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Sustainability, Safety Top of Mind at PCPC

The Personal Care Products Council held its first in-person meeting in three years to grapple with some of beauty's biggest issues.

Science-based beauty was the buzz at the recently held Personal Care Products Council’s first Leadership Summit held at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C., from Sept. 28 to 29.

Consumers no longer merely accept terms such as natural, clean or sustainable — they are digging into research to make educated decisions. “They want to know the science behind the products,” said Keech Combe Shetty, PCPC’s board of directors’ chair and Combe Inc. executive chair.

 “Our products literally touch the lives of nearly every American household every day, and our constant pursuit of healthy people and a healthy planet is both good business and good stewardship,” Shetty said.

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PCPC president and chief executive officer Lezlee Westine added, “Strengthening trust is an ethos for our entire industry, along with advocating for impact and fortifying partnerships.”

Sustainability, safety, transparency, DEI and ESG were the overarching themes at the conference, which drew leaders from Unilever, L’Oréal, the Estée Lauder Cos., Shiseido, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Chanel and Coty, to name a few. It was PCPC’s first in-person conference after more than two years of virtual meetings.

“It’s great to bring the industry back together,” said Westine, as she greeted leaders from more than 100 companies representing 13 countries.

Trading the sand and surf of Palm Beach, Florida, where PCPC traditionally holds its annual meeting, for D.C. was viewed as an appropriate move based on the flurry of legislative issues in the works.

There was a lot to unpack during the two days, ranging from the Modernization of Cosmetic Regulation Act of 2022, or MoCRA, to the push to make the industry more inclusive and sustainable.

PCPC released its second sustainability report, a comprehensive look at the commitments and performance of its member companies and the beauty and personal care products industry overall. Among the topics were the need to address climate change, alternatives to animal testing and the goal of a waste-free future.

The report was especially well-received by smaller and mid-sized companies who don’t have the same bandwidth as multinationals to establish sustainability roadmaps.

“We want to share best practices within the industry so all boats can rise,” Shetty said.

The audience, a mixture of CEOs, policy makers, scientists and regulatory experts, came ready to dive into the issues.

“We’re getting to work,” said Shetty, referring to the program loaded with Washington and industry insiders.

Earlier this year, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted to pass the FDA Safety and Landmark Advancement Act, which includes MoCRA. However, the current House bill does not include cosmetics provisions, leaving in question which riders will survive.

“We are continuing to advocate and work with our partners to pass the language by the end of this year,” Westine said.

A videotaped fireside chat between Westine and U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner Robert Califf touched on the legislation. “This is all up in the air as we wait for what Congress is going to do. It is imminent,” Califf said.

During the interview, Califf outlined his priorities. “People need to know who is producing products and what ingredients are in them. The FDA needs to have the ability for mandatory recall when things are not going well,” he said, noting that is rarely the case. “It would help us to have a GMP process, good manufacturing practices. It always makes it easier to regulate when you have a standard to produce a high-quality product and when something does call for an inspection, we make sure we have access to the records.”

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Pinpointing issues ranging from allergens in fragrances, animal testing and PFAS, Califf said the industry needs to “come to grips with these topics.” Califf also called for special attention to the challenges smaller companies face who don’t have the resources to deal with the regulatory systems. “We need to have a different regime for small business to function.”

Bruce Mehlman, partner in government relations firm Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen and Thomas, said, “Time is ticking for the legislation, especially with other issues on the docket. It could be tough, but doable to pass.” Mehlman predicted a large turnout for the mid-term elections and a big crop of new faces in place next year.

Sustainability was on the front burner, especially with regulations percolating at the state level that could spread to other states. For example, California is eliminating the “chasing arrows” icon on plastic packages, citing the label can be misleading. There are also complexities dealing with ingredients like PFAS and CBD.

A panel moderated by industry veteran Pamela Gill-Alabaster delved into the facets of ESG and the need for companies to prepare now for legal risks down the road. “There is migration from voluntary best practices to regulatory — reputational risks versus legal risks,” said Dan Feldman of Covington & Burling.

The need to curb excessive use of plastic and to be wary of greenwashing claims are also gaining momentum. “Make sure you can substantiate your green claims,” said Laura Kim, partner in Covington & Burling.

Despite the intricacies of ESG — and some chatter about ESG backlash — consumers want more sustainable products from socially aware brands, according to research from The NPD Group.

“Between 34 percent to 44 percent [of consumers] value sustainability and social responsibility from the companies and brands,” said Larissa Jensen, vice president, industry adviser at The NPD Group. Consumers, especially Gen Z, gravitate toward refillable makeup products, clean ingredients particularly in skin care (interest in “clean” is up 17 percent, per NPD) and brands that support social causes.

The hair care category is fertile territory for Black-owned brands, which Jensen said are the fastest growing in the sector, backed by expanding retailer support driven by the quest to offer products for all customers.

Dovetailing with inclusivity moves on shelves, Esi Eggelston Bracey, president of Unilever U.S. and CEO of Unilever Personal Care, N.A., spearheaded a discussion on how diversity is important for business and government.

The panel included Heba Mahmoud, senior manager of inclusivity and diversity at MITRE Corp., Katie Williams, chief marketing officer at Haleon U.S. and a Zoom appearance by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-California), the first Latine person to serve on the House Committee of Ways and Means and the House Judiciary Committee. She ticked off advancements driven by the increase of women in Congress such as a task force to rectify disparities including the higher maternal mortality rates for Black women — which is almost triple that for white women.

Citing parallels between government and business, she explained that it is important to have a diverse workforce that reflects the population. “If you don’t have people in your organization who look like your consumers, you are not going to come up with the next products your consumers want or need. They are not going to have an understanding of where the market trends will be,” Sanchez said.

People of color represent 40 percent of Americans, said Eggleston Bracey, who was honored with the second annual Madam C.J. Walker Award for Excellence in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “Of the many roles I play, DE&I champion is one I treasure,” she said. “The business of diversity is the ultimate team sport; it takes all of us. We change the narrative of beauty.”