four," is taking on her most serious role yet warning mothers about what she said are the dangers of toxic chemicals in many everyday products.

The 32-year-old actress and mother of two became worried about this issue when she was pregnant with her first child and had an allergic reaction to a brand of baby laundry detergent.

"I was like ... I'm an adult, and if I'm having an allergic reaction, like who knows what's going to happen with my baby," Alba said. "So I did some research, and I found that there are a lot of toxic chemicals in everyday products, and I was more horrified to find that there are more toxic chemicals in baby products."

Alba's concerns have propelled her to become the public face of a movement of people trying to avoid synthetic chemicals. It started for Alba when she met Christopher Gavigan, the author of "Healthy Child, Healthy World," a guidebook on living a healthier lifestyle.

"I asked … what products do I buy, and he was like, 'Well, this company does that one thing and this company does that one thing,' and I was like, 'Gosh, why isn't there a company that does everything. This is so stressful,'" Alba said.

The duo teamed up to help create the Honest Company, a mail-order business that started out by selling 17 products made of ingredients they claim are safe and tested, unlike conventional products.

"We don't have a regulatory system in place here in the United States at least that allows for and or monitors and or requires reporting on what's inside," Gavigan said. "So the raw materials and the ingredients ... they don't have to report those. They don't have to prove they are safe before they hit the marketplace."

Alba is not the only worried mom. For the past seven years, Ellen Padnos has made it her mission to avoid synthetic chemicals in her home, and everyone in her household of four lives by her rules.

"Everything that I do is an effort to stay away from chemicals and [move] more toward plant-based ingredients," she said. "I want them to be normal and still be kids and enjoy little things like taking baths and not be too extreme, so I still let them have princess toothbrushes and things like that."

Pandos' husband, Ben, goes along with his wife's rules, with some exceptions.

"For stuff related to body, health, food, I'll never really complain about that," he said. "There are other things, when it comes to excess clothing and things like that, I'm going to argue way more about a pair of shoes than something my kid is going to bathe in."

There are more than 87,000 commercial chemicals on the market in the United States. In Europe, more than 1,110 chemicals are banned in products, but in the U.S., only 11 chemicals are banned.

Nearly two years after the Honest Company launched, it has sold 7.5 million products, and Alba's line has expanded to 50 items, from diapers to lip balm to lead-free candles.

With demand growing, several small businesses have sprung up, selling everything from beauty products to stainless steel baby bottles.

After she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Valerie Grandury started Odacite, a line of toxin-free beauty products. Four years later, she marked her 100,000 shipment to more than 20 countries.

"I realized that there was a lot of toxin ingredients in skin care. And it was something I had no clue about," she said.

Aerospace engineer Roger Moore and his wife, Jennifer, created "Pura" stainless steel baby bottles as an alternative to plastic ones.

Amy Ziff, a mother of three living in Palo Alto, Calif., started a company called Veritey.com, a website devoted to toxin-free products.

"They were the canaries in the coal mine, and their reactions to everyday baby products made me realize that there are so many chemicals in our products," Ziff said.

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