Social media has been exploding over the last year with claims that essential oils have cured all sorts of diseases and illnesses. Obviously, this is a total scam. Even worse, essential oils are being pushed through multi-level marketing (also a scam) with companies such as doTERRA and Young Living.
What is the real story about essential oils and multi-level marketing? As our friend Lazy Man has said: No, Your MLM Health Product Doesn’t “Work.” (This most definitely includes Medifast, Herbalife, Xyngular, Isagenix, Usana, and any other MLM with a “health product.”)
Essential oils are the oil of particular plants, and can come from the flowers, leaves, roots, bark, or peels of plants. They are called “essential” because they contain the “essence of” the plant’s fragrance, but not because they are essential for any health needs. Essential oils have been used for years in aromatherapy, household cleaning products, and some personal care products. They smell good, which can be relaxing and can also enhance different cleaning processes. They may also help moisturize skin, assist in the treatment of conditions such as acne, and enhance the appearance of skin.
The controversy about essential oils relates to their supposed medicinal properties. Some claim they have antioxidants, antrimicrobials, and anti-inflammatories. I don’t doubt that essential oils may have some of these properties on a small scale. But essential oils most certainly do not heal broken bones. While the oils can help with minor burns, they definitely do not heal serious burns. They don’t cure autism, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, or any other potentially serious illnesses. Some of the advice being offered by pretend doctors and pretend scientists can be downright dangerous. (And essential oils shouldn’t be ingested EVER or used without diluting them first.)
Harriet Hall, MD, who we have quoted here before, takes doTerra to task for its unsupported claims about essential oils:
They say modern science is validating “the numerous health and wellness benefits of essential oils” but they don’t identify those benefits or offer any evidence. No clinical studies are cited, and there is no research section on their website.
The published evidence is sparse to nonexistent. There are clinical studies to support a few of the recommended uses, but they are generally poorly designed, uncontrolled, and unconvincing. Research is difficult, because patients can’t be blinded to the odors, and mental associations and relaxation could account for most of the observed effects.
And Dr. Hall points us to some really interesting information about D. Gary Young, the founder of Young Living. Be careful who you trust. Dr. Hall writes:
I first heard of essential oils years ago in connection with Gary Young, described on Quackwatch as “an uneducated huckster with a track record of arrests for health fraud.” Gary Young and his Essential Oils are still in business despite the devastating critique that has long been featured on Quackwatch. The record of misdeeds there makes for painful reading. Among other things, he practiced medicine without a license, was arrested repeatedly, did bogus lab tests, and contributed to the death of his own child by performing an underwater delivery and holding the newborn infant underwater for an hour. His judgment about medical matters is obviously not very trustworthy.
I did some very brief research on these claims, and found additional information on Mr. Young in this article and this article, both by Eva Briggs, MD.
Roy Benaroch, MD (yes, an actual doctor!) writes about essential oils:
Is there any reason to think there are broad health benefits from essential oils, as a group? Many of them smell good, and I imagine that used in a sort of aroma therapy they might be relaxing to people who like the smell of lemon, cedarwood, patchouli, or hyssop. But statements referring to essential oils collectively as having near-magical health benefits are just plain silly.
Some essential oils probably do offer health benefits, but many can be harmful if used incorrectly; and since selling these is intertwined with questionable business practices, it’s unlikely that Kayla is going to get reliable or balanced health information from local distributors. Don’t waste your money or endanger your health—stay away from the multilevel marketing of essential oils.
In order to make the products look legitimate (or look like they’re superior to other products out there), MLM companies are prone to lying, exaggeration, and misleading. One such example is doTERRA’s claim that their products are Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade. What does CPTG mean? Absolutely nothing. It’s a phrase that doTERRA made up and got a trademark on. In essence, doTERRA is saying “our essential oils are high quality because we say they are.”
It is common for the representatives of multi-level marketing companies to make all sorts of false claims about the healing properties of their products. These essential oil companies are no different, and the Food and Drug Administration has taken notice. Young Living received a warning letter from the FDA last year, telling the company that representatives are not permitted to make drug claims about the products. doTERRA also received a warning letter from the FDA last year, pointing out that the essential oils “…are not generally recognized as safe and effective for use under the conditions prescribed, recommended, or suggested in their labeling.”
Both product lines were falsely pushed to cure or prevent ebola:
The website www.theoilessentials.com reportedly wrote “[T]he Ebola virus cannot survive in the presence of a therapeutic grade Cinnamon Bark and Oregano essential oil.”
The website www.essentialsurvival.org wrote “Thieves [a proprietary Young Living blend] oil can be . . . applied topically on the skin to help the body fight off infection . . . If Ebola was going around in my area . . . I would apply it to my feet and armpits 2x/day or more and take it in capsules at least 2x/day for preventive purposes,” and “If I were exposed to Ebola or had reason to believe I could be sick with it, I would use some of these oils every 10 minutes for a few hours, then cut back to every hour for the rest of the first day. Then I would use them every 2 waking hours of the day for at least a week, or longer if it was known I was sick.”
A doTerra distributor wrote “Many Essential Oils are highly Anti-viral. I list here a few of them those (sic) oils that could help prevent your contracting the Ebola virus . . ..” on a Twitter account credited to “MrsSkinnyMedic.”
There were also claims that doTERRA and Young Living essential oils cured all sorts of other illnesses, such as “…Parkinson’s disease, autism, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, insomnia, heart disease, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dementia, and multiple sclerosis,” according to the FDA letter.
Here’s the bottom line: Essential oils do not cure illnesses or medical conditions. They possibly make people feel better, and may have a minimal effect on very minor skin conditions. But that’s it. Essential oils won’t heal your cancer, broken bones, migraines, dimentia, fybromyalgia, autism or anything else. And if used incorrectly, essential oils can be dangerous.
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