Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop is one of the most controversial (and most lucrative) health and wellness brands going, but the fuss has been largely confined to the US – until now. The company has been reported for breaching UK advertising regulations.
Goop opened its first UK store in west London's Notting Hill in September and ships items from its online store to Europe, so it was only a matter of time before European sceptics began asking questions.
Last week, the brand was referred to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and National Trading Standards for making 113 misleading statements by the Good Thinking Society, a UK-based charity that promotes scientific thinking. The charity accuses Goop of making "misleading and potentially dangerous claims", including to expectant mothers.
• The Mother Load (£88), a "top-of-the-line natal protocol" marketed to women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant. According to its ingredients list, the product contains 110% of the recommended daily value of vitamin A for adults. This is despite the NHS and World Health Organisation warning pregnant women against taking supplements containing vitamin A because of the potential risk of "harm[ing] your unborn baby".
• Sun protection products costing up to £45. The site claims there to be "little evidence to support the (many) claims that sunscreen helps prevent cancer." This is in direct contrast to assertions from the British Association of Dermatologists, which state: "A sunscreen with a high SPF (sun protection factor) will help block UVB rays and prevent the skin from burning, and by extension damage that can cause skin cancer."
Laura Thomason, project leader at the Good Thinking Society, told Refinery29 the charity was prompted to report the company after watching Gwyneth Paltrow’s recent BBC Breakfast News interview, "when she dismissed critics’ accusations that Goop promotes pseudoscience and said 'any time you try to move the needle, to empower women, you find resistance.' I then visited the website and found it was full of misleading, pseudoscientific content, some of which I believe could be potentially harmful.
"Advertisers must abide by advertising law," Thomason added, saying the charity hopes "Goop will stop making misleading advertising claims and that any potentially harmful products are removed from sale."
The charity outlined the dangers of people, particularly women, believing unproven health claims. "Our complaints highlighted some very specific potential dangers, such as the risk of vitamin A to unborn babies and the risk of not using sunscreen. Other critics have highlighted specific dangers associated with the use of vaginal 'eggs'," Thomason added, referring to the $145,000 the company was forced to pay out in a US lawsuit over unscientific claims about its vaginal eggs.
Being misled by unproven health claims is the very opposite of empowerment
Laura Thomason, project leader at the Good Thinking Society
"We are also concerned about the indirect risks of disregarding the need for evidence and of presenting alternative medicine in a glamorous light. We often hear of tragic cases where patients are persuaded to ignore their doctors’ advice and to instead follow the advice of alternative healers, making very dangerous health decisions."
The Good Thinking Society also wants to deter other brands from making potentially dangerous claims that have no scientific backing. "We hope that any media attention will discourage other advertisers from making similar claims, and will also help raise awareness among the general public regarding the issues."
Thomason believes the public are inclined to believe health claims made by public figures like Paltrow because "although celebrities don’t necessarily have any relevant training or knowledge of health issues, we nevertheless have a tendency to look up to them and are more likely to trust them, or even to see them as role models."
She continued: "It can be tempting to buy into health and beauty advice given by a successful – and healthy and beautiful! – Hollywood actor, particularly if she also talks of female empowerment. However, being misled by unproven health claims is the very opposite of empowerment."
In a recent blogpost, the eminent Goop critic Dr Jen Gunter, a gynaecologist, obstetrician and vaginal health expert, reviewed 161 of the company's wellness products and found that "the majority of health products (90%) could not be supported by science."
"There is no evidence to support Gwyneth Paltrow’s claim that Goop is free of pseudoscience," Gunter concluded, referring to Paltrow's recent claims on BBC News. "In fact the opposite is true, Goop is a classic example of pseudoscience profiteering. The bulk of their products are useless, but some could be harmful."
In a statement to Refinery29, Dr Susan Beck, senior vice president of science and research at Goop, said the Mother Load supplements are safe during pregnancy "when used as recommended". She continued that it "contains a very moderate 450 mcg (1500 IU) of vitamin A (preformed vitamin A as retinyl palmitate), which is less than the recommended daily intake of 600 mcg per day (per NHS).
"The 4000 IU beta-carotene included in Mother Load is only converted in the body to vitamin A as needed, and there is no safety concern for eating this, as there would be no safety concern for eating a large number of carrots containing beta-carotene. The Mother Load package contains a warning that pregnant women should not consume more than 10,000 IU vitamin A daily due to risk of birth defects."