Goop Gives A Bad Name To Alternative Medicine

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s newsletter-turned-lifestyle brand Goop - a self-described “curious, open-minded and service-centric” company - has been no stranger to controversy since its inception more than a decade ago.

By Gwen Farrell3 min read
Shutterstock/Ron Adar

The brand is well-known for marketing to minimalistic, health-minded millennials through clean living recipes and skincare regimens, but it seems more preoccupied with advancing pseudoscience, alongside hefty price tags.

Expensive and Questionable Products

The brand, and Paltrow herself, have garnered criticism from the likes of consumer rights groups and the medical community for, among other things, selling jade eggs for strengthening Kegel muscles (at $66), as well as “psychic vampire repellent” (a glorified blend of essential oils) and “wearable stickers that promote healing” ($60 for a pack of ten). Recently, the brand introduced a $75 candle labeled “this smells like my vagina” (actually scented with bergamot, cedar, and geranium), which sold out within days.

The brand has come under fire for promoting so-called alternative health practices.

While these products might seem useful for those with more…unique ideas about boosting health and wellness (who also have money to burn), the brand has come under fire for promoting so-called alternative health practices. The aforementioned jade egg, which the company advertised under the guise of benefitting menstrual cycles and strengthening the pelvic floor, has been rejected by countless women’s health practitioners and medical professionals. Dr. Jen Gunter, an OB/GYN and outspoken critic of Goop’s claims, explains that the porousness of the jade could potentially lead to bacterial vaginosis, an infection caused by increased bacterial growth (not mentioned by the brand, of course).

The company also promoted a supposedly-ancient practice called “earthing,” wherein the practitioner walks barefoot in order to realign electrons with the earth’s magnetic field - with the potential to affect everything from simple backaches to relieving depression and anxiety (yes, really). Paltrow herself has discussed the practice (though not in-depth) on the talk show circuit, though it has since been debunked by the likes of spiritualists and psychologists.

A Trustworthy Source?

During a 2017 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel, Paltrow stated, “One of the things we like to do on Goop is find what the alternative world says about feeling good in the modern-day world.” An admirable endeavor, to be fair. She then followed up with, “I don’t know what the f--k we talk about.” How reassuring!

The brand has a cohort of doctors (named the “Science and Regulatory Wellness” team) who research and sign off on the validity of their products, using “evidence-based approaches.” Two doctors in particular, Dr. Steven Gundry and Dr. Aviva Romm, both M.D.s, released a statement in the wake of the jade egg controversy, saying that their research and input, which harnesses both “Western and Eastern modalities and incorporates the best from both,” empowers consumers to make the best decisions for their health and wellbeing.

Dr. Gundry clarified that the jade egg practice helped “legions” of women feel more “empowered” and in tune with their sexuality. Those initial claims concerning the jade egg specifically, as well as an essential oil blend and a quartz vaginal egg, resulted in a $145,000 settlement with California prosecutors who questioned the accuracy of the “scientific” backing which was used to advertise the products.

These claims resulted in a $145,000 settlement over the accuracy of the “scientific” backing which was used to advertise the products.

Criticism appeared with renewed intensity when Netflix announced its forthcoming series The goop Lab (launching January 24). The show will explore the brand’s creative process, which critics have described as everything from “junk science” to “very, very dull.” The show’s trailer, which reveals an inside look at Paltrow’s shiny workspace comprised of vibrantly-dressed, fresh-faced employees, isn’t enough to erase the past controversies. As recently as November 2019, Goop published a Q&A article which advocated bloodletting as a treatment for Lyme disease, and in 2017, NASA representatives refuted Goop’s claim that their healing stickers were made with NASA-grade carbon material.

Damaging the Reputation of Legitimate Alternative Medicine

While Paltrow’s basic motivations are interesting, especially in a culture where people are turning in increasing numbers to alternative medicine, there’s a fine line between recommending authentic, genuine remedies and just peddling snake oil.

When Goop releases costly, purposeless products that they brand as essential to an alternative-health lifestyle, they severely damage the reputation of authentically safe and effectual holistic medicine. Not only that, they falsely promote the idea that alternative health is expensive and therefore only accessible to a select few. Nothing could be further from the truth - and it’s Paltrow’s and her brand’s responsibility to clarify that.

They falsely promote the idea that alternative health is expensive and therefore only accessible to a select few.

The scientific community has proven to us that countless holistic methods are as effective as Western medicine and just as affordable. In a culture where taking charge of your own health can often be discouraged or not taken seriously, it’s the duty of brands such as Paltrow’s to empower their customers not to simply buy an expensive “wellness” item, but also to encourage them to research the claims and practices which could potentially affect their wellbeing.

Closing Thoughts

In the wake of warranted criticism from both consumers and medical professionals, countless articles and studies debunking many of the brand’s product claims, lawsuit settlements, and more, it’s intriguing that Netflix has chosen now to partner with the company for this documentary series. What remains to be seen is if the series will give merely a glossy portrait of a successful female entrepreneur, or if it will reveal the truth behind Goop.