Well-Washed: Complicated Corruption in the Trillion Dollar Wellness Industry 

Daisy Koffler

Astrology, spirits, and healing methods have always intrigued me. I liked that meditation, cleanses, and colorful crystals are natural ways to enrich our lives.


My desire to get more involved in popular “wellness” exercises sparked after I read Material Girl, Mystical World by Ruby Warrington. In the genre of self transformation, Material Girl, Mystical World is an autobiography where Warrington details her experiences testing out popular trends in the spiritual community. She discusses a variety of topics including tarot readings, healing crystals, yoga, and the Burning Man festival.


Overall, the book amazed me. I was exposed to amazing practices I could easily carry out in my life. I told all my friends how it “changed my life” and that they must read it too.


However there was one chapter from the book that stuck out to me as slightly strange – a trip Warrington took to Peru.


In the chapter, Warrington shares her experience trying ayahuasca tourism. In short, ayahuasca tourism is an increasingly popular excursion into Peru’s rainforests to try ayahuasca, a plant based psychedelic. The plant causes hallucinations and is believed to guide one through the process of self discovery.


Ayahuasca was originally used by indigenous tribes in the Amazon, but it’s now being used by a wider variety of people outside of those groups. As I looked more into it, I realized that the ‘tourism’ element of this experience is risky, under-researched, and has already taken people’s lives.


Discovering the flaws of ayahuasca tourism opened my eyes to a vast number of issues in the wellness world.


Wellness, a global industry worth trillions, is unfortunately full of unethical business practices, cultural appropriation, and camouflaged dieting plans marketed as healthy eating.


I was heartbroken to find out a dark truth in the healing crystal business. These stones are pretty and popular because of the various healing properties they are believed to possess. Many celebrities have endorsed healing crystals, which advertises their benefits to millions of people.

Few gemstone sellers in this country are revealing how their products are sourced, either keeping the questionable labor discrete or simply not knowing where some of their inventory originates from.


Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world, but is a bountiful source of rose quartz, amethyst, tourmaline, citrine, labradorite, and carnelian. In the rural villages of this country, children and adults mine these stones while earning miniscule wages for their hours of strenuous labor.


Even though peoples’ intentions behind buying these stones are innocent, the source of these crystals is not as pure and many consumers don’t ask retailers where their products come from.


The more these products become mainstream and popular, how can we do more to ensure we are buying from responsible, ethical sources?


Some WESS students have incorporated healing crystals into their lives, including junior Lane Santoli, who says she has faced this ethical concern.


Junior Lee Kreshtool’s crystal collection. She reports geting most crystals from a variety of Etsy sellers.


Lane Santoli enjoys using crystals when she meditates. As a consumer of crystals, Santoli has learned to navigate buying crystals in a market with a lot of misinformation and shadiness.


“On Etsy, you have to rely on the word of the vendors that [the crystals] come from ethically sourced mines and ethically sourced companies and countries…I go to stores that I trust and stores that have been there a really long time.”


One store Santoli recommends is Namaste Book Shop located in lower Manhattan.


Some of Lane Santoli’s healing crystal collection.


Like the crystal industry, other aspects of wellness have significant flaws that can tarnish the practice’s ethics. Cultural appropriation is rampant in many practices that have grown more popular in Western countries.


Though it has become very mainstream, acupuncture, incense, crystals, yoga, and many other healing practices did not start with many of the people today that are now promoting them.


Anita Bhagwandas, British-born Indian and Hindu Glamour UK author of How Wellness Got Whitewashed, stated in her (amazing) article, “I’m fed up with seeing my culture’s practices appropriated on a daily basis.”


Bhagwandas explains that she has seen cultures originating from indigenous groups all around the world being stolen by wellness and wellness brands that often feature white people rather than the people of color native to these practices. In Bhagwandas’ opinion, you should only engage in the practices if you are going to do it “respectfully and authentically,” and invest time into researching the culture and meanings.


Essentially, if you’re going to buy yoga clothes or participate in a yoga class, strive to go in knowing the history and significance of yoga. You should do the same with any other practice many native groups feel have been stolen and appropriated by wellness.


Wellness has additionally managed to creep its way into the dieting industry, yet another place where marketing can powerfully persuade thousands of people to implement something into their lives.


New York Times author, Jessica Knoll, wrote an opinion called Smash the Wellness Industry, explaining her relationship constantly battling with food, losing weight, and her take on wellness dieting styles.


Knoll says, “[wellness is] a dangerous con that seduces smart women with pseudoscientific claims of increasing energy, reducing inflammation, lowering the risk of cancer and healing skin, gut and fertility problems. But at its core, “wellness” is about weight loss.”


Wellness guides to eating are cleverly designed to advocate for healthy foods and nutrition, but also place a large emphasis on skininess, appearance, and detox and cleanses.


Countless times, while I am scrolling through Instagram, I have seen the same self care company, Love Wellness. They claim to be a  “body positive, based in science” women’s health supplement company, but their ads feature anti-bloating, metabolism, detox supplements.


Even if some products are relatively natural, safe, and maybe effective, brands like Love Wellness demonstrate how a lot of supplements marketed as self care focus on appearance and weight loss for consumers.


An Instagram ad for Love Wellness products I receive regularly.


“There’s a lot of money being made off of people’s own insecurities or questions on ‘What do I need to do to be healthy?’” said Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), in The Wellness Industry is Largely Diet Culture in Disguise.


As one can see, some of “wellness” isn’t truly aimed at improving health and mindset. Instead, it can be a sugar coated line of weight loss products.


Wellness isn’t all bad, but elements of the industry’s branding and business practices need change. Buyers and sellers should prioritize ethical products and learn where practices and rituals come from.


As I continue to surround myself with wellness practices, research will become part of my experience with it. Hopefully it will for you too.