Regarding the "The results are in: I called 15 essential oil companies and asked if I could tour their farms to see how the essential oils are made" viral Facebook post has been floating around for the past week. I wrote a response to it late at night last week, but sadly, my phone ate it before I was able to post it -- that's what I get for Facebooking when I wake up between 1-3am at random intervals every night.
Preface: As a Certified Aromatherapist working on my Clinical Aromatherapy certification program, I had to study 60 different essential oils -- no one company sells them all, so I had to research numerous essential oil companies, most of which come highly recommended by my teachers and other industry professionals. I trust their opinions as they have been teaching aromatherapy or writing about it for decades.
This persons guise of investigative research is highly flawed for several reasons. Yes, most, if not all, essential oil companies, even the ones that own some of their own farms, source their oils from distributors, brokers, and independent distilleries. And yes, you can often go and tour those farms and distilleries. Customer service representatives may not have that information or may not be able to give it out. I've read numerous accounts from a host of aromatherapy educators that I have studied with about the farms and distilleries they have visited. In fact, the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies offers a retreat to Sedona, Arizona, where attendees visit the PhiBee Aromatics distillery and get to wild harvest and distill plant material during the workshop. A quick Google search for "tour Lavender farms" yielded numerous results including a Travel Channel feature of nine lavender farms that you can tour in the United States, some of which produce essential oils.
Different plants are native to numerous regions all over the globe and it can be problematic and costly to visit these farms. I love Frankincense, but I doubt that I am going to be travelling to Northern Africa or the Middle East anytime soon. This is also why most essential oils companies source their materials from different distilleries and farms because it is not cost effective to own and manage farms all over the world.
Young Living is often boasted as owning ALL their own farms, this is patently not true. Yes, they do own farms most of which are in North America and Europe with one to three farms each located in South America, Asia, Australia, and Africa. It clearly states on the Seed to Seal website that "We’ve invested unprecedented time and resources to ensure that these standards are prioritized at each of our corporate-owned farms, partner farms, and Seed to Seal-certified suppliers." This indicates that they do in fact source some of their essential oils from outside farms and suppliers.
Sourcing essential oils from farms and suppliers is not a bad thing, nor does it indicate a lack of quality or company transparency. Every essential oil company does this. They do not hide this fact either.
Regarding some companies advising not to take essential oils internally, this has nothing to do with quality, it has everything to do with liability issues and it is a highly controversial topic in the professional aromatherapy field - many advocate to never use essential oils internally. Also, FDA regulations require separate branding for anything consumable as opposed to topical or inhalation applications. Those oils still can be ingested, but there are many safety issues around doing so and quite frankly much of the information floating around the internet is highly inaccurate and downright dangerous. I have completed the coursework in French Aromatherapy and know the risks and proper methods of using essential oils internally. I have written extensively about it on this blog.
The person who wrote the post asked the following questions:
We all have our brand loyalties when it comes to where we buy our essential oils. As an aromatherapist and perfumer, I have to buy my supplies through a dozen different companies because no single company carriers every single essential oil -- and there are over 350 of them without taking variations like absolutes, C02 extracts, country of origin, and chemotypes into factor. I trust these companies and move beyond marketing hype and misinformation.
Knowing and trusting the company or companies you purchases your essential oil products from is crucial in this industry and I have and continue to use numerous different brands of essential oils. Early on in my essential oil journey, I began using Young Living essential oils because they were the best, most pure, therapeutic grade essential oils and the company owned their own farms.
Earlier this year in January, when I was working on my first aromatherapy certification, I contacted Young Living specifically to ask what chemotypes their Rosemary, Basil, and Thyme since they were not on the label or website and they do not provide GC/MS reports on their website or by request.
For your reference: “A chemotype occurs when a plant of a specific genus and species produces a particular chemical in a higher than normal amount because of geographic location, weather, altitude, insect and environmental interactions, and the like. A chemotype is not a different species or genus, nor is it a type of chemical; it is merely a chemical anomaly within the plant that occurs naturally.” -[ The New York Institute of Aromatic Studies, Aromatic Scholars program.] To learn more about chemotypes of certain essential oils, please read my previous blog post: What are Essential Oil Chemotypes?
Young Living’s Product Support responded in February saying that “We do not have a specific chemotype for our essential oils available to provide as we do not standardize our essential oils by chemotype. However, we are able to provide the key constituents on a specific oil you have concerns regarding. “
This did not sit well with me because it seemed as if they didn’t really have a good understanding of what chemotypes were at all. How can you standardize something that occurs in nature based on things like weather and whatnot. I even inquired with my colleagues and aromatherapy instructors all of which agreed that this claim makes no sense -- I even asked Robert Tisserand during one of the weekly Q&A sessions during the Essential Oils Safety Masterclass and he said that it "made no sense."
Young Living does not release their GC/MS reports to the public, so there is no way to confirm this information, but it would appear (in the past) that even if they do not standardize oils by chemotype that their Basil is high in Methylchavicol, Rosemary with 1,8 cineole, and Thyme with thymol.
Fast forward a couple of months, I followed up with a few questions:
I was told that " We do not have a specific chemotype for our essential oils available to provide as we do not standardize our essential oils by chemotype. However, we are able to provide the key constituents on a specific oil you have concerns regarding." I was given the corresponding chemical constituents for the oils requested (Rosemary, Basil, and Thyme). But the first statement is concerning to me as chemotypes are very important to know for these essential oils."
"You should be able to tell customers what chemotypes of oils that you are selling. This is not a standardization, chemotypes occur in nature due to a variety of factors including: chemical composition including environmental conditions such as light, soil, temperature, moisture, climatic influence and altitude as well as geographic area.. Many essential oils have chemotypes and it is always important to know which one you are working with as therapeutics and safety may differ. Do your chemotypes stay the same? Do they change depending upon the harvest? This information is hard to ascertain since you do not publish your GC/MS reports."
To which Young Living Product Support responded:
"Young Living® no longer standardizes its essential oils by chemotype (CT). Chemotype is another name for chemical variety (a specific variety of a plant species based on chemical profile). Young Living has adopted the use of "Seed to Seal®" to standardize its essential oils by. Seed to Seal includes standardization by chemical profile as well as growing conditions, distillation, and manufacturing process."
I responded again with:
"This seriously makes no sense, while yes, a chemotype is a chemical specificity or variety, it is one that is based on numerous factors. For your reference: A chemotype occurs when a plant of a specific genus and species produces a particular chemical in a higher than normal amount because of geographic location, weather, altitude, insect and environmental interactions, and the like. A chemotype is not a different species or genus, nor is it a type of chemical; it is merely a chemical anomaly within the plant that occurs naturally."
"So unless you can control the weather and the aforementioned factors, I am suspect about your claims that you can "standardize" your oils by "Seed to Seal" without altering the chemical makeup of the oil artificially. I understand that some aspects can be controlled, but you cannot account for one crop having had more rain than another and have it not have a relative chemotype."
"I would like further clarification upon this subject because there are vast different therapeutic properties for different oils with chemotypes. For instance, Rosemary can be used for hair growth - this is true of the verbenone chemotype, but not 1,8 cineole or camphor chemotypes. This is particularly frustrating since Young Living does not share its GC/MS reports with the public."
I am rather frustrated and disappointed that they could not answer a simple question and seem to not even be all that educated in the science of essential oils, which is also a bit off-putting since they are one of the biggest essential oils companies in the world and like to claim that their oils are the most pure, the most therapeutic grade, and seed to seal.
Finally in August they replied….
"We recognize that pure essential oils will have natural variances in chemical makeup from batch to batch caused by many different factors including time of harvest, amount of sunlight, amount of water, geographical location of harvest, etc. However, our Seed to Seal® quality commitment ensures that every batch of oil contains the optimal levels of natural bio-active compounds. We verify the chemical constituents of each batch through testing before we begin selling the oil. From this information, we can assure you that the active constituents in each batch and bottle of essential oil meet our specifications and thus have the same therapeutic value."
"The key constituents for Basil, Rosemary, and Thyme given to you past provided the ranges for the levels of those constituents which were considered within our Seed to Seal specifications at that time. Due to a recent change in company policy, we are no longer able to provide ranges for the chemical constituents in our essential oils. This information is now regarded as proprietary as it discloses the constituents we deem most therapeutic in value, and therefore the information is considered trade secrets. Patents and trademarks do not adequately protect this information, as you cannot patent or trademark an oil."
So after close to 9 months, I still have no answers, and they seem to be stuck on seed to seal trumping chemotype considerations which occur naturally due to a variety of environmental effects. This is why companies need to provide GC/MS reports on their website or at the very least by request. This is not proprietary information. The "because we are awesome and we say so" argument does not hold up here at all. I am highly disappointed by their responses and lack of actual information beyond the company marketing lines.
It's no secret that there is a lot of strife between the professional aromatherapy community and MLM Essential Oil Distributors and Wellness Advocates. There are numerous reasons for it, but the primary ones seem to come down to education and misinformation about essential oils and the aromatherapy practice. I remain in the middle of the road on this argument. I think MLM essential oil companies have their place in the aromatherapy world, but I will always and continue to advocate for education and safety first. I have many friends and colleagues on both sides of the argument.
A lot of people have serious and well-founded misgivings when it comes to Multi-Level Marketing companies (MLM's) at large. I'm sure you have heard them called scams or pyramid schemes, which is an entirely different issue that I am not going to address in this blog post. This post will also refrain from addressing any particular controversial issues about the MLM companies at hand as that is not the point of this post.
Let's start with my personal back story. I started using store bought essential oils in 2011 for mood support when I was dealing with anxiety and depression. I will admit, I didn't have a clue as to what I was doing, I had a heat diffuser and would occasionally put them in my bath water or place a few drops of lavender on a tissue under my pillow. I got away from them for a time, but came back to the essential oil world in 2016 when I attended an essential oil and yoga workshop at a local yoga studio. This was my first introduction to Young Living. From what I learned I was intrigued, until I looked at their website and found the starter kit and oils to be extremely expensive in comparison to the store bought ones I purchased in the past. I was unemployed at the time so I put that starter kit on hold.
In the meantime, I was having some skin issues on my face and around my eyes, and started tinkering around with making my own skin care products since nothing I purchased from high-end to drug store brands ever seemed to work for me. Within a few weeks my skin improved vastly and I was hooked on essential oils. Fast forward about six months and add in a new job - I finally decided to invest in a starter kit through Young Living.
I do in fact like their oils even though they are quite expensive. I was hooked up with a knowledgeable community that shared so much information and really got me comfortable using my oils for more than just skin care. Within a couple months, I was encouraged to start selling oils, and I thought "what the heck and gave it a try." Life got in the way shortly thereafter and I put it on hold for a few months and then came back to it. In the end, it just wasn't the right fit for me.
I have always had a thirst for knowledge and wanted to learn more about aromatherapy and essential oils. Usually the recommendations were to read books by authors associated with Young Living, not that there is anything wrong with that per se, but it didn't give me the science that I was looking for and the foundational basis for understanding aromatherapy practices.
By December 2017, I decided that I wanted to seek out becoming a certified aromatherapist and was referred to the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies and enrolled in their dual certification program in the Foundations of Aromatherapy and French Aromatherapy. I received my Level One certification in February 2018 and am in the process of finishing my final paper for the French Aromatherapy certification. In addition, I have completed and passed the Essential Oils Safety Masterclass through the Tisserand Institute and the Aromatherapy Teaching Training Program through the Aromahead Institute. I am currently working on certifications in Natural Skin Care Formulation through the School of Natural Skin Care and am working on my Level Two certification program through the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies.
As I started learning more about the science behind essential oils, different modalities of practice, and essential oils safety through my certifications and connections within the professional aromatherapy community, I started to see a lot of negative things about MLM essential oil companies focusing on the lack of experience by some of the distributors and wellness advocates in addition to marketing misinformation about essential oil safety and practice. There are a lot of myths out there perpetuated by MLM companies that are untrue or at best partial truths. I don't think that this is done with malicious intent by any means, but on some base level a lot of the myths and practices seems to be for the sole purpose of selling and using more product.
Some MLM essential oil companies espouse being based in "French Aromatherapy," which is true to some extent though cooking with essential oils and putting undiluted essential oils in water without an excipient, are in fact, not practiced within the purview of French Aromatherapy as I discovered in my certification program. I recently wrote a blog post on this subject clearing up myths from fact about the internal use of essential oils. Is any of this dangerous? Not really, but you probably aren't getting any benefits from cooking with essential oils because the heat will evaporate any therapeutic benefit the same way it burns off alcohol when it is used in cooking. It tastes good, but you aren't going to get drunk from bourbon chicken. Most importantly, oil and water don't mix, so when using oils in a hydrous liquid you always need to use some sort of excipient or dispersant so that the essential oil actually blends with the water otherwise it just floats on the surface. I also wrote about ingesting essential oils.
Another problem that comes from the MLM model is overusing oils especially in rollers. It is pretty simple, the more oil you use, the more oil you buy. Once you learn proper blending ratios and dosages for each purpose, you will learn that sometimes "more oil is just more oil" and it does not actually increase the benefit of the product by using more. For instance, your rollers should probably have under 20 drops of essential oils MAX. Undiluted or "neat" application can be beneficial and used for targeted or acute circumstances, but doing this daily for a prolonged period of time has a high risk of adverse reactions or sensitization. Given that these high quality oils are so pure, why would you have to use more of them that the recommended safe doses to get a desired effect?
All essential oils regardless of their purity will oxidize due to heat, light, and oxygen exposure. It is also pertinent to know that most carrier oils are good for 1-2 years which will change the shelf life of any products that you make. While there are many unscrupulous essential oils companies out there that sell adulterated or low quality oils, there are many other companies that sell high quality, pure, unadulterated essential oils.
But, it's not all bad, I do acknowledge that for those who sell through MLM companies that it can be a life-changing and enriching experience and I think that is truly great. However, I find that marketing the business aspect with "all you need is a starter kit to start your business" is a bit worrisome. Knowledge, experience, and training are essential in any business and it is easy to get bogged down by conflicting information passed down through Facebook groups, Pinterest recipes, and general Google searches. I don't think that everyone has the time or financial resources to enroll and complete aromatherapy certification programs, but there are many aromatherapists and industry professionals who will work with and educate clients on essential oil usage for free or an affordable fee.
As I mentioned earlier, I remain in the middle of the road on this argument and I am not trying to be a killjoy. I think MLM essential oil companies have their place in the aromatherapy world, but I will always and continue to advocate education and safety first. I don't begrudge my experience with selling for MLM's as it provided a valuable experience in laying the foundation work in my professional aromatherapy practice. My goal is always to provide the most accurate information and to disseminate factual information from trusted sources with many years of experience. Education is extremely important to me and a journey and I am always willing to share information along the way.
I would like to personally thank Robert Tisserand, Jade Shutes, Andrea Butje, Amy Galper, Cathy Skipper, Joy Musacchio, and Cynthia Brownley who's courses, webinars, and workshops have provided an invaluable experience to me as an aromatherapist.
Owner, Restorative Aromatics and NAHA Certified Aromatherapist Level One. This blog focuses on aromatherapy education and other essential oil related topics.