Essential Oils

Essential Oils: Questionable Practices and Advice

Essential oils are more popular than ever, for good or ill. The internet has helped spread the gospel, and the amount of companies selling them has blossomed in the past 5 to 10 years. There is however a lot of sketchiness out there, and it can be hard to wade through the cesspool of it all. Open up Facebook and you will see a friend or relative hawking their wares, or on community pages, ads for “get togethers” to talk about oils (which are a sales pitch).

The first time I remember using essential oils I was in college. Down the hill was a hippy co-op store, where of course we all hung out at. There were the mysterious displays of dark bottles. I had no idea what they were, besides smelling pungent. Well besides buying a bottle of patchouli. The siren call of the young hippy in training.

In my early 20’s I started soap making and it was still the dark ages. I had no idea you could use them in the soap. Those years I used fragrance oils, sold by a soap and candle company based out of Seattle (so long ago I ordered out of a paper catalog via the phone).

I am far from being an Aromatherapist. Let me be upfront about that. As I got back into making soap and body products in the past few years, I knew I didn’t want to use artificial scents, so I set out to learn as much as I could about essential oils, so I could scent them with safely. What it led me into, was taking Herbalism classes. I realized as I was reading and researching, how many shady claims there were. I needed to know more, so I wouldn’t hurt my clients. As with many dipping their toes into the waters of EO’s was encounters with MLM (multi level marketing) reps of the two big companies, Young Living and dōTERRA (now often referred as Network Marketing and Direct Sales). It’s very easy to be swept away at first when you encounter these companies. The reps are eager and helpful. The products are modern looking, and presented well. And that high-energy is easy to feed off of. At first, these were the oils I used, until I found there were other high quality brands to choose from, sold in traditional retail manner.

Practices To Watch Out For –

Having no further education in aromatherapy or herbalism:

If you are approached, or are looking for information about EO’s, ask how long they have been using oils. Are they part of an MLM company? Are they selling oils, or instead selling you to sign up? Have they sought out further education by independent teachers/schools, and not just company produced information? Education should be never ending. New ways, methods and more are constantly happening. Do they only use one brand of oils (not that is a bad thing, however using many brands lets you see differences). Do they bad mouth other companies and claim only the one they use is real/safe?

Handing out medical advice:

There is nothing wrong with wanting to live a greener, more natural life. If anything, that is a great goal. And often, people start using EO’s because it has been pitched to them as a “more natural” way. And while much of that is true, it is often too easy for new reps of MLM companies to get excited and make outlandish claims, or worse, give bad medical advice. If a rep, with no background in Herbalism, Naturopathy or a medical field, is giving medical advice, don’t take it. Which leads to……

Claims of curing diseases:

Both well-known MLM companies have gotten in trouble with the FDA over claims their reps have made while pitching oils. The problem is reps can be anyone. They are not employees. Yes, they have training materials, but they are minimal. While you must use FDA complaint claims online, in person a rep can say anything, from it “helps you sleep” to “it cured my cancer”. Always question these claims. Is there evidence? Or is it just their word? If there was truly a miracle cure, it wouldn’t be just shared in a meeting at your local Starbucks, or after a bible study. (Side note: I grew up in a cult religion, and I learned from a young age that how you peddle snake oil is to talk about how FDA is going to ban it…..MLM companies would sweep through the church every year or two, with everyone signing up for vitamins, supplements and whatever else was pitched.)

Ingesting Essential Oils:

This was not practiced often before the MLM companies showed up. You should NOT ingest essential oils unless a certified aromatherapist or doctor is working with you.

“All essential oils that enter the body by any route must eventually be processed by the liver and the metabolic products excreted through the kidneys. Some oils contain compounds that, in high doses, can damage the liver because the liver has more difficulty processing them so they tend to accumulate there. Other compounds in essential oils are metabolized into toxic products. These toxicity risks are greatest with internal use. Using oils high in ethers and phenols for only the short-term by any method, a few days at a time, can also minimize the risk of overtaxing the liver.

Essential oils should not be ingested as a daily preventative practice. Internal use carries the greatest risk of the three application methods, is best reserved for acute situations (i.e. severe illness), and should be conducted under the supervision of a medical professional or aromatherapist trained in the internal use of essential oils. Children under six (6) and pregnant women should not ingest essential oils.” Via Herbal Academy.

Oils added to water float on top and can burn your mouth, throat and more. Some oils are downright toxic, such as Wintergreen. Eucalyptus is harmful to both humans and pets. This is where I lost my love of buying oils from MLM’s. If you ingest oils, you will use your oils faster and buy more. Reps use that “their” companies oils are so safe you can ingest them, and since the other non MLM companies print “Do not ingest internally” on the side of the bottles, well, their oils are of lesser quality. This one is jaw dropping awful.

Also note: Don’t use EO’s in your food recipes. Use herbs and spices. Think simple. Grate a nutmeg for flavor, finely chop up rosemary for your soup.

Topical Use Without Dilution:

While a number of oils are safe to use “neat” (no dilution needed), many are not. For example, on most skin, a drop or two of tea tree oil is safe for helping dry up acne. Where as Oregano oil, applied neat, can cause chemical burns on skin. Most oils, to be used safely, need proper dilution in a carrier oil, such as fractionated coconut oil or for those with no allergies, sweet almond oil. See here for safety tips.

Use of oils in baths:

As with ingesting oils, adding EO’s to hot bath water is not a good practice. The oils float on the water, and when a person gets into the water, they easily end up directly on the skin. This can cause skin irritation up to chemical burns, often in areas you don’t want EO’s near. If you want to use oils, you can use them in the shower, with a few drops on the edge of the shower, so it is picked up into the steam, acting as a diffuser.

Use On Young Children:

Younger children (under 6 years of age on average) and especially infants are vulnerable to certain EO’s. The ratio of drops of oil to carrier oil goes down sharply with age. Certain oils, such as Peppermint, should not be used at all. For a chart on safe use in children see here. If a rep, or anyone, suggests you use oils this way, walk away.

Use On or Around Animals:

Please, do not use EO’s on animals without proper research. You can kill your fur babies more easily than you realize. Some oils are literally toxic to them, especially cats and birds. If you see a recipe on Pinterest, read up on the safety of each oil first, before using.

Therapeutic-Grade Oils:

It doesn’t exist. It is nothing more than marketing claims. It was coined as a term, and then grabbed onto by every shady company that realized it could sell more oils.

MLM Practices:

For a “small” price you can join in, to save money on your products (you can buy wholesale is the pitch), that you buy every month (really??). And you can make your money back by simply sharing your love of the products to friends and family. However, read the fine print. In most cases to make money, you will need to buy monthly and have an auto order set up, or you won’t get commissions. I am not saying MLM’s don’t have a good product, however their “retail” prices are insanely high to cover the cost of commissions to independent reps. Even the “discounted” rep prices are high. Also consider that the end game of MLM’s is not to sell product, rather it is to bring in more reps in your downline.

I have been asked many times at events, where I sell my body products, why I don’t have oils to sell. Originally, when I started buying EO’s I did consider that. Then I realized it isn’t set up for that kind of sales. Even at discount price, to have a set up “store” would be cost prohibitive. For example, with DōTERRA, a bottle of Wild Orange is $10.50 wholesale and $14.00 retail. The rep is charged shipping and handling and sales tax (if your state requires it) on the order (though they have a deal where you get back most of your shipping in credits for more product). If you sold this product retail, at an event, you might make $2 to 3 profit. That is it. Yes, the higher price oils they sell have a wider gap, Helichrysum is $75/$100 for example. How many bottles though could a rep have on hand to sell at that cost? You’d be in for thousands to just start. Once you add in the shipping fees, and a monthly order of at least $100, it gets expensive quickly. Real wholesale is never that short in profit. Most companies sell their products at 50 to 60% of the retail cost, and you don’t pay sales tax. And while you might have an order minimum, you are not required to make order after order. The other sticky issue that most don’t realize, because they didn’t read the super fine print, deeply hidden on the website, is under DT you cannot sell anything else at your booth. You can sell them. And nothing else. No 3rd party books. No body products you made. Just oils and the hope you reach more people, to be signed up as a retail customer or to sell as well.

As I researched, and used more oils, I realized I wasn’t in it to build a downline and host parties. I wanted to buy oils for our use, and be done. It isn’t to say I won’t ever sell oils alongside my soaps and body products – but I won’t promote an MLM when we do.

This isn’t to say you can’t get a decent oil from MLM companies, if you know what you want – and how to use it. Just be wary and don’t buy into claims that sound too good to be true.

Disclaimer: This is a personal opinion post and is not meant to be used as medical advice.