03/13/2008 07:20 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Who Said Beauty Has to be Dangerous?

The beauty industry is sitting not-too-pretty after a wave of toxic scandals: lead-containing lipstick, 1,4 dioxane in kids' bubble bath, phthalates in baby shampoo, to name just a few. Several states are now pushing for greater control over the virtually unregulated $50-billion industry. Two bills just introduced in California would eliminate toxic ingredients from certain personal care products; New Jersey, Connecticut and other states are following suit. So what is Big Beauty to do? Hire lobbyists and launch a public relations campaign to convince people their products are safe. Haven't we heard this one before?

The good news is, while the mainstream industry grinds its heels in the past, another story is unfolding that shows a more hopeful future for the beauty industry. Efforts are underway in the booming natural products sector to put real meaning behind the terms "natural" and "organic." Recently, Whole Foods Market became the first major retailer in the US to create a private standard for natural personal care products. The new "Premium Body Care" seal will appear on products that are free of synthetic fragrance and don't contain some 250 commonly used synthetic chemicals, including parabens, PEG compounds and sulfates. Whole Foods' own 365 brand doesn't even meet the strict criteria for the premium label (the line will be reformulated).

As more evidence that the competition is rushing to break from toxic pack, Burt's Bees (recently nabbed by Clorox for $913 million) has launched a new $10 million campaign that calls out nasty chemicals used in mainstream products. Stay tuned for the imminent release of Burt's Bees private label standards, along with a new organic personal care standard created by NSF International. The race to the top is on.