What are essential oils? They are compounds extracted from plants. They are obtained through distillation with steam or water or mechanical methods like cold pressing. Essential oils are often used in perfumes, cosmetics, air fresheners, and flavorings. The essential oil is mixed with a carrier oil to make a product that is ready for use. The oil has the plant’s taste, scent and “essence.” It is used in aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is considered alternative medicine (also called integrative medicine). The essential oil is to be applied topically, never swallowed.
Misuse of essential oils can cause serious toxicity. There is a misconception that essential oils are natural so therefore they are harmless. This is not true. Essential oils can cause rashes if used on the skin, can be poisonous if swallowed. Aspirating an essential oil can cause pneumonia (fluid in the lungs).
If someone swallows an essential oil or a product containing essential oils, call poison control immediately.
Multilevel Marketing Companies Prey on Families with Autistic Children
When a mother of a 5-year-old autistic little boy was invited to an evening class about essential oils made by a company called DoTerra. The mother did attend the class. She was intrigued by the vials of the mysterious liquid. She particularly loved the names. Her friend explained that the aroma can help with specific physical and psychological problems. Some people used electric diffusers to infuse the scent into a whole room.
When she asked her friend which oil she should try, her friend answered: “Think of your boy and hold this oil, and if your heart says get this oil, you should get it.” Not scientific by any means.
The mom bought the $150 starter kit with two sample sized vials. The promotional material said.”promotes tranquility while bringing harmony to the mind and the body, and balance to the emotions.” She applied the oil to her sleeping son’s feet.
After the mom had been doing this for a while and researching the company, she felt empowered and started selling for the company too.
Between DoTerra and Young Living have taken off in the community of parents of autistic kids. Some parents were spending $200 a month on DoTerra products. On Facebook, there are numerous essential oil groups for parents of autistic kids and other neurodivergencies. There is a group called Autism, ADHD and Essential Oils. They have 19,000 members.
This all sounds great but one problem. There is very little scientific evidence on the effects of essential oils on autistic people. There are no guidelines for how old kids should be before its safe to use. These products are not regulated. The companies require their salespeople to spend $100 a month on Doterra products to qualify for commissions. The company calls the salespeople “wellness advocates.”
The different essential oil companies are not required by law to disclose how many salespeople lose money but the Federal Trade Commission has cited a 2011 investigation involving 350 multilevel marketing companies and found that a majority of the salespeople end up losing money because they can’t sell the products they are required to buy.
In 2014, the FDA put DoTerra on notice that its salespeople were violating federal law by claiming that the oils could treat or cure a variety of conditions. These conditions include viral infections, bacterial infections, cancer, brain injuries, autism, endometriosis, Grave’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, tumor reduction, ADHD, and other conditions.
After the letter was received, DoTerra warned all of their “wellness advocates” to stop making these claims but not all listened to the warning. There is one promoting oils as flu prevention when the only prevention is the flu vaccine.
The salespeople found a loophole. The salespeople share their experience and do not say they prevent or cure a condition. They would tell potential customers about a time a certain oil helped their child sit through a lesson. This type of marketing preys on parents of autistic children.
Why Are Parents of Autistic Children Convinced That They Work?
To them, the essential oils seem like they should work. Many autistic children react to loud noises, different textures, and strong tastes and smells. It makes sense for parents to seek treatments that affect the senses. Parents will credit any progress in skills to the oils working. There is no evidence that the oils actually work.
Example of Essential Oils Being Pushed on an Autistic Parent
Emma Dalmayne writes:
“On the 8th of April an unsolicited personal message was sent to my Facebook messenger frol a man named Zach Cutler – Orrey.
He asked if we could ‘have a sec to message here’, I said sure, though it was very late here in the UK. The message soon turned to a professional spiel:
I’m curious to know-
Would you open to learning about a great side hustle to create extra income?
Would you be open to learning about natural immune boosters & getting rid of toxic chemicals in your home for you and your loved ones?
The reason I thought to reach out to you is that I really respect you for starting & running that FB group, and you definitely strike me as a leader!
(If none of that speaks to you, that’s totally okay! But one never knows until they ask 🤷♂️)
The screenshots speak for themselves. I replied in the vein of a gullible, put upon the parent of an autistic child who asks Zach if the essential oils he’s offering me can “do anything for autism”.
Zach was given a right to reply, which he has done.
Young Living was emailed to ask if they can confirm that Zach works for them, there has been no reply”