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Natural and Organic Standards Debated at Summit

At issue is cosmetic companies calling their products "natural" or "organic" when the natural world believes they are not.

The natural beauty world is fed up.

At issue is cosmetic companies calling their products “natural” or “organic” when the natural world believes they are not. Yet, the challenge facing the roughly $8 billion natural and organic global cosmetics market is the absence of any formal government standards despite the increasing trend towards “natural” beauty products. That subject, among others, was debated at the Natural Beauty Summit held at the Sheraton Hotel in New York on May 7 and 8, organized by Organized by ITEC France — the company that organizes Paris-based trade show Beyond Beauty — and Organic Monitor, a London-based research and consultancy firm. Representatives from L’Oréal, Estée Lauder, Unilever and Clarins, among others, attended the two-day conference.

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Mike Indursky, chief marketing and strategic officer of Burt’s Bees, said there should be one global natural standard for certification of personal care products. “We want to make sure that a product labeled natural is truly natural. If you have a woman who is a cancer survivor who is supposed to avoid toxins, she is going to assume a naturally labeled product is in fact natural. If she purchases that item, she is unwittingly using the exact ingredients she is trying to avoid,” he told the roughly 130 attendees in a panel discussion on May 7.

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“In Europe you have dozens of certification organizations — some are natural some are for organic — but they can’t harmonize, and in the U.S., every retailer and private organization has its own standard,” Indursky explained. Currently groups like the Soil Association and EcoCert, as well as industry alliances like Cosmos in Europe and Oasis in North America, are all working on standards for both natural and organic personal care products. Indursky has been working with the Natural Products Association (NPA) here in the U.S. and private Brussels-based organization NaTrue for over a year to create one globally recognized natural standard for the personal care industry. As a recently appointed U.S. founding member of NaTrue, Indursky said he hopes to have European products carrying the NPA seal as early as July. “This will allow more European products to get certification in the U.S. because they would be recognized by NPA. Consumers will now have a much bigger array of products to choose from with a natural offering,” he said.

Under the natural standard, all products bearing the NPA seal must be made up of at least 95 percent natural ingredients — not including water — and cannot contain any materials that might have a potential human health risk.

Horst Rechelbacher, founder of food and plant-based beauty company Intelligent Nutrients, told the audience he believes the Obama administration will likely bring more government regulation to the industry. Yet, the passionate if not somewhat eccentric Rechelbacher said the beauty industry should look to the organic food industry, which is regulated by the USDA, for guidance. “We’re in a new paradigm and to me, edible cosmetics is a no-brainer. If you can’t eat it, don’t put it on.”

Still, other challenges facing the personal care industry include the growing complexity and evolution of the natural and organic cosmetics market, according to Organic Monitor’s president Amarjit Sahota. “As the cosmetics market becomes increasingly sophisticated, you need to be more than just organic or natural — that is becoming the bare minimum,” said Sahota, pointing to a rise in ethical consumerism and a slew of new entries into the market by large cosmetic companies like L’Oréal and Clarins. “Ethical sourcing, fair trade practices and ecological packaging are also becoming necessary.”