Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop is a snake-oil emporium for the age of e-commerce and one-percenters. There, you can purchase goods such as a $400 millennial-pink sweatshirt handstitched with the words “mother lover,” and find a recommendation for a coffee enema.
As a capstone to 2018, the Greater Goop Awards honored a company that seems a little pedestrian for Paltrow’s brand: CVS, the place where you can buy a fructose-laden beverage and then pick through the coupons on a mile-long receipt hoping for a deal on $7 face wash. But CVS was recognized for an admittedly Paltrowian move: Since 2017, it’s been taking steps to remove “chemicals of consumer concern” from its store brands, including CVS Health and Beauty 360. By the end of 2019, the brands’ goods, which include moisturizers, shampoos, and face wash, will be free from—as Goop and in turn the drugstore’s Twitter account put it—“toxins.”
Wait, what? “What toxins were in your products?” asked Jen Gunter, an OBGYN and New York Times columnist, on Twitter. Toxins, she pointed out, have a very specific definition: They’re poisonous substances made by an organism. What toxins were CVS goods harboring, Gunter wondered: “Snake venom? Botulinum toxin? If you can’t use a medical term correctly I don’t think anyone should be buying your products.” (Confusingly, toxic refers to anything causing disease, which depends a lot on how much of a substance you have: As science writer Christie Wilcox has pointed out, “you can have toxic amounts of water.”)
Of course, in Goop-land, toxin seems to mean any substance that the wellness industry and culture has decided will increase your risk of diseases or bring you into the new year anything short of your best self. In its annual detox diet, Goop lumps “unhealthful ingredients and toxins” together, implying that gluten and hydrogenated fats are along the lines of the stuff poison dart frogs use to defend themselves against predators.*
The actual list of stuff that CVS is ditching includes one or two good ideas. For example, the in-house brands will no longer use microbeads, little pieces of plastic sometimes found in face wash that can make their way into the water supply and can kill fish. They’re bad enough that Congress rightfully legislated that they be phased out of products (and they aren’t even effective at exfoliating anyway). But others are of less concern—like parabens, which are added to cosmetics to avoid microbial growth. While the preservative can technically mess with hormones, they’d have to be present in cosmetics in really high amounts to do so. And the alarming label toxin applies to neither of these things.
Though CVS used the language toxin on Twitter to tout its Greater Goop Award, that label seems to originated with Goop, not the company. A 2017 announcement from the company on the phase-out doesn’t include it. “As described in our press release, they are ‘chemicals of consumer concern,’ not toxins,” a spokesperson said in an email to Slate. “We apologize for using incorrect language in a tweet last month acknowledging our “Greater Goop Award.””
Still, that announcement suggest that the choice wasn’t science-based, so much as a move to court the cultural concept of health: “This move is part of our journey toward more sustainable products that satisfy consumer expectations.” The tweaks to their ingredients list is akin to them presenting other trendy offerings, like a charcoal foaming sheet mask or a make-up sponge shaped like a unicorn horn.
Correction, Jan. 11, 2019: This piece originally misstated that poison dart frogs “shoot” a toxin at their predators. They secrete it.