The Goop Lab: Paltrow, Profiteering and Psuedoscience

Lily Frost - Writer

If you haven't already seen the Netflix TV Series The Goop Lab with Gweneth Paltrow, Paltrow is the CEO of a company called Goop which is in their words a ‘modern lifestyle brand’. The series consists of six episodes where the Goop team go out in groups and explore topics that people, or more likely their readers, may be interested in. These topics are relatively controversial, resulting in an 18 certificate. Each episode explores one practice, they include: magic mushroom taking, cold-water shock therapy, female pleasure/masturbation, facial threading and vampire facials, energy fields and median readings.

From those topics mentioned, you may already be thinking that whilst the practices covered seem slightly non-conformist, the Goop team are exploring healthy spiritual practices that shouldnt be criticised, right? Wrong. Through this TV series and the actions of Goop itself, there are certain implications made about wellness and health that peddle pseudoscience as well as indicating that in order to experience the lifestyle they are showing off, you’re going to need a Paltrow-sized paycheck to get it. Before we go into these implications, in each episode they show this disclaimer, which is also shown on their website:

The Following Series is designed to entertain and inform - not provide medical advice. You should always consult your doctor when it comes to your personal health, or before you start any treatment.

‘Alternative Medicine’
On the Goop website, as well as expressed through the series, Paltrow and pals show several methods that fall under the ‘alternative medicine’ category. In the past, they have sold Psychic Vampire Repellent, Jade Eggs that are to be inserted into women’s vaginas and crystals which are meant to treat infertility, just to name a few. However, during the TV series, whilst it was never mentioned verbally, there is an implication that these alternative medicines are in fact superior to trialled and tested ~ real ~ medicines.

This can be seen in episode two which is called Cold Comfort, where members of the team follow Wim Hof, a dutch athlete who has set records for swimming under ice and completes barefoot marathons on ice and snow. The team go on a two day trip to experience cold-water shock therapy for themselves. One woman, Kate expressed that she had been diagnosed with a panic disorder and wanted to try out this therapy to control her condition. One of the exercises was to jump into freezing Lake Tahoe in California. When reflecting on this months later, she states, ‘I haven't had a panic attack since’. This seems to implicate that this ‘alternative medicine’ has in fact cured her medical disorder. However, the viewer is none the wiser of any other factors that could have impacted that result, including any prescribed medicine. Even if, incredibly, this practice has in fact cured her panic disorder, it seems irresponsible to promote a sole ‘alternative medicine’ as a way of treating a serious condition.

crystal gemstones

This episode also demonstrates the lack of safety measures put in place for trying this therapy. Nowhere in this episode do they mention any kind of danger or validity of Wim Hof’s methods. Scientist, Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt suggested that ‘[Hof’s] scientific vocabulary is galimatias. With conviction, he mixes in a nonsensical way, scientific terms as irrefutable evidence’. Whilst this is describing Wim Hof himself, it also rings true for Goop and the TV series. The conviction Hof uses when discussing his methods have proven to be dangerous and even fatal, as it resulted in other people attempting these techniques at a risk to themselves. On July 18th yoga instructor Aaron Pappas was practicing the technique and tragically drowned during the practice and later died in hospital. Another fatality occurred in 2017 when Yoav Timmer died whilst meditating in a freezing cold river. Assuming that Goop researched his methods and also the danger posed when doing them, you need to question why they thought to explore his practice without mentioning any potential dangers of this ‘alternative’ practice. Furthermore, it highlights whether they considered that getting a group of people saying how his methods changed their lives for the better may encourage at best an unbacked scientific method and at worst a potentially life threatening practice.

False Scientific Claims
To say that Goop sells quackery that falls under the umbrella of ‘wellness’ for an extortionate price would be legitimate. Many of the products they sell claim wellness or health benefits, which often have, ‘consult your doctor before use if...’ disclaimers. Goop have even landed themselves in hot water after selling Jade Eggs that are inserted into women’s vaginas, whilst claiming that they could ‘balance hormones, regulate menstrual cycles, prevent uterine prolapse and increase bladder control’. Not to mention that they sold these eggs for $66 per egg. Goop was sued for false advertising and Gweneth Paltrow settled with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office for $145,000 and reimbursed any customer who bought it. However, they do still sell these eggs but instead say that they ‘‘harness the power of energy work, crystal healing, and a Kegel-like physical practice”. So, temporarily ignoring the false advertising, scientifically, what is to be said about these eggs? Women’s Health advisor, Dr White stated that:

 "The eggs are porous and can absorb bacteria, which means it's not possible to fully clean them in between each use. So when you insert the egg into your vagina after the first use, you're literally putting bacteria back into your body." 

Wellness products and services that aren't scientifically backed are also peddled on The Goop Lab. In episode four, The Health Span Plan, the Goop team experimented with facial acupuncture, facial threading and vampire facials. Gweneth herself chooses to partake in a vampire facial which ‘draws the Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) from a patient's own blood and needles it into their face’. So, is it scientifically backed and safe? You guessed it, no. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared some medical devices used in PRP procedures, but has not approved the treatment for cosmetic use. Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr Lawrence Koplin added that, ‘There are not reliable studies showing that platelets are useful in healing tissue, and PRP’s original function as sports injury therapy has still not been proven effective’. In relation to safety, in the United States there are currently no standard regulations about administering such procedures. Furthermore, the treatment can be offered at beauty salons where there are no qualified medical professionals present. As a direct result of the lack of FDA approval, in 2018 two vampire facial customers at a VIP spa in Albuquerque contracted HIV. The state’s investigation showed that there is a likelihood that, ‘the two HIV infections may have resulted from a procedure at the VIP spa’. So again, we are seeing Goop investigating, so in some way legitimising a practice that is not only scientifically questionable, but also non FDA approved and potentially dangerous due to the lack of regulation.

Paltrow Pricing
In this article we have looked at a few of the practices, products and services that Goop have shown on the TV series and on their website. So just to get an idea of how much it would put you out to buy a scientifically unbacked, potentially harmful product, let's have a look at the Goop website. As I mentioned earlier, the medically questionable Jade egg is still being sold on their website. To buy one of these bacteria enhancing eggs would cost you $60. Notably, Goop has also sold a candle named, ‘this smells like my [Paltrow’s] vagina’ for a whopping $75. In the past they have also sold a platine casserole dish that would put you out $835. Lastly, in the past they sold an ‘Olga Vibrator’ dildo for $3,490. In response to these prices, Paltrow released a statement saying, ‘We aren't a super luxury site but we're aspirational’. Unsurprisingly these ‘aspirational’ prices are synchronized with the services shown/promoted on the series. For example,  in the Wim Hof episode the team did a two day expedition. Currently on his website, his expeditions start at €2199.00. If you were inspired by vampire facials and wanted to try it, the prices range from roughly $900 to $2,500 per facial.

So we can clearly see through the TV series The Goop Lab but also through the actions of the company as a whole that they imply that ‘alternative medicine’ can be a perfectly good alternative to real medicine. By displaying practices that have no scientific evidence to back them up and telling viewers how that particular practice cured a medical condition, changed their lives or even benefited them in some way is outright dangerous. In many cases the practices have no regulations in place to prevent potential harm and in a few cases have directly caused life altering problems or death. By presenting these practices in this way, Goop, Paltrow and the team are peddling pseudoscience that a viewer can achieve in exchange for a lump sum. The overall feeling you're left with after watching The Goop Lab is that in order to achieve optimal health and wellness, you’ll need an arm and a leg to get it.

Of course some of the methods have been  proven to work for some people, however it is crystal clear that the methods need far more studies and testing to be done. A small control group and their experiences can not count as scientific evidence to show these methods are effective and safe. There are also variables which would show a bias of some kind, for example the fact that the studies are taken in a controlled environment and the subjects are all employees so therefore have some level of a vested interest in these methods to work. Additionally, anecdotes about how well these methods have been received can’t pass as concrete fact. By providing a one sided account and refusing to include any kind of criticism or studies which prove otherwise is harmful to viewers who are solely receiving a rose tinted approach to these unscientifically backed, potentially dangerous methods.

If you haven't yet watched The Goop Lab, enjoy it with a large portion of salt. If after watching you want to try out any of the practices or products shown, please first consult with your doctor.

Netflix Original The Goop Lab with Gweneth Paltrow


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