‘Unqualified peddler of woo’: Gwyneth Paltrow event sparks customer revolt at beauty retailer Mecca

Announcing an event with an international A-lister on the lineup may seem like an impressive get for an Australian retailer. However, when beauty behemoth Mecca announced Gwyneth Paltrow as the keynote speaker at their virtual wellness summit, Mecca Life, their usually loyal customers revolted.

“Paltrow and Goop peddle enormous amounts of misinformation and make money by preying on women’s insecurities,” the cardiothoracic surgeon and author Dr Nikki Stamp wrote on the event’s Facebook page. “Every time we endorse this behaviour, we allow it to continue. Mecca has always been a champion for women so now, when women are at risk, will you step up to the plate and cancel this terrible event? Or will you let Australian women be further exposed to her nonsense?”

“Selling makeup is one thing, but peddling woo like this is another,” said another person among the 300-plus comments. Woo, an Australian slang term for scientifically dubious, new age-adjacent beliefs or practices, was a common theme. “I’ll be taking my business elsewhere if you continue to peddle this dangerous woo,” one commenter agreed, while a third described Paltrow as “an unqualified peddler of woo”.

With each scroll, more and more customers shared the same sentiment: “What in the bee-venom therapy, vaginal-egg-healing pseudoscience are you peddling here?”

Mecca has stocked Paltrow’s controversial wellness brand, Goop, for less than six months. In 2018, Goop settled a lawsuit for selling jade eggs marketed for vaginal insertion. Paltrow has also confessed to being purposefully stung by bees, promoted vaginal steaming, and this week confirmed her Covid-delayed “Goop cruise” is back on the agenda.

But her notoriety intensified at the start of April, thanks to a Vogue video in which she applied sunscreen like a highlighter, commenting: “I’m not a sort of head-to-toe slatherer of sunscreen, but I like to put some kind of on my nose and the area where the sun really hits.”

To ensure an SPF’s efficacy, you need to use around one teaspoon for your face and neck, or seven teaspoons for your entire body.

The internet, and dermatologists, slammed the video. Advanced aesthetician and UK “skinfluencer” Caroline Hirons led the charge, noting Paltrow “has 7.5 million followers on Instagram”. US Vogue has nearly 10 million subscribers on YouTube and millions more on Facebook and Instagram.

“This SPF section may have done more to set back the proper use of SPF, especially among the 18-34 demographic, since the prevalent use of sunbeds in the 80s,” Hirons said.

Mecca, the only Australian stockist of Goop, told Guardian Australia it booked Paltrow for its virtual event before the Vogue video popped up. “In addition, at Mecca we have always been advocates of the importance of wearing SPF,” a spokesperson stated, pointing to Goop’s statement on the sunscreen backlash.

“Gwyneth applies sunscreen to her entire face, though the video is edited down for timing’s sake and does not show the full application,” Goop said. “We’re huge proponents of SPF at Goop and always advise that people should consult their dermatologists to find out what is right for them.”

Mecca is one of the largest players in Australia’s multibillion-dollar beauty market. The retailer has a strong reputation for customer relationship management and digital innovation. There are 41,200 members in the brand’s Facebook Group “Mecca Chit Chat”, swapping recommendations, bonding over beauty, and discussing the customer loyalty program’s quarterly sample boxes.

But some commenters claimed this event was a step too far for the brand. Makeup artist Bridie Waretini told Guardian Australia she shops at both Mecca and its main rival, Sephora, but “I care more about ethics and will no longer be shopping with Mecca if the event continues”. Another member, a 33-year-old nurse agreed, promising to “let my family and friends know why I feel they should avoid” Mecca.

Despite the critiques, Mecca defended their decision to include Paltrow in their event. On Facebook, the brand stated: “Beauty and wellness mean different things to different people … Our schedule [of events to launch Mecca Life] has been carefully curated to offer something new, interesting and innovative for everyone.”

Many of those complaining made reference to their status in Mecca’s Beauty Loop loyalty program. Jo, a 39-year-old “tier two” member (meaning she spends between $600-$1,200 with the company annually) told Guardian Australia Mecca’s response “didn’t address anyone’s concerns”. Paltrow’s “quackery” doesn’t deserve a platform, she said, and she won’t shop at Mecca anymore if the event goes ahead. “I personally think they’ll have no choice but to cancel it.”

But Mecca is holding its ground. “The statement we provided on social media still reflects our position on this event,” the spokesperson said. “We are committed to the event going ahead for the reasons outlined in our statement, which is to provide our customers with a variety of perspectives on beauty and wellness.”

Mecca Life’s second keynote event is a panel hosted by Australian of the Year Grace Tame.