When Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop opened its first bricks-and-mortar store in Canada on Friday, federal health inspectors were among the first to file in through the door. As a result, two of its beauty products were pulled from the lifestyle and wellness brand’s shelves.
In a statement to CBC News, Health Canada said its inspectors visited the Toronto store and identified two Beautycounter sunscreen products — which the company says uses “natural ingredients” and no “questionable chemicals” — that were not approved for sale in Canada.
Goop, which voluntarily removed the products from the shelf, has not yet responded to a request for comment but on its website says it follows a set of “good manufacturing practices,” “thoroughly substantiates” the claims it makes and requires heavy metal testing on products.
Under Health Canada regulations, in order to be legally sold in Canada all natural health products must undergo testing to make sure they don’t contain any harmful ingredients or anything that’s not on the label. Once approved, those products are assigned a Natural Health Number, which appears on the label.
But, while the rules for selling natural health products are very strict for storefronts, as Goop discovered, they are significantly more lax when it comes to online sales.
Thanks to a loophole in Health Canada regulations, Goop can sell the same natural health products that aren’t permitted for sale in its shop on its website.
CBC News successfully ordered two product lines from goop.com that are not licensed for sale in Canada. According to Health Canada, consumers can purchase unapproved natural health products online and ship to Canada so long as they are for personal use.
Health Canada needs to do more, doctor says
That worries Dr. Jen Gunter, an outspoken critic of Goop and natural health products that make unsubstantiated claims.
“Many studies also tell us that these products don’t always contain what they say. Sometimes they are adulterated,” Gunter said.
Gunter warns Canadians who buy unapproved natural health products may be taking an unnecessary risk.
“Maybe they contain an antidepressant or they contain something that could interact with a medication that you’re on, and you could have a drug reaction,” Gunter said.
“Some of these things also could interfere with your medication and maybe you’re on a drug for epilepsy, and maybe it’s gonna make that less effective. Maybe you could have a seizure.”
Gunter says Health Canada needs to do more when it comes to monitoring online sales of natural health products.
“I think Health Canada should be stepping up. If protecting Canadians matters, then it should matter for all the potential sources that people could be exposed to these products.”
Health Canada did not respond to CBC News’s questions about the loophole.
‘A little alarming’
At Goop’s Toronto store, some shoppers were surprised to learn of the loophole.
“I assumed everything had an approval process,” said Rita Leifhebber. “That’s a little alarming. But I guess it’s up to the consumer to protect themselves.”
Candace Zwicker said she shops a lot online and didn’t know about the loophole.
“So knowing that now I would not shop it online,” Zwicker said. “There should definitely be regulations on that.”
Her mother Gloria Zwicker agreed.
“I would not want to buy anything online and feel safer buying if I am buying it here in the store and it did go through Canadian eyes.”
Since January 2015, Health Canada has approved 34,443 natural health products for sale in Canada. Even after a health product is approved for sale, the agency follows up with product testing to make sure it is safe. But not every health product meets the grade.
Since 2004, Health Canada says roughly 1,900 natural health products are rejected for sale in Canada every year.
Health Canada doesn’t just regulate natural health products, it has also fielded more than 300 complaints about how those products are marketed since 2014.