I write a lot about the tenuous relationship between the professional aromatherapy industry and the Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) essential oils industry from my experiences on and in between both worlds. So, let me clear the air a bit because both sides really need to find a way to meet in the middle in order to peacefully coexist and to learn from each other.
As a professional aromatherapist, I love talking about all things aromatherapy, I have spent countless hours and thousands of dollars educating myself in this field. It can be a daunting task because there is so much bad information out there that is accessible on the internet and social media. Standards and practices change on both sides. I have older texts on aromatherapy from the 1990s and some of that information is outdated or has been expanded with new research or safety measures.
I started dabbling with essential oils in 2011 and knew nothing about them at the time. Undiluted Peppermint Oil in the bathtub is an interesting sensation and not one I am ever going to repeat. I got away from regular essential oil use for awhile, but got back into in 2016 when I started becoming more interested in making my own skincare products. Soon thereafter, I joined Young Living, and while their products are pricier than other brands, I do like them, and have nothing against their products per se, despite some vague technical concerns about specific information, but I won't bore you with the details.
Several months in to my essential oils journey with Young Living, I became interested in becoming a certified aromatherapist and learning the science behind the craft and practice. I found the knowledge and advice from the Young Living community, while it gave me a decent starting point, that it didn't really give me the whole picture as the vast majority of recommended resources were all from internal Young Living folks. I need to see the full picture, not just a sliver of the image. My thirst for knowledge lead me to where I am today. I was blissfully unaware of the tension between the professional aromatherapy industry and the MLM essential oils industry.
The more I learned in my aromatherapy courses, readings, and research, I was shocked to learn that so much of what I was originally taught through the MLM community was incorrect and in some cases extraordinarily wasteful of the oils themselves. I have an academic background (BFA in Art History and Studio Art plus a year of grad school) and am learned in proper research methodologies. I do not accept that one single source of information is the be all end all and know how to vet my resources and cross reference for some semblance accuracy. Of course, some things are open to interpretation and purely subjective. If 100 resources say X and two resources say Y, I want to know why and will investigate it further.
If you want to get an idea of what the past year and a half has looked like for me, you can view the list below of certifications, courses, workshops, classes, and webinars that I have completed or am in the process of working on, in addition to reading dozens of books and the thousands of articles and blog posts. I am active in several international aromatherapy based Facebook groups and professional membership organizations. We share information and experiences every day and engage in healthy discourse about aromatherapy practices.
Certifications & Courses
Workshops & Classes
So why is there such a massive disconnect between the two factions of the same industry? We both love essential oils, right? I'm honestly not sure where it all started, but it seems to come down to marketing. I don't think either side is guilty of malicious intent. The professional aromatherapy community is not comprised of fear-mongers or gatekeepers of information. We thrive on educating ourselves and others on the safe use of essential oils. Most of us use them every day and have incorporated them into various facets of our lives. But, we have learned from mistakes and fact-based evidence of scientific data, research, and the experiences of others. The problem we face is the resistance from a large proportion of the MLM community when we present information on practices and safety standards based on our education and experience and get shunned, dismissed, and chided in response. Buying some essential oils and reading Facebook posts, doesn't make anyone an expert. Aromatherapists study the craft through different educational organizations and investigate specialties like pregnancy, babies and children, or for specific practices.
I have many friends and colleagues from both ends of the spectrum and engage in healthy discourse every day. We learn from each other and we teach each other in the process. Aromatherapists are not a monolith, we disagree with each other too. Some aromatherapists are adamantly against ingestion and undiluted application, while others are perfectly fine with both practices. We are always here to answer anyones questions and most of us will take time out of our day to do so. We do not think that everyone needs to be a certified aromatherapist to use and enjoy essential oils, but firmly believe that education needs to be multifaceted and to come from multiple resources - even if those resources conflict with things you have been told by others. Don't be afraid to challenge assumptions, not everything you have been learned is accurate - and that goes for both the professionals and MLM folks.
I write a lot about the nuances and specifics of French Aromatherapy (or Aromatic Medicine) because not only is it a topic of interest, but it is also the subject of my final research paper for my French Aromatherapy certification. I completed the coursework almost a year ago and got sidetracked by business development and other certification programs so I ended up putting the final paper aside. It is still a work in progress, but I have done considerable research on the subject matter.
There is a lot of buzz and significantly misinterpreted information when in comes to the actual practice of French Aromatherapy, much of which comes from the MLM (Multi Level Marketing) side of the aromatherapy spectrum. The information passed down under the rubric of French Method/Model comes from Young Living and doTERRA and is a very loose interpretation of the actual practice of French Aromatherapy.
In this blog post, I am going to break down what the MLM companies are telling their reps and members about the "French method or French model" and counterbalance that with the actual practices of French Aromatherapy and general practices across the professional aromatherapy industry. They overlap in theory, but are extremely nuanced in approach.
The "Schools" of Aromatherapy: British, German, and French.
The Importance of Essential Oil Safety and the work of Robert Tisserand & Rodney Young within the practice of French Aromatherapy.
MLM companies use the French method/model which places a high emphasis on the quality of essential oils and encourages "aggressive" use of essential oils.
Ingestion of Essential Oils, Europeans widely practice this because they follow the French model, but everyone else follows the British model and is firmly against the practice.
Detoxing is a normal response to your body removing toxins from your body.... use more oils...
Negative effects of essential oils are extremely rare and no one has ever died from essential oils
In conclusion, and I say this a lot, the aromatherapy industry loves essential oils and we want everyone to experience their benefits and to do so safely. Do you need to be an aromatherapist to use them? Of course not, but knowledge is power. Safety precautions are not tantamount to rabid fear-mongering. The aromatherapy industry is not just a bunch of kill-joy gatekeepers, we are here to help and glad to do so. I answer countless questions on a regular basis from people who contact me personally with questions regarding safety, myths, and proper use of oils. Ask questions, learn something. This is how I became an aromatherapist.
Ever since I completed my French Aromatherapy Certification coursework last year, I have been curious about the trend of folks cooking with essential oils as a means of ingestion often touted under the tutelage of the "french method." Nowhere in the certification program was cooking with essential oils even once mentioned, nor have I seen it in any authentic French Aromatherapy articles, blog posts, or books. Cooking with essential oils seems to have come out of the MLM faction of the essential oils industry. Personally, I don't see the point of the practice as it is both expensive and wasteful, but lets delve a little deeper into the mythos surrounding the practice.
Setting aside the safety concerns about improper ingestion of essential oils, my gut feeling on cooking with essential oils is that it is nothing more than an expensive waste. I look at it the same way as cooking with alcohol -- my bourbon chicken is going to taste great, but I'm not going to get drunk on it because the heat required to cook or bake the dish burns off the alcohol content. The same would apply to essential oils, if you are using them for their therapeutic benefit, the heat is most likely taking that away and you will be left with expensive flavoring. So why not use fresh or dried herbs instead or even herbal infusions?
Essential oils do not contain any vitamins or minerals like herbs do. I have and am continuing to study herbalism extensively and one of the things I love about true French Aromatherapy is that it is a combination of herbalism and aromatherapy. They exist in harmony and balance and practitioners chose the best mode of application - would making an herbal poultice for a burn be a better application than putting an essential oil salve on it? Both are trusted methods of treatment and viable options.
Regarding the safety of ingesting essential oils in food, let us revisit the fact that essential oils are fat soluble meaning they are attracted the fats and not water. Once again, OIL AND WATER DO NOT MIX and that is just elementary science. With any mode of internal application of essential oils, the same safety principles apply, some essential oils are mucous membrane irritants meaning they could cause irritation in your mouth or digestive tract. Other essential oils can interact with certain medications when ingested. These are things to consider with the practice.
The potency of essential oils cannot be understated - you will often see the example comparing one drop of peppermint essential oil being the equivalent of twenty-six cups of peppermint tea. Would you drink that much peppermint tea a day? every day? GRAS (Generally regarded as safe) status does not necessarily indicate that there are zero safety concerns when it comes to ingestion. Things that were deemed GRAS by the FDA were done in parts per million not individual drops in a single beverage or dish. This article clearly outlines the particulars of essential oils and GRAS status.
As an experiment, I wanted to make Rose infused brownies, and I was not going to use a single drop of my precious and expensive Rose essential oil in it. However, I used a rose petal infused olive oil in addition to some powdered rose petals in the brownie mix and it was delicious. In my herbalism studies, there are so many amazing food and beverage preparations with natural materials that do not contain a single drop of essential oils. I prefer herbal infusions for flavoring. I've made infused honey, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar and am eager to experiment further.
If you want to cook with essential oils, no one is stopping you, but consider that there are much better alternatives to doing so that are safer, less expensive, and more sustainable in the long run.
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.
In February 2018, I received my Level One Aromatherapy Certification from the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies. My passion for working primarily with essential oils began in 2011 when I started dabbling with using them for anxiety, stress, and depression. Admittedly, I had no idea what I was doing and that there were drastic differences in the quality of essential oils depending on the brand. I got away from them for a little while and my interest was renewed after taking an Aromatherapy and Yoga workshop at a local yoga studio. The instructor introduced the class to the Young Living brand and we made a few items to take home with us. Thus my journey began.
I started researching essential oils and learned how to make basic skin care products. At the time, I was having a hard time with my skin care regimen and my skin looked unhealthy. Much to my surprise, my skin issues resolved within a matter of months. I purchased a selection of essential oils from Young Living and became a member. I didn't really know much about MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) companies at the time. While I eventually got away from the Young Living experience for personal reasons, I learned so much that got my started on this journey.
Due to the lack of scientific information, misinformation, and proper aromatherapy practices, I decided to become a certified aromatherapist. The New York Institute came highly recommended and I enrolled in their dual program in the Foundations of Aromatherapy and French Aromatherapy certification programs. I'm still working on my final paper for the French Aromatherapy certification after changing my focus a couple of times. For both programs, I had to conduct several case studies with friends and clients, which really helped me to hone in on my practice and apply what I had learned through my studies.
I had been working with my business coach Carlee Myers of Work You Love Now and in April I decided to start my own aromatherapy business. We worked through all of the beginning stages of the process, setting up an LLC, getting business accounts, service and product development. We continue to work together to grow my business.
My thirst for knowledge was increasing exponentially and I took on several other programs, classes, and workshops. I completed programs in teacher training, natural skin care formulation, essential oils safety, incense crafting, soapmaking, and an introductory course in perfuming. I am also working on completing my Level Two Aromatherapy Certification program and an Herbalism Immersion Program.
I am a creative person by nature--I hold a BFA in Art History and Studio Arts from Moore College of Art & Design. My background in the arts has been invaluable as it has helped me to create my visual branding and product photography for my business.
I started expanding my product offerings beyond the store on my website to include Etsy and Amazon Handmade and my sales have been increasing exponentially. I have also embarked upon selling my products in person at local craft fairs in the Philadelphia area.
I am excited for what 2019 will mean for my business as it continues to grow. I have a few vending spots at upcoming craft fairs in February under my belt.
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.
As a follow up to yesterday's Multilevel Marketing: Do's and Don'ts, I thought that I would shed some light on my experiences and those of friends and colleagues to paint a better picture of things to look out for with MLM companies.
I have been looking at the various ways that Multilevel Marketing Companies (MLM's) work for their independent distributors and their uplines and downlines. I am putting together a list of do's and don'ts if you are in the position or representing or selling for a MLM. Know that not all MLM's are the same, but there are some red flags to watch out for.
That is all for now. I may add some additional do's and don'ts later, but this should get you started.
This article popped up in my newsfeed today: Multilevel-marketing companies like LuLaRoe are forcing people into debt and psychological crisis and I was surprised for many reasons. Not all MLM companies are the same and I was shocked to see that LuLaRoe requires you to buy thousands of dollars of stock to sell while preaching empowerment for women. I love leggings, a lot, I literally wear them everyday year round, but you know what? I probably only buy leggings once or twice a year as they wear out and I need new ones. I don't understand the business model of pushing something that at best customers only buy a couple times a year. Some MLM's just do not have sustainable opportunities.
Now wait you say, "isn't Young Living a multilevel-marking company too?" Yes, it is a MLM company... Their business model is pretty different that the likes of LulaRoe insofar as you do not have to buy any stock to sell. Anything I purchase is for my own personal use and the occasional sample. There are no monthly sales quotas either. If you don't want to do the business side of it, you don't have to and if you can't do it all the time, that is no problem either. I've seen friends get burned by other MLM's due to startup costs and quotas.
Outside of kit sales, Young Living's model is built on residual income based on the people in your downline. If you have say 10 people in your downline and each spends $100 a month, you get a percentage of that and future sales. Again, no one is required to do the business side of the company. But wait, who buys essential oils every month? Well, Young Living carries a lot more than just essential oils - you can purchase all sorts of products from laundry detergent to vitamins and supplements to shampoo and conditioner and now even makeup. Those are things that people buy every month. More to the point, is that those things that I buy through Young Living were once things I'd pick up at the drug store, grocery store, or upscale cosmetics stores.
Young Living has been around for over twenty years and they own their own farms and their "seed to seal" standard ensures that they grow, harvest, and process all of their oils. While they may be a MLM company, they are not a fly by night scam. There seems to be a popular mode of thought that all MLM companies are pyramid schemes selling worthless stuff or products that don't work and no one really makes money by doing them. In some cases, this is most definitely true but I am intelligent enough to avoid that stuff like the plague. I made sure that if I were to be involved with Young Living that they were different and that I wasn't going to be hemorrhaging cash in the process. Yes, I have bought and replaced many essential oils, but I use them everyday for multiple purposes. I diffuse them, I use them in my daily skincare routine, I use them for cleaning and more. That money I have spent, is money that used to go into by chemical laden products at retail stores.
What do you have to do to "sell" through Young Living? Most people just talk about their experiences in person or on social media or like me have a blog. Some occasionally hold in person or online classes or make & takes. It is a pretty laid back approach. That is pretty much it in a nutshell.
I love their essential oils and other products - especially exploring and making my own DIY products for myself and my home. If you know me, you know that when I am passionate about something, I talk about it on Facebook or in person. Usually, in person I talk about it if someone brings it up or it is relevant to the conversation. Oh and you know what I hate after working retail sales - anything that comes across and "too salesy." I am not going to beat anyone over the head with a kit sale, if you are interested, great!, if not, no worries.
When my sponsor/enroller approached me about the business aspect, she just said since "you are pretty much doing it anyways", you might want to get involved on the business side of things. Again, no commitment, I did my research and held a few online classes and make & takes, which I liked doing, but am taking a break from right now. I'd much rather talk one-on-one with someone interested in essential oils and to make some samples for them as well.
Do I have any delusions that I am suddenly going to be making $10,000 a month? Of course not! It is possible, but I also work at an awesome job that I love. You get out of an MLM like Young Living what you put into it and MLM's aren't for everyone. Don't fall for any upline ploy about making mad cash right off the bat. If you aren't comfortable - don't do it. Do your research!! Look into the company, ask around with other "sellers" to get a better handle on what they do. Luckily, with my Young Living group they have a Facebook group with 1100 members who are doing the business who give honest advice, share their experiences, and their monthly commissions.
Owner, Restorative Aromatics and NAHA Certified Aromatherapist Level One. This blog focuses on aromatherapy education and other essential oil related topics.