Gwyneth Paltrow still likes a good vaginal steam. At a personal appearance at Credo, the “Tesla” of clean-beauty stores, Paltrow knowingly grins and suggests a “v-steam” when an audience member asks her to recommend an unusual beauty treatment. “Try it!” she smiles encouragingly.
Since she first started Goop.com, in 2008, and wrote about the merits of steaming your vagina like broccoli, Paltrow has become the patron saint of wellness and “wellthy” aspirational living. She’s know for praising the benefits of macrobiotic diets and green-beauty lip glosses, as well as touting the latest Valentino capsule collection. The word wellness has been around for years, but as Karen Behnke, Paltrow’s partner at Juice Beauty said, “She made [wellness] chic.” The Cut talked to Paltrow about being a trailblazer in the self-care movement, why wellness is so trendy right now, and why she continues to get such crazy beauty treatments.
How would you define wellness?
It’s an interesting question, because there’s a “wellness movement” people are talking about. For example, Target has a new wellness mandate. The idea is definitely in the Zeitgeist. In the most broad term, it’s this idea that each individual is striving towards a better-feeling version of their physical life.
How would you say health and science are involved with wellness?
Wellness is the movement towards health, whatever that means to you. [In science,] there are many ideas about medicine, and so many ways of achieving health with Western and Eastern medicine. Honestly, when it comes down to it, it’s very individual. It’s about what each person is hoping to achieve in their next level of health. It’s looking after yourself, being mindful about how you want to feel, and what you can do to achieve that end.
At a talk with the China Exchange, you said the world is “trending towards wellness.” What did you mean by that?
If you look at the data, consumers are pushing the markets toward the idea of wellness, and businesses are responding. The consumer is saying, “Hey, I want to feel better, I want to live in a cleaner way.” They’re the ones seeking the information. They’re the ones looking to bring wellness into the mainstream.
The culture is always evolving, and I think we’ve come to a place where we understand that we are responsible for our lives. There’s no miracle pill. Like, Oh, I have to participate in making my life the best it can be. With that responsibility comes this idea of, “How can I achieve that?” And there you have the wellness world.
In many ways, I think you made wellness something that people started talking about — or at least, made it cool.
When did you start using the word wellness?
I don’t know. We’ve talked a lot about health and wellness at Goop. I’ve always been interested in alternative ways of achieving this elusive wellness. I’ve been very experimental and I’ve tried all kinds of modalities, diets, and juices. I kind of like being the guinea pig for it all.
I remember when I started doing yoga 20 years ago, and people thought I was super weird and didn’t know what I was doing. It’s the same way with organic food or acupuncture. I was always the one saying “Hey, this is cool,” and people being like, “You’re super weird.” And now, yoga is … [Gestures big].
I’ve always been cutting the path in the exploration of how to live a long, healthy life. Unfortunately, when you lose a parent to cancer (and I had lost a cousin when I was very young) — you want to stave off illness, you want to embrace life and prolong your life. I’ve come from that place for a long time, because I’ve had illness in my family.
What made you want to explore these alternative wellness practices versus traditional or Western-type wellness practices?
When my father had his cancer surgery and radiation, it was so brutal. It was so hard to see him with things removed and stapled shut, and then the radiation ruined his salivary glands and his mouth. I thought, My God! At the time, I was reading a lot about alternative treatments. At stage-four cancer, it’s not necessarily the time to be like, Let’s try this experimental thing. It was more about, How can we prevent this from coming back, how can we heal you? Everybody does it their own way, but, I certainly would have said, “Hey, why don’t you try homeopathy too, and let’s cross our fingers.” For some people that works.
At that same time, I started reading about how in older Chinese medicine, the word for medicine and food is the same. Then there came this idea that the way you eat and what you’re putting in your body can really affect your overall health.
I’m so thankful for medicine — modern medicine has saved my life, probably three times. But there are things to learn about: how can I achieve optimal health? What can I be eating? What can I be avoiding? What should I not be bathing in, or putting on my skin? Of course, I’m in the business of it [now]. The more I research, the scarier it is, and the more you want to get involved and talk about what you know.
[For example,] it’s actually quite scary that the beauty industry remains completely unregulated. It’s actually really dangerous. I’m sure that there’s going to be reform, there has to be — look at the lawsuits for baby powder. Everybody is starting to understand that, by and large, we have a completely unregulated market and the consumer wants to take matters into their own hands. That’s why the Honest Company is doing so well, it’s why Juice Beauty is doing so well.
What would you say to disbelievers about clean beauty to convince them to give it a try?
I feel like it’s not my job to try to convince. When people start to educate themselves people tend to migrate to cleaner products — that’s what I’ve experienced.
I was doing conventional products for my whole life. Then I started mixing it with clean. It was only really recently where I said, “Okay, that’s it.” I read the last piece of research and I was like, I’m out.
Are you totally clean beauty now for everything?
Yes, except for hair. Hair I find hard, but for the most part I’m pretty clean. My kind of vanity is clean.
For everything? Even your red-carpet appearances?
I try. I don’t like to limit what an artist does or has to use but I say, “This is my preference, here it is,” and I think they use a mix of stuff. Recently, they’ve been really impressed by the products, especially the foundations. But when I’m doing it myself, I use nontoxic products.
Do you feel like there’s also a luxury aspect with wellness?
Um — I haven’t really thought about it. Across all nontoxic products, there are all different kinds of price points. From the supply-chain standpoint, the more that nontoxic ingredients are available and made in bulk, the prices will go down. There’s always a luxury and mass market for anything and everything.
How do you decide what is clean in beauty?
I have a Head of Beauty [Blair Lawson] who is like a Nazi about ingredients. Between Karen [Behnke, founder of Juice Beauty] and Blair, I’ve been so educated over the course of the last year and a half. Sometimes I forget like, “Wait, on a scale of one to ten how bad is this for me?” I love the Goop clean-beauty shop because it is completely vetted. That’s also what’s great about [Credo Beauty.] If you have to be scanning all the ingredients in products, it’s really tough. [Karen] can do it. Blair can do, it but I always get confused. That’s why you have to rely on somebody much smarter, who knows it.
You’ve tried all of these unusual beauty treatments. What motivates you to continue trying them?
I have Goop.com, and we’ve sort of taken on the responsibility of trying all that stuff. And like I said, I actually really like being the guinea pig. Some of my other girls are guinea pigs for stuff, too, but I enjoy trying things. I don’t necessarily endorse all of them, but I like to try them and write about them. It makes for really good content [Smiles].
Do you ever laugh at yourself while you’re trying out these unique treatments, like v-steaming?
Oh, totally. The first time I tried v-steaming, I was like, This is insane. My friend Ben brought me and I was like, “You are out of your fucking mind. What is this?” But then by the end of it I was like, “This is so great.” Then I start to do research, and it’s been in Korean medicine for thousands of years and there are real healing properties. If I find benefit to it and it’s getting a lot of page views, it’s a win-win [Smiles].
This interview has been condensed and edited.