updated 9/26/2010 7:52:56 PM ET 2010-09-26T23:52:56

Consumer products giant Unilever PLC is nearing a deal to buy hair-care products maker Alberto Culver Co. as it continues to expand its personal care business, according to a published report.

The Dutch conglomerate is in advanced talks with the maker of the Alberto VO5 brand, The Wall Street Journal said on its website Sunday, citing unnamed people familiar with the deal. The paper estimated the transaction could be worth up to $4 billion. Alberto Culver, based in Melrose Park, Ill., has a market capitalization of about $3.1 billion based on its $31.48 closing stock price Friday.

Messages left with Unilever and Alberto Culver were not immediately returned Sunday evening.

Alberto Culver makes hair-care products under the Nexxus, Alberto VO5 and TRESemme brands, as well as skincare lines Noxzema and St. Ives. The company had net sales of $1.44 billion in its last fiscal year.

Unilever owns blockbuster brands such as Dove, Vaseline, TIGI, Pond's and Axe, in addition to its food holdings including Ben & Jerry's and Lipton, and home care brands such as Surf and Sunlight. Last September it agreed to buy the soaps and personal care businesses of Sara Lee Corp. for $1.88 billion. The deal, which includes the Sanex and Duschdas brands, still awaits regulatory approval.

Unilever's personal care products became its largest unit in the latest quarter by product type, with a nearly 8 percent increase in revenue powered by sales of deodorants such as Degree in the U.S., Dove in Brazil and the relaunch of Rexona in Japan.

Chief Executive Paul Polman said last month that Unilever expects consumers to keep watching spending in Europe and North America, keeping down prices even as commodity costs increase.

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