Three bottles of Hint water flavored with the essence of fruit for a healthy soda alternative

Hint Water Review – Is it Actually Good for You?

These days, most people can walk through a supermarket and find dozens of flavored water options.  One of the most popular is Hint, a brand that prides itself on being a healthier, sugar-free alternative to other artificially flavored, less healthy drinks. 

However, following the controversy and lawsuit surrounding the ingredients used in Hint’s water, many questions about the water’s potentially negative effects are circulating.  Specifically, whether the use of synthetic ingredients makes Hint’s pure water still healthy. Despite creating a product that is prided on being a healthy, yet delicious alternative to conventionally sweetened drinks, there remains the question of if Hint water is healthy or not.

Grocery shelf with bottles of hint brand water

Hint Water is an American beverage company based in San Francisco, California, as an alternative to soda and sugar beverages.

Who is Behind Hint Water?

Founded in 2005 by entrepreneur Kara Goldin, the premise of Hint was created based on a challenge that Goldin faced in her daily life: making healthy choices and creating a healthy lifestyle. One day, while still active in her successful career, Kara came to the realization that she was overweight and out of shape.  After many years in the corporate world, she realized that the years at her jobs and raising three kids along the way had taken a toll on her health.  

The primary issue in Kara’s lifestyle was her addiction to diet soda; on some days, she would have between 8 and 10 cans of soda per day.  As a result, she was not only overweight but also struggling with low energy and adult acne. One day, Kara took a look at the soda she was drinking and realized that she didn’t understand what she was putting into her body. 

The long names of many of the items on the ingredient list would naturally make anyone question what they are ingesting. Most sodas and other conventionally sweetened beverages contain unhealthy and dangerous ingredients in large amounts.  Some of them include:

  • GMOs 
  • Preservatives
  • Loads of sugar
  • Artificial flavors
  • Unhealthy sweeteners 
  • Diet sweeteners 

In an effort to become a little bit healthier, Goldin quit drinking sodas and opted for drinking water.  While her health improved, she missed the flavor that other sweetened drinks had.  She then decided to figure out how to make the plain water taste more flavorful.  Goldin began by cutting up fresh fruits and infusing them into her water.  

As a result, Kara became much healthier and enjoyed the sweet, fruity flavoring of the water that she had created. Not only did Goldin come to terms with her own health and solve her soda dilemma, but she also realized that many other people were perhaps somewhat blind to the ingredients that they were putting into their bodies.

That’s when her idea to start Hint came to be. Soon enough, Kara was selling her idea of healthy, fruit-flavored water to her friends and family.  She wanted to give people the taste that they wanted without sacrificing their health. Over time, she not only penetrated into American supermarkets, but her brand’s trendy vibe made it particularly popular in the stylish Silicon Valley. 

Soon enough, Hint became a staple product found in meeting rooms and offices at tech companies like Amazon and Google. Thus, by coming up with a solution to her own personal problem, Goldin impacted the wellness community with fruit-flavored water that was not only made of natural flavors but also trendy.

What Makes Hint Water Unique

More than 15 years after being founded, Hint has expanded to become one of the world’s most recognized flavored water brands. In addition to being made from pure water and free of added sweeteners, they pride their water on being:

  1. Sugar-free
  2. Zero calories
  3. Zero preservatives
  4. Non-GMO
  5. Gluten-free

Since its founding, Hint also expanded its product range beyond still water and to include more flavors. In addition to still water, they now have:

  • Sparkling water
  • Caffeinated water
  • Fruit juices for kids

In terms of available flavors, they’ve expanded their offerings far beyond the original lineup.  Today, Hint has more than 12 different flavors.  Some of which include:

  • Watermelon
  • Blackberry
  • Kiwi
  • Grapefruit
  • Pomegranate

They also regularly roll out new and limited edition flavors including some less traditional ones like lemon-blueberry. So, with a lack of additives and a tasty offering of products, what went wrong for Hint and why are there so many questions surrounding its health validity?

Hint Water

The Hint Water Lawsuit

In 2015, Hint was faced with a lawsuit.  The suit called out the validity of some of the brand’s claims about how natural their products were. Before the lawsuit, Hint had been advertising its products as only using “natural flavors” and as being overall “all-natural.”

In particular, Hint’s claim of being “all-natural” was where the trouble started. As Hint was making these claims, an independent investigation began taking place in order to ensure the accuracy of the brand’s “natural flavors” and “all-natural” statements.  At the conclusion of the investigation, it was found that Hint’s water tested positive for a synthetic substance called propylene glycol.

Under many considerations, synthetic ingredients like propylene glycol are not all-natural.  This is what led to the plaintiff filing a lawsuit: the fact that Hint’s water had tested positive for propylene glycol contrasted Hint’s statements that their products were all-natural.

Therefore, the plaintiff and its supporters believed that Hint was lying to their customers and misleading them about the health of their water. In addition to the fallout from the lawsuit, Hint’s water testing positive for propylene glycol did a few things:

  1. Led to curiosity about the ingredient in question
  2. Raised concerns over the safety of the ingredient
  3. Questioned the transparency of Hint as a company

The Ingredient in Question: What is Propylene Glycol 

To begin with, even if you haven’t heard of propylene glycol before, chances are that you’ve already encountered it. You can find propylene glycol in food and countless other household products such as:

  • Cosmetics
  • Paints
  • Cleaning products

Propylene glycol is synthetic alcohol derived from petroleum.  Because of its diverse uses, it is found in dozens of different products. Most commonly, propylene glycol is used as an:

  • Emulsifier
  • Destabilizer
  • Thickening agent
  • Anti-caking agent
  • Preservative

In foods specifically, the ingredient is used in order to:

  1. Maintain moisture
  2. Dissolve flavors
  3. Act as a solvent

So, you’ve most likely already encountered propylene glycol at some point whether through food or in another household product.  However, is the ingredient safe and does it fall under the umbrella of all-natural as a synthetic ingredient?

Is Propylene Glycol Safe?

Propylene Glycol

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with the job of determining what is safe and unsafe for you to eat.  Specifically, they determine which food additives won’t cause harm to your health. According to the FDA, propylene glycol is a “generally regarded as safe” or GRAS ingredient.

The FDA defines a GRAS ingredient as one that, “among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use”. Therefore, the FDA considers consuming propylene glycol to be safe within reasonable amounts and under the condition that it serves its intended purpose in the food.

In the case of Hint, propylene glycol is used strictly as a solvent in order to disperse the fruity flavors throughout the water. Overall, there is no evidence to support claims that consuming a reasonable amount of propylene glycol is toxic.  No study has yet shown that consuming propylene glycol within these reasonable levels causes:

  • Reproductive issues
  • Cancer
  • Gene damage
  • Other life-threatening diseases

On a toxicity level, consider that, in studies done on rats, they need to consume 9 grams of propylene glycol per pound of body weight in order to cause lethal consequences.  Comparatively, rats only need to consume 1.4 grams of salt per pound in order to cause lethal consequences.

Thankfully, the liver in humans and other animals breaks down propylene glycol in order to deter most toxic effects. However, despite all of the research and approval by the FDA, there is still some skepticism over whether the ingredient is okay to consume.  Some studies have shown that, while safe for the general population, some groups of people may be at a higher risk for problems caused by propylene glycol.  Those groups include people with: 

  • Liver diseases
  • Kidney diseases
  • Allergenicity or allergic dermatitis

First of all, the human liver is not 100% effective at breaking down toxic substances.  Although the liver is able to excrete most propylene glycol, whatever is not excreted will move through the body and be converted into lactic acid.  While most populations can manage lactic acid just fine, too much lactic acid buildup can cause problems for certain groups of people. For those with kidney or liver diseases, lactic acid is not as easily broken down by the body. 

Therefore, lactic acid could make its way into the bloodstream and lead to symptoms related to toxicity. Secondly, it is estimated that as many as 3.5% of people have a skin allergy to propylene glycol.  Most commonly, this allergy manifests into dermatitis, an irritating rash that can develop on the face and/or body. People with existing skin dermatitis could be particularly vulnerable to rashes caused by the ingredient. 

Additionally, those with overall sensitive skin could also be more prone to reactions. Additionally, many in America question the safety of propylene glycol as it is more highly regulated and in some cases banned in Europe. While the American FDA allows the ingredient to have more widespread use, the European Union is more strict.  In Europe, the ingredient is only deemed as safe for use in food when used as a:

  1. Solvent for food coloring
  2. Emulsifier
  3. Anti-oxidizer
  4. Enzyme

These distinctions between American and European definitions of safety make some feel uncomfortable about propylene glycol in their food. Moreover, you should consult with a medical professional before consuming any propylene glycol if you have: 

  • A liver or kidney disease
  • Allergies or skin sensitivities
  • Concerns over EU standards

‘Natural’ vs. ‘Natural Flavors’: Did Hint Lie?

While the FDA has determined that, within a reasonable amount, propylene glycol is safe, the organization is not always very thorough with its standards. There are two very important factors to consider:

  1. The FDA does have a strict protocol of what it considers to be “natural flavors.”
  2. The FDA does not have a strict protocol of what it considers to be “all-natural.”

According to FDA standards, propylene glycol is considered a natural flavor. Why would the FDA consider a synthetic like propylene glycol a natural flavor? There are a few reasons:

  1. The FDA considers propylene glycol a solvent to natural flavors.
  2. Solvents used in natural flavors are considered “incidental additives.”
  3. Incidental additives don’t need to be listed on an ingredient but rather can be listed as a natural flavor.

It is controversial that the FDA considers a processed ingredient like propylene glycol to be a simple part of natural flavoring.  It is also controversial for the FDA to not have clear guidelines over the meaning of “all-natural.” Because there is so little guidance from the FDA about the meaning of “all-natural”, should Hint be able to add an ingredient like propylene glycol and still call their water natural? 

According to the lawsuit, the answer is no. Because most people don’t consider the ingredient to be natural by any means, the plaintiff argues that Hint is lying when they use the phrase “all-natural.” In contrast, Hint argues that, because propylene glycol is a part of natural flavoring and there are few regulations about the term “all-natural”, it is both safe and ok for them to continue to use the term “all-natural.”

However, despite Hint’s defense of itself, many aren’t buying its all-natural claims anymore and still question whether it’s safe to drink the water.

The Health Benefits of Hint Water

​​​​Despite the controversy surrounding Hint, there are several positive benefits of drinking their water. For starters, the main benefit of drinking infused water is the fact that it’s water.  Staying optimally hydrated is key to health.  For example, staying hydrated has been shown to help aid in weight loss. Drinking water versus other sweet drinks like soda or fruit juice is far better for your health.  

Soda has been linked to numerous diseases including obesity and cancer.  Even though some may consider fruit juice healthy, many brands have just as much added sugar as a soda.  Even worse, one recent study found that juices from different brands contained toxic levels of lead.

Board with phrase VITAMIN C and fresh products on white wooden table,

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient involved in the repair of tissue and the enzymatic production of certain neurotransmitters

Also, drinking fruit-infused water can be a good source of vitamins.  When diffused with fruit and berries, you can get some additional vitamins and minerals in your diet.  Vitamins C and A specifically pack in antioxidants which help rid your body of toxins. Drinking Hint is a better alternative and incorporates vitamins and minerals from the diffused fruits.

Did Hint Mislead Their Customers?

The break in the FDA guidelines over what can be considered “all-natural” has a few consequences including:

  1. Creating confusion among consumers
  2. Opening up opportunities to mislead consumers

First off, without clear guidelines over what is considered natural, consumers get confused over what the meaning of “all-natural” really is. Second, a lack of clear guidance allows companies to mislead consumers over what is actually in their products. 

Companies can make claims that their products are natural yet incorporate synthetic ingredients without even having to list them on their label. By FDA standards, Hint did not necessarily mislead consumers.  Yet, with the use of a synthetic ingredient, many claim Hint did in fact mislead their customers. Overall, the ones who pay the price for this lack of guidance is the consumer.

Is Hint Water Safe?

According to standards set by the FDA, Hint’s water is safe to drink. However, many people still question whether Hint is good for them due to:

  1. Hint’s clear use of synthetic ingredients
  2. Lack of government regulations

Hint has not denied using propylene glycol in creating their water.  Yet, they do not list it as an ingredient on their label and still claim to be all-natural.  Without full transparency of a product’s ingredients plus clear federal regulations, it is very challenging to determine whether a product is good for you or not.

Until both companies and the government are clear and transparent, it will be very challenging to convince consumers that Hint and similar products are good for them.  Despite all the scientific research that propylene glycol is not toxic, many people still don’t believe that Hint is good and safe to drink.

The Bottom Line: Should You Drink Hint Water

Hint water can be a healthier alternative to other heavily sweetened and highly processed drinks. Their water has a short ingredient label with just a couple of ingredients and significantly cuts down on the added sugars.  When compared against soda or other fruit-flavored juices, Hint is the better option. 

If you want a healthier alternative to other less healthy sweet drinks, Hint is definitely a cleaner hydration source.  Yet, be sure to consider whether you want to ingest a synthetic ingredient before grabbing the trendy water. If you really want to get the benefits of drinking pure water plus some nutrients from natural sweeteners, try adding fresh fruit to your own filtered water at home

Bonus tip: Check out this video on how to make your own fruit-infused water at home!

Joshua Perkins

Joshua spent ten years as a water systems technician in California before settling down with his wife and two young children in Nashville in 2018. Through all of his experience, he learned the benefits and shortfalls of so many different types of water filtration systems, from pitchers to whole-house installations. He started Water Filter Authority in 2019 to empower other families to make the right decision for their long-term health and wellness.