By  on May 11, 2007

Michael Indursky is out to seek the greater good, all in the name of the natural personal care market.

The Burt's Bees executive will announce on Monday at an industry conference his plans to spearhead an effort to regulate the $1.8 billion industry in the U.S.

Indursky, who is chief marketing and strategic officer of the $250 million natural personal care company, recently became a member of the Natural Products Association, a Washington, D.C.-based group that serves manufacturers and retailers of natural products. At the NPA, he will oversee a committee dedicated to the regulation.

Indursky admitted that the effort was "very ambitious" and would ultimately affect "all of personal care." So, he is taking baby steps toward a regulation and is first looking to come up with an industry definition of what "natural" is.

While that in itself will be a challenge, he knows for sure what natural isn't.

"A natural product should not have parabens, any synthetic preservatives, sulfates, animal products or anything with suspected potential human health risk," Indursky said.

He said he was looking to apply the definition to items that contain 95 percent natural ingredients.

Indursky was spurred to regulate natural personal care since he said there was so much confusion in the category.

"We commissioned a study that showed that three-quarters of women think that natural is regulated. We need to reset the natural standard by differentiating what is and what isn't natural," Indursky said.

Indursky does not plan to tackle this issue alone. He is looking to companies such as California Baby and Pangea Organics to be partners in this effort, which will also affect the makers of organic products.

"There will be one tier —what is natural, and then there's everything else," Indursky said, explaining that while some products may use organic ingredients, that doesn't mean they don't also contain parabens or sulfates.

Indursky's plan, he admitted, could affect products that use the word "natural" in their brand name.

A walk through a local Duane Reade showed that several brands would be affected if regulation were to cover the personal care industry. Johnson & Johnson's Aveeno Active Naturals Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer with SPF 15 contains laureth-7 and propylparaben. Curel's Natural Healing lotion contains methyparaben. Royale Bee Naturals Healing Hand Cream brand contains lauryl laurate.But Indursky said the point of regulation was not to hurt anyone's business.

"We are not trying to out or impugn anyone. It is about the greater good. It's to inform people. Some companies are coming out with natural-sounding brands that are not natural. People feel they are being misled. I feel I have the responsibility as the leader in natural personal care to do right," Indursky said.

Ultimately, products that don't adhere to the new definition wouldn't be allowed to use natural in their name. A seal on products could be developed to signify which ones meet the standard. The regulation could help retailers merchandise natural personal care separately from other personal care items.

Indursky is sharing his thoughts at the annual Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability Conference, to be held in Marina del Rey, Calif., which is attended by global natural product manufacturer executives, natural product business owners and members of the NPA.

According to Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D., the NPA's vice president of scientific affairs, coming up with a definition for natural is a priority.

"This is a big consideration to a lot of firms. I think there is a lot riding on it, not just to our members, but to those who have embraced [natural] as a way of life."

Fabricant admitted that just because at some point there may be regulation doesn't mean consumers will grasp the natural concept.

"Consumer understanding is not always achieved through regulation. It is through communication. There is some confusion out there and we want to take a leadership role and through clear, consistent communication build trust and credibility," Fabricant said.

He did not set a deadline for a definition or a regulation.

"It will take some time. It is a multifaceted issue. But we need to carve out this space before someone else, such as another group, does," Fabricant said.

Paddy Spence, chief executive officer of Nature's Gate, which makes natural and organic personal care items, said that while he was a huge advocate for setting standards that consumers understand, the regulation effort was behind the times since consumer focus is now on organic products, not natural items."It is commendable. That said, I don't think natural will ever be a relevant characteristic for personal care products. It's not forward-looking. That was a good thing to go for 10 years ago. Organics is what they are looking for. Every retailer from Wal-Mart to Sephora has shoppers that are looking for organic products," Spence said.

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