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NPA Develops Standard and Seal to Identify Natural Personal Care Products

The Natural Products Association (NPA) announced in May of 2008 that it has developed a new certification program to identify and distinguish truly “natural” personal care products.1 As part of this program, NPA has created a standard to define “natural” in terms of personal care products, and products that meet this standard will be eligible to bear NPA’s Natural Seal.

According to NPA, the natural personal care industry has grown substantially over the past several years—5 times faster than non-natural personal care products.2 Sales of natural personal care products reportedly rose 17% in 2007 to reach $7 billion in the United States. However, there has been no standard definition for the term “natural,” and the use of the term is not regulated by any government or inspecting body. Therefore, products may claim to be natural even if they are mostly or entirely synthetic or petroleum-based.

“As the natural personal care industry has grown, we’ve seen some abuses of the term,” said Daniel Fabricant, PhD, NPA’s vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs (oral communication, May 28, 2008). “That’s why consumers are confused.”

Dr. Fabricant explained that NPA developed its certification program primarily to provide consumers with a tool for distinguishing those products that have been verified as “natural” according to a high and recognizable standard. He noted that many consumers are interested in the health and environmental benefits of natural products, which is why the term “natural” should not be misused as a marketing ploy. Further, the new NPA program should assist the natural personal care industry by clearly delineating those brands that are natural from those that are not.

To qualify as “natural” under the NPA’s new standard, a personal care product must consist of at least 95% natural ingredients or ingredients derived from renewable sources found in nature.3 Such ingredients must not be suspected of any human health risks, and the product’s manufacturing must not have included any processes that could significantly or adversely alter the purity or effect of the natural ingredients. Any unnatural ingredients should be used only when viable natural alternatives are unavailable and only when there are absolutely no suspected potential human health risks. Certain ingredients are strictly prohibited under the NPA standard, including parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, petrolatum and paraffin, chemical sunscreens, and phthalates, among other chemical ingredients and preservatives. The full standard is accessible from the NPA Web site,

Products certified under the NPA’s standard may carry the organization’s Natural Seal.1 Certification is obtained through an auditing process conducted by one of NPA’s third party auditors. This process costs a fee, for which NPA members will receive a discount. According to Dr. Fabricant, NPA anticipates that the auditing process should take approximately 2 to 4 weeks to complete, although this may vary depending on the number of ingredients in the product and other factors.

According to Dr. Fabricant, NPA has already received positive feedback on the certification program from product manufacturers and retailers, as well as from consumers. “The natural personal care industry very much wants to move forward with certification,” said Dr. Fabricant. “Across the board, people have been very positive about this.”

“I think any sincere effort to strengthen the movement toward greener ingredients that are healthier for users and for the environment is commendable,” said Cindy Angerhofer, PhD, director of botanical research for Aveda Corporation (e-mail, June 5, 2008). “I have to say that many of the prominent companies that have been in the business of selling natural personal care products for years have done a pretty good job of defining and upholding their own standards. Their reputations really depend on integrity, and the ‘natural’ consumer tends to be pretty savvy. Of course, there is also abuse of the term ‘natural’ on product labels and advertising that is sometimes well-intended and other times blatantly misleading. Occasionally, good ingredients are denigrated more for competitive advantage than any real shortcomings in naturalness or safety, so a broader trade perspective in determining approved ingredients could represent a more balanced and realistic standard. To this end, Aveda has been proactively participating in the creation of environmentally responsible industry standards for more than a decade.”

Morris Shriftman, CEO of the marketing communication firm Mozart, Inc., and former senior vice president of marketing for Avalon Natural Products, a manufacturer of natural cosmetics, remarked that NPA has done a good job of defining “natural” and that the work NPA has done to assist the natural personal care products industry should be honored (oral communication, June 9, 2008).

Shriftman added, however, that more work still needs to be done to address the larger issue of safety within the personal care industry. “Chemicals of all kinds are pervasive in our lives today, and we need significantly better safety studies and data,” said Shriftman. This concern regarding safety led Shriftman to help develop Avalon’s “Consciousness in Cosmetics” philosophy, which defines safety as a top priority in the development of the company’s natural and organic products. “You need to be aware that your skin is the largest organ of your body, and it absorbs a lot of what you put on it,” said Shriftman. “We really have to establish a greater awareness of long-term safety.”

Dr. Fabricant mentioned that NPA may eventually develop a similar certification program for other sectors of the natural products industry, such as natural food products or natural cleaning products. Industry and consumer confusion has been particularly outspoken in regards to the labeling of “natural” food products in recent years.4 The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received 2 petitions to define the term “natural” in regards to food products, to which the organization has not formally responded and may not address in the near future, reportedly due to limited resources. An FDA spokesperson recently publicly commented that high fructose corn syrup should not be considered a “natural” ingredient, although it has been included on the labels of food products claiming to be “all natural.” Like natural personal care products, natural food products and natural household cleaning products have both been growing considerably in US sales.

—Courtney Cavaliere
  1. What’s “natural” when it comes to personal care products? [press release]. New York, NY: Natural Products Association; May 1, 2008.

  2. Natural Products Association Standard and Certification Program for Personal Care Products [fact sheet]. May 2008. Available at: DocServer/Standard_Fact_Sheet_final__2_ .pdf?docID=7061. Accessed May 22, 2008.

  3. Natural Products Association Standard and Certification for Personal Care Products. May 2008. Available at: 0509.pdf?docID=7241. Accessed May 22, 2008.

  4. Heller L. HFCS is not ‘natural,’ says FDA. April 2, 2008.