The Scoop On Goop
Between her film career and beauty/wellness company, Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow gets her fair share of news coverage. Her fans love her, although lately, she’s been getting some bad press. Recently there was a piece in the Daily News reporting that Goop is under attack for claims being made on its website.
But, it’s unfair.
TINA.org (Truth in Advertising) is the organization taking aim at Goop and Gwenyth, their mission, ostensibly to enforce “truth in advertising.” You get the feeling by reading their verbiage that they are all about protecting the consumer. But I’m not buying it.
Specifically, TINA.org is accusing Goop.com of misleading customers when they state that their product or lifestyle tips have:
"The, ability to treat, cure, prevent, alleviate the symptoms of, or reduce the risk of developing a number of ailments without the science required by law to back it up."
This has nothing to do with the actual truth. What this is really about are laws and loopholes.
I took a spin through Goop.com after looking at the some of the skincare products TINA.org is questioning. I didn’t have to look at more than one to come up with questions of my own – about them.
First, it’s worth looking at how claims work.
Using words such as “help,” “appearance” or “may” is legal regardless of whether it is actually true or not. So you can have a cream that “helps prevent the appearance of wrinkles,” but you can’t say, it “will” prevent the actual wrinkles. Listen for this in ads. You’ll hear it all the time.
While companies can’t claim actual, quantifiable results on a product unless actual tests are run, they can run that test with a mere sample size of 20 or 30 people. I’ve seen large companies tout “90% of women studied globally reported improved texture (or whatever, wrinkles, firmness, evenness, etc…) in their skin,” The sample size was 18 women.
So we’re talking like 16.2 women around the world thought their skin was more moist when they put on company X’s moisturizer. It’s kind of a joke, especially if those women weren’t using moisturizer prior to the study. So, yes, that claim was probably true, but broken down, it was like 1 woman in the US. Imagine an ad that claimed 1 woman in the US got results! So, companies leave the sample size out and hope you’ll conclude on your own that a global study must have had hundreds, if not thousands, of participants.
Companies can’t make a quantifiable claim that a product will reduce, minimize or improve something by a percentage unless it has been scientifically supported. The industry has created all kinds of measurement instruments designed to quantify things like wrinkle depth and length, elasticity, pore size, moisture levels, etc… These instruments are how companies document and support their claims.
This makes it hard for companies that don’t have huge R&D budgets to explain what their products do. But more importantly, these budgets are inextricably tied to marketing, which is inextricably tied to sales. I was in the beauty business for many years and there is a lot of pressure to sell. The problem is that it all starts with marketing claims, not research. So as long as a company provides its own research to support a claim, pretty much, anything goes.
Companies can’t use the words cure or heal, even though there are many natural ingredients that have been shown to do just that. Formulas themselves must be tested and proven before claims can me made.
There is no regulation on before and after photos. So when you see those crow’s feet vanish? Another trick. I’ve seen companies take a close up of the eye area with a woman smiling to crinkle up the skin around her eye and then shoot the after with her face relaxed. Wrinkles gone!
Dermatologist tested, ophthalmologist tested, hypo-allergenic are claims paid for by companies. They are meaningless. Anyone can react to anything. Plus, those products being tested are laden with toxic chemicals, for which long-term effects are not being tested. So what does tested by a doctor really mean? Nothing, more than more marketing tricks and claims that are paid for.
Companies cannot claim any physiological change to the skin/body. If you claim such a change is produced by your product, you have to classify it as a drug, which has its own set of rules that are far more rigorous than cosmetic regulations.
For example, deodorant does not alter any bodily function, but antiperspirants do. Therefore, only antiperspirants fall into the drug category. Cosmetics can’t claim to affect anything beneath the first layer of skin, like sweat glands, for instance. Those glands are under the top layer, and because of that, companies can’t claim that a product can affect capillaries, hair follicles, circulation, inflammation, sebum production, etc... It implies “change” to a biological function that occurs beneath the surface layer of the skin, which would automatically classify them into over-the-counter/drug.
Back in the day when I was working in the industry, we couldn't use words like “stimulate” because it indicated an effect on circulation, which is in the blood vessels, which is underneath the top layer of the skin. We couldn't say our product could reduce oil production (a physiological change) but we could say it absorbed oil because that happens on the surface.
Despite that, the other day I saw a deodorant claiming to feed the body with magnesium, positioning it as a vital nutrient you can get through your armpits. The company suggests that by using their deodorant you are providing nutrition (as if you ate and swallowed it) to your body. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a claim worth looking into. Without some explanation -and tests- about how the magnesium is penetrating the skin and getting into the bloodstream, there is reason to suspect its veracity.
Companies can make claims that aren’t technically true. Take soybean oil, for example. You can actually have a product that is made from genetically modified soybeans, yet a company can claim the oil from those beans is soy-free and gmo-free. They say it’s because the oil is heated so high (“refined”) that the soy proteins are no longer detectable. That’s legal. In my opinion though, it’s not true. If it was made out of GMO soybeans, then it’s soy. As a consumer, you will never know this.
Another one, and then I’ll stop, because this could go on forever. Companies can claim no animal testing even if the ingredients were tested on animals. How? A company other than the one putting the label on it does the testing. So you can have a product with an ingredient, or ingredients, that had been tested on animals with a label that says “Not tested on animals.”
The industry operates with these and many other regulatory standards that obviously, have nothing to do with the truth. But, more importantly, they apply to manufacturing. Retailers, like Goop.com, are not typically accountable for the claims made on products. Manufacturers are. They produce it, they research it, they formulate it. Then they sell it to a retailer, presumably in good faith. (Read my post about what happened with Leucidal – the so-called “natural” preservative.)
Every time a manufacturer sells its wares to a retailer, the onus is on the manufacturer to provide the product information. Retailers don’t just make it up. This raises a big question about why TINA.org would go after Goop. The products on Goop (the ones I looked at) are also on Neiman Marcus.com and sold through other retailers as well. So why aren’t they all being targeted? Or why have the manufacturers not been asked to adjust their claims according to the laws that apply to them.
Everyday I see products with labels that say “natural” on the front and go on to list synthetic chemicals on the back. So let’s not delude ourselves into believing this had anything to do with the truth. If it did, the companies who flat-out lie would be on the hit list of an organization that calls itself “Truth in Advertising.”
Meanwhile, Goop is at least trying to provide alternatives for people who want to live healthier lives and avoid using the toxic products inundating every aspect of our lives 24 hours a day. As for TINA.org, it should either go after the companies that blatantly lie or it should change its name.
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