The essential oil industry is booming, with a market value that’s predicted to exceed 27 billion US dollars by 2022.
Is this surging interest and awareness of essential oils a good thing? In general, yes. They’re now more widely available and accessible than ever before (read more: Why Are Essential Oils Everywhere?) I strongly believe in educating people about holistic options where appropriate. We need to move away from the idea that every symptom requires a pill.
It could be argued that the two big players of the MLM world – doTerra and Young Living – have massively raised the profile of essential oils among the general public. But popularity is a double-edged sword. So many people have now signed up to be “Distributors” (Young Living) and “Wellness Advocates” (doTerra) that the internet is drowning in misinformation about essential oils.
It’s safe to say the aromatherapy industry is becoming increasingly split in two. While I’m reluctant to generalise, there is a deepening “us and them” divide between the MLM and non-MLM world.
Of course, it’s not just a case of MLM vs. non-MLM. Life is never that black-and-white, and there will always be exceptions. I’m well aware that some people love MLM oils and know how to use them appropriately.
Likewise, not all “non-MLM” people agree on everything. Nor are they all exemplary! But that’s for another article.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll talk about the rise of MLM-derived “bad advice” – and by this, I’m referring to unsafe, inaccurate, misleading information about essential oils. The recipes on Pinterest, the Facebook posts, the home-selling parties. Sign on the dotted line, and suddenly you’re an essential oil expert!
What’s going on?
Put simply, these reps are giving aromatherapy advice without actually being aromatherapists. I would estimate the vast majority have never completed any professional aromatherapy training. Most never look beyond the brand’s own marketing material.
The problem with relying on propaganda is that all the advice is focused on maximizing sales – at any cost.
People are being told to liberally use neat essential oils on their skin and to ingest them on a daily basis, without any regard for their individual medical circumstances.
It’s an unsustainable situation that’s getting out of control. Something’s got to give – how many more people have to suffer as a result of this reckless advice? How many babies and children will grow up with sensitization issues?
People are already saying they fear essential oils will be banned altogether. Negative stories are beginning to create a sense of fear and uncertainty.
In the meantime, the MLMs use this fear to their advantage by claiming theirs are the ONLY pure oils. They use scaremongering tactics to justify their exaggerated prices. “All other oils are adulterated!” they cry. “Ours are the only oils you can trust!”
What’s the problem?
The Aromatherapy United Injury Report 2016 is a must-read for anyone who thinks Young Living and doTerra oils don’t have the potential to cause side-effects. I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with the quality of the oils themselves. It’s just the irresponsible, unethical, inaccurate and unsafe “advice” they promote – that’s the issue.
Problem is, there is no long-term safety record of using essential oils “the MLM way”. Contrary to their claims, people have NOT been liberally ingesting essential oils on a daily basis for thousands of years. They were NOT anointing themselves with neat Frankincense essential oil in the Bible. It’s only in the last 5-10 years that this trend has sprung up out of nowhere. Just because you’ve drank lemon essential oil every day for two years and you feel fine, doesn’t mean you’re not setting yourself up for long-term damage of your internal organs (Read more about anecdotal fallacies here).
Even 100% pure oils have safety precautions. If these oils are SO powerful and therapeutic, why would they not have the potential to cause harm as well? Nothing is universally safe, in any quantity – even drinking too much water can kill you. Something can’t be super-powerful but also super-benign.
Some MLM reps respond by claiming that professional aromatherapists are just bitter – that they’re being overly protective of their trade. They just want clients to pay them for consultations and treatments, rather than letting home users “do” aromatherapy themselves.
This is actually a flawed argument. In my experience, most aromatherapists think it’s generally a good thing that there’s now raised awareness about essential oils and holistic health in general. Saying we need to clamp down on unregulated advice is not being self-protective. It comes from a genuine concern about unsafe advice that threatens to destroy the aromatherapy industry for good.
Why the craziness?
Aromatherapy is currently a self-regulated industry. Anyone can buy essential oils, and there is no official licensing for professional aromatherapists. In the UK, aromatherapists can choose to join a professional body (such as the IFA or IFPA) but this is not mandatory.
Professional aromatherapists understand their scope of practice, which never crosses the line into practising medicine without a licence. Unfortunately, many of these untrained essential oil reps do not adhere to this code of ethics.
Incidentally, it may surprise some of these reps to know they are not covered by company insurance if they make any medicinal claims about their essential oils – including prescribing any specific product for an ailment, or claiming the products will cure, treat or prevent any disease. The doTerra manual clearly states “Under no circumstances should these products be likened to medicinal products”
Young Living actually takes this one step further by forcing distributors to indemnify the company against “any liability, claims, obligations, expenses (including attorney’s fees), or other damages arising out of or in any way related to or connected with, allegedly or otherwise, your activities as a member”
Are we going to witness a large number of lawsuits over the coming years, as the consequences of this “advice” begin to manifest?
What does the law say?
Unless classified as a drug, it’s illegal to claim any product can cure, treat or prevent any disease. Essential oils are classified as cosmetics, which means sellers are legally not allowed to make any medical claims about them. Companies often get around this by using vague terminology, but it’s something that is being monitored by the FDA (in the USA) and Trading Standards (in the UK).
It’s a tricky situation, because we’re all aware that studies into the therapeutic properties of oils are being carried out all the time. I recently gave 100 examples of scientific studies about essential oils. Clearly, they do offer potential healing properties. Aromatherapists know that essential oils can certainly help with many physical and emotional conditions. But professional integrity is about understanding your scope of practice, and operating within a code of ethics.
From day one, I was taught never to diagnose or offer medical advice to my clients. Professional aromatherapists understand this – most essential oil reps do not.
What Do We Want?
Unethical marketing is damaging the aromatherapy industry. This crazy advice is harming its reputation, and tarnishing its integrity.
We want everyone to know that aromatherapy can be a viable and safe option. Essential oils are great, but let’s use them appropriately. Let’s put an end to this epidemic of crazy advice.
Is there a changing shift?
More and more people are coming forward to share their stories, injuries and negative experiences after following MLM-derived advice.
Slowly, people are beginning to realise that it’s probably not a good idea to drink Thieves oil every day. People are learning that you DON’T need to pay those prices to get really good quality essential oils. Tellingly, 51% of people who enrolled with Young Living in 2015 did not make a purchase in 2016.
Since starting this blog, I’ve had loads of messages and comments from people who have seen through the BS. People who are grateful to find out there is more to essential oils than Young Living and doTerra.
The heartbreaking stories are from people who have been hospitalized or suffering lifelong sensitization issues. Earlier this year, a video by Stacey Haluka went viral after she shared her horrendous experience – a classic example of how dangerous essential oil misuse can be.
What are the Options?
- Tighter regulation of the aromatherapy industry
Should the law be changed to restrict the sale of essential oils? Should they only be available from registered aromatherapists?
Well, this surely defeats the purpose of promoting holistic health. We need to be encouraging aromatherapy, not burying it.
- Clamp down on illegal marketing
Should Trading Standards/the FDA be more heavy-handed in clamping down on illegal claims about essential oils? Should it be made illegal to promote neat usage or ingestion to the general public? Perhaps it should only be permitted to give advice that’s in accordance with a professional institution like the IFA or NAHA?
Or would this option be too controlling? Censorship is never a good thing, even when well-intentioned. It’s already hard enough to promote essential oils and stay within legal guidelines. We’re tying ourselves up in knots over what we can and can’t say. We can’t talk about “acne”, only “blemishes”. We can’t use the terms “anxiety” or “depression”, we can only use vague statements like “creating a comforting aroma”.
Obviously, it shouldn’t be a free-for-all when it comes to the marketing of health products – there needs to be some sort of regulation. But even when numerous scientific studies have proved the efficacy of essential oils for such conditions, it is still not allowed. Would further legislation (about what you can and can’t say) only make things harder for the aromatherapy industry?
- Do nothing
Another option is to do nothing and see what happens. Perhaps the industry will organically evolve in its own way. A few people have told me they predict the MLM brands will ultimately implode. Some believe they have already reached saturation point. Eager new recruits might not realise that 94% of all Young Living members (over 2 million in total) earned an average monthly income of $1. The gravy train isn’t going to last forever.
Do we simply shrug our shoulders and turn a blind eye? Or does this risk more people being injured, or essential oils ultimately being banned altogether?
Surely the best way to curb the craziness is through education. We can counteract it by promoting safe, sensible advice. This was the main reason I set up The English Aromatherapist blog in the first place. My intention was to provide honest, impartial advice about how to use essential oils safely – without the MLM sales hype.
I’m not a fan of excessive bureaucracy and censorship, but there could be some fundamental ground rules introduced – like not recommending internal use of essential oils unless specifically under the care of a qualified aromatherapist (which is always what I was taught anyway).
I’m delighted that my articles and videos have been shared so widely around the world. The support I’ve had from people has been incredible. It’s my plan to continue spreading this message, as I believe there is still way too much confusion and misinformation about essential oils.
I’m not here to create drama, or to tell people what to do. I just think it’s important to balance out the argument. For everyone posting on Facebook about drinking lemon essential oil, there needs to be someone posting about why this is not a good idea! People aren’t going to know the truth if we don’t shout it from the rooftops! As a community, we need to shout loud enough to drown out the MLM chatter.
I’ll continue to share honest, reliable advice. Collectively, I believe we can help the aromatherapy industry to move forward.
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