What has been known for more than three decades as the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association now has a new name, the Personal Care Products Council, and with the new persona comes a fact-laden product safety Web site, cosmeticsinfo.org, designed to win consumer trust.
This story first appeared in the November 29, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
These changes represent a bold step for the 113-year-old, Washington-based trade association. Throughout its history, the organization has focused inwardly on the needs of the beauty industry, expending its efforts on safety and product research and legislative lobbying. Now the organization is reaching out to the consumer world, in recognition of how society’s habits have dramatically changed, especially in the last decade.
“We’re seeing a sea change in what consumers desire in product safety information,” said Marc Pritchard, president of global strategy at Procter & Gamble Co. and chairman of the Council. He added there is a craving for the kind of specific information that is packed on the Council’s site. “It’s pretty clear that product safety is a subject on the radar screen.” Pritchard noted that 200 business publications have printed stories on cosmetics public safety. “Consumers really want the whole story on what they are buying; what is in it and everything they can get.”
So the Council decided to open its files. “We have an incredible wealth of information and expertise from scientists, dermatologists and biologists — thousands of studies,” Pritchard said. “We wanted to make sure that we were turning outward to consumers. That’s what we are in business here for, the consumer,” he added. “What we want to do involves a simple objective — become the consumer’s best resource.”
The new Web site offers detailed information, test findings and regulatory opinions on 1,500 ingredients, lumped into 13 personal care product categories, which the organization claims represents a majority of all products used in cosmetics and personal care products. The site offers videos, such as a seven-minute behind-the-scenes documentary and other clips showing scientists talking about their work.
In addition, there are links to organizations like the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health, which provide information on product safety laws and safety test data and conclusions. Controversial ingredients are covered in depth, according to a spokeswoman for the organization. For instance, phthalates are defined and described as related to their use in cosmetics products. Test results are discussed and there are further links to two other organizations, the FDA and the Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-Food Products Intended for Consumers, which provide more discussions on test results. There are also a half-dozen links to other laws that pertain to phthalates.
“We wanted to make the primary source information easily accessible,” said Pamela Bailey, president and chief executive officer of the Council. She said the name change was meant to reflect how the scope of the business has broadened since 1970, when the old Toilet Goods Association became the CTFA. Also, the new moniker is meant to be in tune with “the language that consumers use.” Pritchard maintains the word Council, as in “council of companies,” is appealing to consumers, according to the organization’s research.
The Web site was due to go live this morning, but it was previewed, along with the name change, Wednesday evening in Phoenix at the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures. The fact that these changes were unveiled before a group of legislators is an indication of the growing clout of the states in influencing the product safety debate. “We wanted to show that we are being proactive and open,” said a Council spokeswoman.
That debate is also being stoked by a proliferation of voices on the Internet, with its population of bloggers and consumer product safety watchdogs. The latter group constitutes a powerful faction capable of triggering newspaper and broadcast headlines across the country, as was the case in mid-October when The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics reported its lab results showing a randomly purchased group of top lipstick brands contained lead. The report echoed through the media and raised the industry’s hackles. It was vigorously rebutted.
While the cosmetics industry has often prided itself on its safety record, it has been somewhat poor at publicizing that track record, Pritchard acknowledged. “We have not been speaking up enough,” he said. “It’s time for us to speak up.”
He added, “There are other people out there talking about products in ways that are not true. We’ve got to get the word out.” To answer its critics, the organization went digital.
Pritchard noted that the then-CTFA had been voluntarily testing ingredients that needed additional scrutiny for 30 years, with the creation of an independent Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, and support for the CIR has been tripled in the last three years. Moreover, manufacturers are compelled by law to make sure their ingredients have passed muster. In addition, the Council earlier this year adopted a Consumer Commitment Code, which was signed by all the companies on the board and a vast majority of the membership, equaling 93 percent of the U.S. sales of the 600-company organization. The code advocates use of best practices that go “above and beyond” what is legally required, Pritchard noted, adding it even includes divulging ingredient safety information to the FDA upon request.
Asked if the launch of the Web site signals a change in mission for the organization, Bailey said it is more of a demonstration of how its activities have evolved over the years. “We spend a great deal of time and effort focusing on product safety and quality issues,” she said, noting that the organization was founded in 1894 as the Manufacturing Perfumers Organization, which dealt with tariffs and taxes. “Most trade associations based in Washington focus on lobbying Congress,” she said, “and that is a small part of what we do.”