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Under Scrutiny, Goop Embraces Science

Facing years of claims that it peddles pseudoscience, Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop is hiring real scientists to test and set guidelines for the products it sells. On the agenda: vetting the cosmic powers of 'Brain Dust.'
Assorted Goop products | Source: Goop.com
By
  • Cathaleen Chen

NEW YORK, United States — Goop figured out how to sell magically charged stones and powders that allegedly make you smarter and healthier. Now, it's taking on a new challenge: how to scientifically vet these claims.

The wellness company founded by Gwyneth Paltrow has hired a team of scientists to vet the claims made about products sold on its website and in its editorial content. The goal is “full transparency” in the next six to 12 months, starting with Goop’s branded label products, said Dr. Susan Beck, a nutritional scientist who joined the company two months ago as senior vice president for science and research.

Goop has grown to be a $250 million business since Paltrow founded the concept in 2008, according to people familiar with the company. Last year, its e-commerce operation doubled in sales. Its success was in part built on viral posts promoting the health merits of alternative practices such as "earthing," or walking barefoot, and vaginal steaming. These endorsements drew ire from medical health professionals and sceptics in the media. But unsubstantiated claims pose a potential liability as Goop harbours high ambitions to add product lines, expand overseas, and venture into physical retail. In July, The New York Times reported that Goop's lack of fact-checking standards contributed to end of its relationship with Condé Nast.

“We want to be absolutely bullet-proof as people now look more carefully as to what we’re doing,” Goop chief content officer Elise Loehnen said.

The Goop research team’s first task was setting standards for disclosing ingredients in the company’s own products, such as dietary supplements. Those guidelines will be extended to third-party products over the next six to 12 months. Ingestible wellness products — such as vitamins and herbal supplements — will be subject to more vigorous testing, and a slate of new products whose claims have not been properly documented are on hold as they go through the vetting process.

We want to be absolutely bullet-proof as people now look more carefully as to what we're doing.

While no existing products have been removed, certain wording in the descriptions of products have been taken out. These available products are also undergoing the vetting process, according to Beck, and their descriptions could be further tweaked to make the claims more accurate. If a product cannot prove its health benefits, Goop will work with the supplier to conduct the necessary testing, or even remove an item altogether.

For example, Moon Juice’s “Brain Dust,” which sells for $38 per 1.5-ounce jar, is described as having the ability to “align you with the mighty cosmic flow needed for great achievement." In 2016, Goop was investigated by a unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus for claiming the product “helps regulate vital energy,” “encourages healthy metabolic function,” and “maintains healthy systems for superior cognitive flow, clarity, memory, creativity, alertness and the capacity to handle stress.” Goop has since voluntarily ceased to advertise these latter claims and is in the process of working with Moon Juice to further elucidate its product description and show proof of the supposed effects.

Loehnen said Goop’s new emphasis on research is an extension of how the company has always operated. “We’re more equipped now to do what we always intended to do, which is to surface the best information … [and ask] lingering questions that many women have that they are unable to understand from a health perspective,” she said.

Paltrow, on the other hand, calls it a “necessary growing pain,” she told The New York Times in July.

The US Food and Drug Administration already requires testing for harmful ingredients, such as lead, but does not mandate any specific methods, according to Dr. Tod Cooperman, founder of ConsumerLab.com, a publisher of test results of nutrition products. Without enforcement, companies can get away with tests that are simple and “very forgiving to show a product has 100 percent of what it says,” he said.

He added that Goop isn’t the only wellness retailer to adopt its own set of health standards, "but it’s a very good thing they’re affirming quality measures” considering the deluge of attention that the company receives.

Dr. Beck said Goop can help bring standards to the wellness industry.

“At this point, it’s almost impossible for consumers to tell what’s actually in the bottle,” Dr. Beck said. “That’s why transparency is so critical. We are going to educate our consumers on what we test for, and why, as well as post our test results, which is something the FDA doesn’t require and most companies do not reveal to their consumers.”

Goop’s new testing protocol will ensure that every product it sells is tested for heavy metals, allergens, microbials and pesticides. Goop now requires vendors to submit all testing documents, as well as evidence of health claims for review by the in-house research team. Goop will work with vendors to resolve any shortcomings before selling the product, according to Dr. Beck.

Rigorous testing isn’t without its own controversy. For example, Goop is now testing for glyphosate residue, an ingredient in Roundup, a widely used herbicide. Earlier this month, a US District Court judge ordered Roundup maker Monsanto to pay $289 million to a man who alleges the ingredient helped cause his cancer. However, while the World Health Organisation has labelled glysophate a likely carcinogen, US and European regulators say it is safe.

"It was really reassuring and also very validating to know that this is where they’ll be taking Goop," said Ara Katz, co-founder and co-chief executive of Seed, a probiotics company and the only vendor to complete Goop's new vetting process so far. Probiotics is lightly regulated, she added, so "it's quite rare to have a company that's doing [this] kind of diligence on products like ours."

With Dr. Beck and her team in place, Goop will also begin to focus its editorial content on scientific studies, according to Loehnen. “We’re working on some content initiatives … looking at research that gets buried, that’s germane to our audience,” she said.

In the meantime, Dr. Beck is looking to hire several more staff members to join her team.

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