Health Canada pulls 2 sunscreen products from Goop's 1st Canadian store
Loophole allows Canadians to buy same unapproved products online
When American actress Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop lifestyle and wellness business 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 shelves.
Inspectors visited the Toronto store and identified two Beautycounter brand sunscreen products — which the company says use "natural ingredients" and no "questionable chemicals" — that were not approved for sale in Canada, Health Canada said in a statement to CBC News.
Goop, which voluntarily removed the products from the shelf, said in a statement Saturday afternoon that the problem was not with the product, but with the packaging.
Goop started in 2008 as a lifestyle advice newsletter written by Paltrow, who has starred in Hollywood hits such as Shakespeare in Love, Iron Man, the Avengers series and The Talented Mr. Ripley. It has since grown into a multimillion-dollar business selling products and advice related to beauty, wellness, food, travel and even fashion.
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.
Health Canada's rules on sunscreen say products cannot be called "sunblock" because nothing completely blocks the sun.
"We learned that two sunscreens with U.S. packaging from a third-party brand were inadvertently sent to Canada," Goop said in the statement. "Canadian regulations require different packaging. The product itself is compliant with Canadian regulations and is the same formula as sold in the U.S. The packaging issue has been fixed, and we have reached out to Health Canada to ensure our entire assortment exceeds their standards."
Online rules more lax
While the rules for selling natural health products are very strict for storefronts, 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 as long as they are for personal use.
Health Canada needs to do more, doctor says
That worries Dr. Jen Gunter, a Winnipeg-born, U.S.-based obstetrician-gynecologist who has been an outspoken critic of Goop's unsubstantiated claims about its natural health products.
"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 products were subject to different rules in store.
"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.
The agency doesn't just regulate natural health products; it has also fielded more than 300 complaints about how those products are marketed since 2014.