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The personal-care industry seems ready for federal regulatory oversight.

About 300 personal-care executives gathered at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla., for the Personal Care Product Council’s annual meeting, which came as the group works to push through bipartisan legislation that would provide federal regulatory oversight for the industry. The goal is to preempt the growing number of state and even city-level personal-care laws, and help simplify doing business.

Federal legislation is the biggest thing PCPC is working on, according to George Calvert, vice president, supply chain and research and development at Amway and the organization’s new chair.

“The biggest issue for us was getting a unified position,” he said. “We all want preemption…are there parts of the legislation that small companies have concerns about or large companies have concerns about? Sure. But we were able to say, ‘These are the parts we want from any legislation.’ If we’re not unified on it, we’re going to get nothing that we want.

“We do not want to be fighting battles at every locality, city council and literally that’s what’s happening in some cases,” Calvert said.

Taking the next step in regulatory control, the group’s other top priority is global harmonization of rules governing the sector. Calvert noted that he is “very hopeful” that the federal preemption legislation will pass.

One of his other focuses, outside of the legislative realm, is promoting “sound science” — especially in an era when the voices in social media play an increasingly prominent role.

“You can have 1,000 different people saying 1,000 different things, none of which are true,” Calvert said. “The tactics of having a p.r. group for the industry sit there and respond to each of those is not going to be effective.

“Social can have two components. An offensive component, which is one where you’re out there conveying your message, promoting your brand, providing content that people can share,” he said. “That’s probably the easy side of it. The hard side of it is, how do you combat the single blogger in Minnesota who says that lipsticks cause cancer or that an ingredient causes cancer?”

It’s important for the industry to keep up with the science, as “data evolves,” Calvert said.

“Science is as good as its latest efforts to validate a hypothesis. There may be other things that come out that say, ‘Hey, we’ve got concerns about this ingredient or that ingredient,’ [and] we may have to be responsible in providing sound science,” Calvert said. “Where the science says, ‘Hey, that could be an issue,’ [we] have to make sure that we deal with that appropriately,” he added.

Environmental effects from personal-care products are an area where the industry needs to “stay vigilant,” Calvert noted.

That theme — environmental vigilance — came up multiple times throughout the meeting, which took place just weeks after The New York Times published an article (“Want Cleaner Air? Try Using Less Deodorant”) that cited a study from the Journal of Science saying that petroleum-based chemicals in certain consumer products can emit as many volatile organic compounds (a type of air pollution) as cars. 

Ingredients also came up at the meeting, especially in the context of state-level rules. California’s Department of Toxic Substances, for example, has plans to monitor nail-polish ingredients more closely starting in April, according to Tom Myers, executive vice president and legal and general counsel for PCPC. That would mean that personal-care companies need to contact the group if their nail polish contains certain ingredients, and that companies could be forced to look for “safer” ingredient alternatives, or not sell in California at all, Myers said.

That Golden State’s regulations came up multiple times during the course of the meeting — but the state is not the only one with its own legislative agenda. New York has 60 bills that affect the cosmetic industry, according to Emily Giske, partner at Bolton-St. Johns, a New York government relations and public affairs firm. Hawaii is also considering legislative moves, including banning sunscreens that contain oxybenzone in an attempt to protect coral reefs.

“When we don’t pass national bills, states do it,” said Shannon Curtin, senior vice president for North America at Coty Inc., in an interview. She added that if states can’t do it, legislation moves down to the county level, and that business is “harder” if federal legislation doesn’t get passed.

In his opening remarks, Calvert noted that unity has served the personal-care industry well, but that changes are ongoing — including increased product requirements from retailers and more scrutiny over how products impact the environment.

One example is Target Corp.’s new chemical strategy, which pushes for ingredient transparency, including for fragrance, in beauty, personal care, baby care and household cleaning products by 2020. That initiative follows the retailer’s 2013 implementation of the Sustainable Product Standard, which rewards “more sustainable” products. CVS has taken a similar interest in ingredients, and next month, in April, said it would remove parabens, phthalates and “the most prevalent formaldehyde donors” across its private-label CVS Health, Beauty 360, Essence of Beauty and Blade product lines — the Promise Organic line already didn’t contain any of those ingredients, the company said.

According to Calvert, a key for companies in an era when consumers are demanding transparency is to better communicate “why our products contain certain ingredients, the rigor of our safety testing protocols and the reason to believe in the performance of our products,” he said. “We as an industry must do what we can to push back on the myths and misinformation that are being circulated by social media and others who don’t fully understand the consequences of promoting bad science in the name of public health.”

The PCPC crowd came prepared to hear about federal and state-level legislation — but the speech that really shook them came from David Edelman, a former White House special assistant during the Obama administration, who showed a video of then-President Obama’s speech after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Then he told the crowd that the video was “a deep fake” — manufactured by artificial intelligence technology.

“It used to be that we could trust video — that we could trust our eyes online, that that was like the one thing left on the Internet that was more or less unable to be faked,” Edelman said. “What if it were your brand ambassador, what if it were your spokesperson? What if it were something like that, that never really happened, were suddenly on the Internet circulating quickly, faster than you could possibly label it as a fake?”

In addition to installing two-factor identification for e-mail accounts, knowing where valuable intellectual property is located, who the network administrator is and not using USB drives, companies need to think about the next level of hacking, Edelman urged. That is the hacking not just of computers, but of humans, as hackers lurk on computers and prey on select employees who seem more likely to comply with their schemes.

The following day, a panel discussion on data usage provided multiple insights. Companies can use data to improve their products, for example, said Moiz Ali, the founder of Native, which was recently acquired by Procter & Gamble. When Native launched, it saw mediocre product reviews, Ali said, so the company decided to test different formulations via products it sold to customers. “The customer paid us as we were able to change our formula,” he said.

But Native still isn’t exactly a hit on the influencer front, he acknowledged, noting the brand has tried influencer marketing “and just couldn’t get it to work.” Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram ads, he said, can convert for Native at 20 percent of the cost of influencers.

That could be because Native — primarily a deodorant brand — is in a category that people don’t naturally talk about, said Conor Begley, cofounder of Tribe Dynamics. But influencer marketing does still work for more traditional beauty brands, Begley said, adding that companies should make sure not to treat influencer relationships like media buying opportunities.

The change in media was highlighted by outgoing PCPC chair Thia Breen in her final remarks.

“We are in a moment of great change,” she said during her final speech as chair. “We are in the midst of the digital revolution, and we are, I believe, at the start of a cultural revolution.” Part of that cultural revolution comes with a shift in the way that companies speak to and engage with their consumers, she noted.

“Beauty will always be an important part of our consumers’ lives and a contributor to the economic and social health of our nation because we’re helping to change communities for the better — that’s where PCPC comes in,” Breen said.

She highlighted the industry’s moves over the past few years — working with Congress and other groups to modernize regulatory oversight; working to better understand the environmental impact of personal-care products, and “safeguarding” against unnecessary safety requirements from local governments.

Breen, who spent decades with the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., stepped down with a request.

“If I may leave you with a call it action, it is this — mentor young women, promote your people, foster new career paths,” Breen said. “We are at a defining moment for women. People will look to us to help set examples.”

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