Essential oil lies –what you need to know about doterra and Young Living

OK that’s it. The essential oil debate is raging and I can’t help but jump in at this point. As a qualified naturopath and herbalist with over 10 year’s experience and also specific training in aromatherapy – I’d like to give a measured and informed voice to the topic.

The first thing is that I want to say this. Essential oils are AMAZING. They are an excellent healing tool and there are hundreds of very safe, useful and proven applications for them.

But…. and this is a very big but… like any medicine they have a list of limitations and potential risks if they are not used correctly. Let’s examine some of them. Oh and if you don’t like rants, then maybe you don’t want to read this post (but you should because I make some very good points). If you’re a rep or a convert to brands like doTERRA and Young Living, I hope this helps you, because much of what you’ve been told simply isn’t true.

“Certified Therapeutic Grade” is a term made up and policed by doTERRA.

Point One – “Therapeutic Grade” essential oils

The term ‘therapeutic grade” essential oils is both false and misleading. The term ‘certified therapeutic grade’ was actually created by um… doTERRA, who then registered the name and then told the world that all other essential oils were not as ‘pure’. They even go so far as to call them ‘better than organic’. And just to point out, their oils are NOT organic, which would make them free from pesticide residues,  genetic modification or irradiation. There are many oils on the Australian market that are just as good if not better quality than those sold by doTERRA and Young Living. This does not make them universally safe to ingest, which brings me to my next point.

Point Two – Ingesting essential oils

Let’s get this straight – essential oils are volatile compounds, are incredibly concentrated and are NOT the same as taking the herbal equivalent. Until recently only qualified naturopaths, herbalists and aromatherapists may have indicated very few oils for short periods of time internally.

This is what I think has happened. doTERRA executives were having a meeting. Someone says “People are loving these oils but they probably only go through 5-6 drops a day tops! That means a bottle of oil will last them 2 months. How can we get them to use more?” Then another sales executive says… “I know – why don’t we get them to start ingesting them? Putting drops into water. Including them in food. That way we’ll sell way more product!!”. “Great idea! I’ll get the marketing plan on the way”.

I’m going to put it out there that the short term use of some essential oils in a therapeutic setting and prescribed by a qualified practitioner, is safe. For example, if I am undertaking an anti-candida protocol with a patient, I may use products which have essential oils in them such as oregano to help to reduce the fungal overgrowth. However, I weigh up the use of these oils and use it carefully in combination with probiotics and other supplements so that it does not do more harm than good.

Many essential oils are antibacterial and antifungal. LOTS. Most even! Oregano, clove, thyme, fennel, tea tree and sandalwood to name a few. Some are so powerful, that I would rate their topical bacteria killing effectiveness as good as some antibiotics.

Now think about this. When you ingest an essential oil, where does it go? Into the stomach then straight into the small intestine. In your gut you have 2-3kg of symbiotic bacteria and yeasts which make up your microbiome. I talk more about this here.

Ingesting essential oils daily will damage your microbiome, in my opinion. Is there a study to prove this? No, as the doTERRA advocates will point out. Is there one showing that it does not. Ummm no. But there is research showing how powerful these oils are at killing bacteria. And we know that they will make contact with the microbiome. It isn’t rocket science, you ingest a powerful antibacterial and you will kill your bacteria.

Essential oils damage the delicate bacteria of the human microbiome.

But microbiome damaging effects aside, is it safe to be ingesting an extract of the essential oils from a plant? Many oils are irritant and known to cause skin sensitivity in some people, however MLM reps are recommending you ‘add 1-2 drops to a glass of water’ and drink it. It is not fully known how essential oils are metabolised. The essential oils are the most potent substance in the plant and should be treated with far more respect. The only cases of serious harm from essential oil use has been when it has been consumed internally. On poisons.org a clinical toxicologist states that the internal use of both eucalyptus and sage oil has caused seizures.

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And if you’re not up with what goes on… I keep seeing recipes including essential oils and it drives me crazy. Why use pepper when you could use pepper oil? Why use thyme when you could just add a drop of oil! I even saw this awful recipe for kids ‘immune boosting’ pancakes with On Guard, an essential oil blend that contains herbs like clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus and oregano. Giving young children essential oils internally is in my opinion negligent and dangerous.

When I brought this up with DoTERRA, this is their response…

They point out that we do already naturally consume essential oils when we ‘sprinkle cinnamon on our oats’. Yes but these amounts are tiny comparatively and are in a wholefood form.  I mean if you look at the doTERRA website for example, you’ll see that they are the ones pointing out that it takes A LOT of plant material to make a small amount of essential oil. This is why they are so pricey. Taking an isolated constituent will have a different effect in the body to taking the entire plant part, as the sum of all of the constituents determines how that medicine will work in the body. I asked doTERRRA for the well documented history of internal safety.  They haven’t replied.

Here’s the essential oil content of some herbs…

Peppermint yields about 0.3 – 0.4% volatile oil
Spearmint yields about 0.7% volatile oil
Sweet Marjoram yields about 0.2 – 0.8% volatile oil
Rosemary yields about 0.5% volatile oil
Rose yields about 0.02 – 0.03% volatile oil
Petitgrain yields about 0.2% volatile oil

You can easily see that using a few drops of essential oil is actually not the same as using a sprinkle of herbs.

For more info on this, head over to this website that talks about ingesting essential oils.

Also doTERRA, I just want to point out that humans don’t eat Eucalyptus leaves but you’re putting the essential oil into pancakes (it’s in On Guard).

Here’s a 2016 list of reported adverse reactions from essential oil use from Aromatherapy United in the US. Yeah there’s quite a few on there. Note the most reactions were reported from the use of antimicrobial blends like Thieves (Young Living) and On Guard (doTERRA) and other blends containing multiple oils.

Sorry that was a particularly ranty point. Moving on.

Point Three – Health ‘Advocates’ giving out medical advice

Let’s address the issue of ‘health advocates’ giving out prescriptive advice of essential oils. I mentioned that I will sometimes prescribe internal essential oils for short periods of time.  As a qualified health herbalist and naturopath, I have an intricate understanding of human anatomy, physiology and metabolism. I can look at research and decide on the safety profile of a new medicine before I prescribe it to my patients. Although essential oil health advocates are well meaning (I truly believe they are) they simply are not qualified to be giving out health advice. I’m actually fine with them recommending certain oils and blends for diffusing, but I’d even be cautious to take advice on topical applications from someone who was not trained in aromatherapy. I’ve seen countless facebook posts of well-meaning advocates recommending everything from the neat (undiluted) use of essential oils on children, essential oil ‘cocktails’ with 2-3 drops of each oil (I’m not kidding). I’ve also heard countess horror stories of rashes, irritations, diarrhoea and headaches from use.

The unfortunate thing is that the information is just passed from rep to rep down the MLM sales chain and the lay person doesn’t question if it is correct or if it could do harm. How easy would it be to assume that you could put a drop of wintergreen oil in a glass of water to relieve pain, because you can with all of the others right? Ingesting wintergreen oil is like taking a large quantity of asprin – highly toxic. However these oils are sold as harmless, safe and natural. They couldn’t hurt you right?

Some cinnamon oil contains high levels of coumarin which can cause liver toxicity in some people.

Point Four – I do think people need to use more essential oils

Let’s be clear that my beef isn’t with the product – it’s the misleading marketing done by the MLM’s that has led to their gross misuse. Essential oils are fantastic and their biggest benefit is when they are used in an olfactory sense – that is inhaled and smelt. Diffusing essential oils works wonders for stress, anxiety and moods. Using diluted oils on the skin can be great for relaxation, to relieve pain, reduce inflammation and just to smell nice! They are a very powerful medicine and when used in these safe and non-invasive ways can help to balance the body and promote healing.

So please… diffuse your oils. Breathe in their amazing scents. But keep them out of your body unless prescribed to do so by a qualified naturopath or herbalist.

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  • Claire Desat

    Great advice – thank you.

  • Hi Katherine,
    Thanks for your article! Very helpful!

    I enjoy lemon oil in my soda as I react fresh lemon. Would this be an issue for my gut bacteria?

    Also peppermint oil. I occasionally like this in my water. Is it also damaging to my gut flora?

    Many thanks!

    Appreciate this so much 🙂

    • Robyn Ellis

      Me too. I like peppermint oil in a hot cacao drink from time to time or to flavour my cacao and mint bliss balls.
      I agree with the topical use point as someone who loves the doTERRA oils I was guilty of not taking the time to understand dilution rates etc in the beginning. Diffusing is definitely my favourite way as is dilution in coconut oil or lotion to apply to the skin. It is the education on how to do this that needs highlighting. Thank you for this post.

      • Shebon

        I was told that once you heated an EO, it rendered it ineffective- maybe Dr Maslen can clarify if that’s true or not.

        • Robyn Ellis

          I guess when I’m having peppermint oil in a hot drink it is more for the natural flavour than the nutritional benefits. Although I do know many who will drink peppermint oil as a tea substitute

          • Shebon

            My hubby loves his peppermint tea, but not EO peppermint tea, we can’t seem to figure out how to get it mixed in…the oil just sits on top and then burns the lips. Even tried the cinnamon EO. Burning lip disaster!

          • lisajane

            You need something to help it emulsify so the EO will be dispersed throughout the beverage. You could do this by putting a drop or 2 of liquid stevia in the cup first then the EO and then pour your choice of drink on top.

  • Sarah Zuchetti

    Thank you so much for the info. I’ve been very hesitant to ingest the oils and would certainly never give them to the kids. I was wondering about doterra’s lozenges and beadlets – are they ok if used in moderation as a bit of an immune booster or better to avoid altogether?

    • Jessica Sunseri

      If you want to boost your immune system, Eat sour kraut. Drink infusions of stinging nettle. Elderflower elderberry. Eat real food!!! You don’t need essential oils to boost your immune system. You only need to fuel your body with good wholesome food and it will do the rest.

  • Lyn Gore

    WELL DONE! As a retired clinical aromatherapist I applaud this post.

  • Keryn Coulter

    Thank you ….. as a Naturopath myself ….. I so agree.

  • Vanessa Corrigan

    Thank you Katherine, for an excellent post. I am an Aromatherapist and Herbalist, and am quite appalled and disappointed with some of the information that the MLM companies are putting out regarding essential oils. I’ll be sharing your post!

  • Heather Lorton

    Hi Catherine. I am actually a Young Living distributor and I just want to say thank you for an amazing article. I started using the oils with my adult non verbal daughter in 2014. I had great results via using them topically and diffusing however I would NEVER give them to her internally. Firstly she’s non verbal, how can she give me feedback and secondly she has the highest pain tolerance level in the world! I actually started out with Doterra and it was continually rammed down my throat and other special needs mums to give the oils in capsules etc and we needed hundreds of dollars worth every month. I had so many fights I was eventually kicked off groups! I now do have a business with the oils but the first thing I say at any meeting, workshop or get together is that I am NOT a qualified aromatherapist and I do not endorse ingesting the oils I also go on to say that I always dilute even for myself and that less is more. Sadly like everything there will be always be people with their own agendas which is normally the mighty dollar. For me I genuinely want to share the love and our successes with family and friends and from there I have now created a small business which allows me to care for my daughter and create income. So once again thank you for a great, non aggressive article!

    • Love your attitude and am happy to hear of your success with the eo’s for your daughter and family!. I am very impressed you stood your ground against the monolith. That can’t have been easy or pleasant. Ps- I sell a different line of eo’s (not DoTerra or YL) but I love YL oils, too ;).

  • Fawn

    Well opinionated you are, and missing the facts in so many cases. Do you feel that you are educated enough to speak out in such a manner? I will give you credit for a well written article however that is all. Disappointed in your ability to do the necessary research to write such an article again you’re missing the most important part by not having done all the research needed to post this. This is an option not true fact. Oh and the French have been using EOs internally for over 40 years. They must be doing something right. Guess you missed that fact in your research.

    • Paul Kiler

      I suggest Fawn, that you take this post to heart, instead of rejecting it out of hand, and believing the dot and yl nonsense.

      • Fawn

        As an aromatherapist, holistic health coach and an oil user for over 30 years I need only my education to know the truth.

        • Michele

          No Fawn. Like all qualified people (and DoTerra sales people don’t have your qualifications), we all need to continue to train and learn. The same is true of all education. The practices in France are strongly supported by medical training, alongside natural therapies.

    • Nicole Allan

      Damn straight!

    • Gail McAndrew

      Erm, yes, but in France you have to first qualify as a medical doctor before you can study towards becoming an aromatherapist. And only then can you prescribe internally. They don’t just randomly prescribe based on corporate marketing. Certainly a certified aromatherapist in the UK recognised by the national health service would be struck off for prescribing essential oils internally – I don’t what professional controls / advanced training is in place in the US that allow professionals to get liability insurance for internal prescription?

  • Stephanie Wendel Smith

    Hi Catherine, I see that you have sprinkled throughout your article “take my FREE 10 day health challenge”. And are also promoting your book on the side of this article. While I appreciate your post, it is missing many facts and is highly opinionated based on your own experiences and perceptions. Again missing a lot of “science based facts.” You seem hell bent on slamming the “MLM industry” specifically Young Living and doTERRA from your high horse of “a qualified health herbalist and naturopath” Who are you to say that “health advocates are not qualified to give out health advice” as a general statement? Many of us have been studying Aro https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/93eb1fd5cf51daf4935e444328cef020ccfecea718e91fdbbca4f3fbbb7e5716.jpg matherapy and the use of essential oils as a part of our “MLM business” for years! You don’t have to have a degree as a naturopath to be well read, and highly skilled and trained in your field of expertise. You loose credibility in doing this. It says a lot about you, when you have to put down others as a way to advance yourself and your offerings. Though, I will give you credit for your savy marketing! This article will bring you a lot of business and attention. Everyone should do their own research and find what is best for them, and not rely on the advice of one person. As a doTERRA rep. I am very familiar with the team of experts and specialists including Chemists, scientists, Dr.’s and environmentalist at doTERRA. So, maybe we should ask the team of experts about the nutritional labels placed on specific essential oils and blends for internal use. doTERRA has a much bigger vision than making a few bucks. It would serve you well to dig a little deeper in to that vision and all that they are doing around the globe to bring healing, education and abundance to as many as possible. And by the way, “organic” has nothing to do with the species of plant, the region in which it’s sourced, distillation, testing, etc. Just one piece of information that lacks fact in your article.

    • Joy Echols Harbaugh

      Well said!

    • Barbara Ford

      I very much disagree with you on all counts. As an herbalist having to help others detox from the reckless advice given by MLM distributors, I am appalled at the tenacity of reps defending a very misguided, and dangerous, promotion of natural health.
      Doctors are not trained in Ess oils so not a reliable source of information. I’m sure they are paid well by doTerra for their credentials. I have read some of their so-called papers. It doesn’t take much to discern their lack of knowledge.

    • Shebon

      “So, maybe we should ask the team of experts about the nutritional labels
      placed on specific essential oils and blends for internal use.” Um….so you’re saying an Herbalist/Naturopathic Doctor doesn’t qualify but “Chemists, scientists, Dr.’s and environmentalist” do?? SMH-I don’t get that logic..or lack there of. For my natural health regime, I’d take an ND over all the others in a heart beat. Kinda a no-brainer.

      And your comment, “”organic” has nothing to do with the species of plant, the region in which it’s sourced, distillation, testing, etc.” (your comment) riiiight, but “free from pesticide residues, genetic modification or irradiation” does (Dr Maslen’s comment). LOL so…..I’m not seeing what was your point was exactly because she was spot on and you on the other hand……???? I see you throwing an arrogant tantrum is what I see.

    • Michele

      Thank you for proving all of her points

  • ALora Glenn

    Great information!!

  • Barbara Stiffler

    Can you please tell me if you think the vitamin that DoTerra has out are harmful? I have been taking them and not sure if they are the cause of my problems with bones.

    • Shebon

      IMHO- if you didn’t have that issue prior to taking the supplements, then I’d stop taking the supplements and see an ND as soon as possible.

  • Skittle tits

    These MLM companies are going to ruin it for everyone. If people keep ingesting essential oils and become ill or worse, eventually the FDA will take notice and do something about it. Boycott these companies!

  • Chad

    What is your recommendation for a brand or essential oils? Also I do use Frankincense mainly(when I remember) as I have severely uncontrolled Epilepsy. The other day it brought me out of a cluster of seizures by smelling it.
    It is said to put it on the bottom of the big toes. What do you recommend? Naturopaths are hard to come by.
    Thank you!

  • Kristy Snyder

    Hi! I am watching this post as well.. I am interested to know which brand of oils you are using and/or recommend. Thank you!

  • Jen Too

    A very interesting read Katherine. I always questioned how safe it was to ingest essential oils and how so many blindly endorse the merits of these multi level marketing (MLM) companies like doTERRA and Young Living especially in making raw cakes. I know someone who uses peppermint oil from Thursday Plantation in their cakes, I wouldn’t think that one would be food grade! These people have no qualifications or issue any warnings about essential oils and pregnancy or comsuming them. I would only ever use certified organic but even these would have to be food grade and I don’t know which are.

  • Katherine, thank you for this informative article. With this flu season in full swing, I’ve been seeing some recommendations of ingesting EO blends. After reading your article and seeing the injury report from EO, I will still use EO…but stay away from ingesting and be more careful with topical applications. Your article needs to get into the hands of more people who distribute EOs.

  • Shebon

    Oh good cow. As someone who was on round after round of anti-Bs and then treated by an ND for candida, I’ve been pretty aware of how sugar and pharmaceutical anti-Bs affects my gut. HOWEVER- I didn’t once think about the anti-B affect of EOs! Wow. Mind blown and eyes opened once again. Listened to your podcast on gut health. Great info and more reminders. Huh- my hubby routinely eats oatmeal and is rarely sick. Connection? 🙂 Thank you.

  • Kylie Louise

    Great info in this post!! Thank you 😊

  • Michele

    Yes, yes, yes! Thank you, Katherine. You have addressed all the concerns I have had. I know someone who is now a Wellness Advocate and is recommending neat use on babies and ingesting to everyone, including pregnant women! She has a business now in this, including running workshops for people. As a qualified aromatherapist, I am horrified at what I am seeing! Thank you for your sensible and QUALIFIED comments!

  • lsqfamily

    I’m puzzled by this. Because technically there could be the accusation that Naturopaths and Aromatherapists are loosing business to these companies and that’s why many are upset about them. I DO agree that EO’s should not be used lightly and any product that can have the astounding results like oils do, needs to be treated with respect. Currently Health Canada (where I live) has approved YL oils for ingestion. I do think this should come with a warning or a guide though.
    The reason I’m a big fan of the MLM method of selling is simply because we didn’t have access to them before this. My husband had major health issues that we sought help for from two naturopaths (after having tried everything the medical community had) and neither explained essential oils to us. When I was invited by a friend to come to a class on EO’s at her home I was surprised I hadn’t known about them before with our history with the natural community. We’d spent thousands of dollars with the naturopath and were dependent on them monthly for appointments and supplements we didn’t fully understand. It cost us at least $500 a month – as a family with 5 children this was a big deal. Then to learn about YL from a friend, I could buy these oils for my whole family, do personal research and save us thousands of dollars. In the end it was EO’s that helped my husband the most. I actually felt strong anger that with everything we’d invested into natural products, we had never been shown these. So you accuse the MLM’s of just being in it for money, but I wonder too, if that could be the case for naturopaths also? Without the MLM method my husband would still be suffering. I’m daily grateful for being introduced. I never felt my upline encouraged reckless use, I know it’s out there. But truthfully I’ve heard first hand of reckless use of Chinese medicine and other natural products. Please don’t take a hate out on MLM’s, my experience has been amazing. And I spend far less now then I did previously.

    • Jessica Sunseri

      Many essential oils are anti bacterial anti fungal anti microbial….you might as well be using antibiotics. It would be better for the environment.

  • misseegale

    I just have one opinion regarding your article. Diffusing essential oils gets in your body just as if topically applying or ingesting. So how to you justify what you said about only diffusing??

  • Elizabeth Rufener

    Great article. Thank you

  • Lauryn Nicole

    I’ve just started using doTERRA. I don’t yet know much about essential oils, but do know quite a bit about natural treatments, naturopathic medicine, and many other useful products on the wholistic healing market. I was not reluctant to ingest as I’ve been prescribed essential oils products in the past by ND’s. I’ve used sparingly ingesting but I do have to say for people with immune system issues like myself and my children, where food and diet alone just isn’t enough, eo has already helped us through a few illnesses. It is helping me with my battle against Lyme as well – which requires potent treatment like oregano eo.