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NSF and NPA in Conflict over Standards for Natural Personal Care Products


On February 10, 2011, NSF International announced that it would be working with NATRUE (The International Natural and Organic Cosmetic Association) to “develop the first American national standard for natural personal care products.”1 NSF is a nonprofit organization that sets standards and monitors the quality of drinking water, water filters, dietary supplements, and other consumer goods.

Four days later, the Natural Products Association (NPA), an industry trade association whose NPA Natural Seal was established in 2008, responded with a press release refuting NSF’s claim of having the “first” standard. In the release, NPA Executive Director and CEO, John Gay, said, “The NPA is here to help the consumer, not confuse them. A second seal with different standards does no service to natural products customers, retailers, or manufacturers.”2

According to Jane Wilson, NSF International director of standards, “The ‘American National Standard’ terminology can only be used in conjunction with standards developed by ANSI [American National Standards Institute]-accredited standards development organizations. While NPA has developed a standard for its association members, the NPA standard is not recognized as an American National Standard” (e-mail, March 24, 2011).

“We did not like what the [NSF] release seemed to imply: that there wasn’t a standard in the US,” said Gay. “That was disturbing, to see the phrasing. More the problem is that they were announcing a second seal coming into the market” (oral communication, March 22, 2011). A second seal, he said, will create consumer confusion.

The Natural Products Association is a trade organization that was founded in 1936 as the National Health Food Association, and was later known as the National Nutritional Foods Association.3 It currently represents thousands of independent and chain health and natural foods stores, and the suppliers, distributors, and brokers who sell to them. Its mission is “to advocate for the rights of consumers to have access to products that will maintain and improve their health, and for the rights of retailers and suppliers to sell these products.”3

Founded in 1944, NSF International is a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization.4 It creates standards for a breadth of elements and products, including air, water, food, dietary supplements, and toys.4 Last year, NSF International and ANSI (a nonprofit headquartered in Washington, DC) debuted the NSF/ANSI 305 standard for “personal care products containing organic ingredients.”5

“As a result of the launch of NSF/ANSI 305 Personal Care Products Containing Organic Ingredients, NSF entered into a partnership with NATRUE,” said Wilson. “This partnership includes the harmonization of criteria for personal care products containing organic ingredients as well as development of a natural personal care product standard for the North American market that can be harmonized with NATRUE criteria.” NATRUE is a nonprofit organization located in Belgium with several international manufacturers as members.

“This partnership will facilitate the acceptance of ‘natural’ personal care product claims in both the North American and European markets,” she added.

“Is there a need for another one as far as the consumer is concerned?” asked Gay. “You can turn your product into—what’s the phrase?—a Girl Scout sash?”

According to Gay, a single US standard for natural products is in the consumer’s best interest, so that she or he does not have to find, consult, and analyze more than one source to determine which “natural” certification is up to par; the consumer “can go to one website and see the science behind the seal.”

According to Wilson, the first draft of the NSF natural personal care products standard will have its foundation in NATRUE’s natural personal care products certification criteria, which does not allow synthetic colors or fragrances, genetically modified or petroleum-based ingredients, or animal testing.6 Beyond that, she said, “The standards committee will utilize the consensus process to further develop the draft standard. The formal balloting and public comment process will determine the criteria in the final standard. Requirements such as the acceptable substances and percentage of conforming product line will be determined by the standards committee.”

“Honestly, we don’t know what the NSF standard will look like,” said Cara Welch, PhD, NPA’s vice-president of scientific and regulatory affairs. “The NPA has set a high bar for what should be [considered] natural.”

NPA certification criteria for natural personal care products requires that products be a minimum of 95% natural in composition, and defines a natural ingredient as “a renewable resource found in nature (flora, fauna, mineral), with absolutely no petroleum compounds.”7 In 2010, NPA removed artificial fragrances from its list of acceptable ingredients.8

Dr. Welch said that the current cost of NPA natural personal care product certification is $500 per product for NPA members, and $1,250 per product for non-members. In both cases, the cost covers administrative and audit fees, and the seal is valid for 2 years before re-certification is needed. Wilson said costs for NSF International natural personal care product certification “will be determined by individual certification bodies.”

More information about NPA and NSF International’s natural personal care standards is available at the following websites:

NPA: Natural%20Standard%20091710v01%20kh.pdf

NSF: natrue_faq.pdf

—Ashley Lindstrom


  1. NSF International partners with NATRUE to develop first American Nation Standard for natural personal care products [news release]. Ann Arbor, MI. NSF International; February 10, 2011. Available at: www.prweb. com/releases/natural_products/personal_care/prweb8129415.htm. Accessed March 21, 2011.
  2. NPA responds to unneeded effort to create second natural standard for personal care products [news release]. Washington, DC. National Products Association; February 14, 2011. Available at: src=news&submenu=Press&srctype=detail&category=pressreleases2011&re fno=299. Accessed March 21, 2011.
  3. The History of the Natural Products Association. Natural Products Association website. Available at: Awards&src=gendocs&ref=NPAHistory&category=About. Accessed April 2, 2011.
  4. About NSF. NSF International website. Available at: about_NSF/. Accessed April 2, 2011.
  5. Lindstrom A. Whole Foods Market raises standards for organic labeling on personal care products sold in its stores. HerbalGram. 2011; 88: 18-19. Accessed March 31, 2011.
  6. The NATRUE Label and You. NATRUE website. Available at: Accessed April 5, 2011.
  7. NPA Standard and Certification for Personal Care Products. Natural Products Association website. Available at: Accessed April 2, 2011.
  8. NPA changes personal care standards: no synthetic fragrances. WholeFoods Magazine. June 26, 2010. Available at: www.wholefoodsmagazineonline. com/news/breaking-news/npa-changes-personal-care-standards-no-syntheticfragrances. Accessed April 2, 2011.