Is It Safe to Ingest Essential Oils? What the Sales Reps Aren't Telling You
Every time I click a link to an online article about the possibility that ingesting essential oils could be safe, I find it's written by a sales representative of the essential oil multi-level marketing (MLM) company, Young Living.
Now, I don't sell essential oils, so I don't have a vested interest in where you get your oils from. I do sell products I blend myself from essential oils, like sprays and perfumes, but not the straight oils themselves. I was just taught to never eat them straight, and I want to assure you that your hesitation about ingesting essential oils is rational, sound, and safe.
Since a non-salesman like myself doesn't stand a chance against the pre-scripted rebuttals of MLM masters, I'm calling upon 15 years of professional experience in sales, herbalism, and media ethics to reaffirm that any reservations you have about eating essential oils, or putting them straight onto your skin, are justified.
If essential oil multi-level marketing companies like Young Living want to claim that it is okay to eat and apply essential oils undiluted, then I am here to claim it is also okay if it makes you nervous and if you don't want to do it. That is obviously the safer choice: Don't let a cleverly crafted sales pitch convince you otherwise!
Is the information in these Young Living articles trustworthy, sound, and rational as it relates to the proper use of essential oils? Why are sales reps giving medical advice? And how do they convince us that eating the pure, undiluted essential oil of a plant—as warned against by clinical aromatherapists and aromatherapy organizations—is perfectly safe?
Young Living representatives and employees regularly make claims that you can safely ingest some essential oils. Here are a few exact examples of these claims which have been made in writing by Young Living representatives and published online:
- "Many Young Living oils are designated by the FDA as GRAS, generally recognized as safe for ingestion"
- "Many physicians who are trained in clinical aromatherapy in France and other countries regularly prescribe oils to be ingested for sometimes serious medical problems..."
- "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) records 160 essential oils, oleoresins and distillates considered safe for direct addition to food for human consumption on the Generally Recognized as Safe list (GRAS), adding further evidence that various essential oils are harmless when taken orally" (Aromatopia).
Young Living sales representatives are apparently taught to use the transitive property of association in their sales pitch to convince you that ingesting some essential oils undiluted is perfectly safe and even approved by the FDA. First, they note that essential oils are used in cooking. Then, they state the associated fact that food is consumed by mouth. Finally, they conclude that eating essential oils is safe. Essential oils are used all the time in cooking. Does that mean they're safe to eat straight out of the bottle?
Equating the safety of straight essential oil ingestion to its safe use as a flavoring agent is irresponsible! Bleach can be used to sterilize your dishes when properly diluted—the instructions are right on the bottle—and you eat off your dishes, but is ingesting undiluted bleach safe? No way! Similarly, essential oils are highly concentrated plant oils, ingested extremely diluted if at all under the care of a qualified clinical aromatherapist, and you're being instructed on how to use them by a sales representative trained with deceptive wording and usually no clinical aromatherapy training on the matter.
The Concentrated Power of Essential Oils
Before we begin to examine the safety of ingesting essential oils through scientific explanation, let's break this issue down using a science most of us are experienced with: cooking.
When you cook with an essential oil, you diffuse it into the food. Typically you only use 1 to 2 drops per recipe. Lorannoils.com reports that , "in recipes calling for grated citrus zest or peel start with 1/8 teaspoon essential oil in place of 1 tablespoon of zest", and that, "[f]or most oils, one drop replaces a teaspoon of dried herb or spice". Anyone who cooks with dried herbs and spices knows that 1 teaspoon or less typically suffices to flavor baked dishes, soups, sauces, and entire pots of stew. That's because the flavoring agents, including their volatile essential oils, seep out of the dried plant material and into your dish, adding its flavor. One teaspoon of dried herb is also the serving size recommended for most teas and herbal teas.
So, where 1 teaspoon of dried herbs, or 2 to 4 teaspoons of fresh herbs, usually supplies enough plant oil to flavor an entire recipe, it takes 16 pounds of the fresh peppermint leaf to produce one ounce of essential oil! When's the last time you picked up a leaf? There's not much weight to one, really. Its been reported that a single drop of pure essential oil straight out of the bottle is the equivalent of up to 75 cups of herbal tea.
Each drop of essential oil out of the bottle is typically equal to 1/20th of a mL, or about 1/100th of a teaspoon. Using 1 to 2 drops per recipe, that means flavoring an entire dish usually meant to serve 6 to 8 people uses 1/100th of a teaspoon of essential oil, divided amongst the 8 dinner guests. So when you eat food containing essential oils, you're exposed to just over 1/1000th of a teaspoon of it. Each drop of essential oil straight out of the bottle is equal to 1/100th of a teaspoon, 10 times stronger than what you usually consume from food.
Needless to say, this is powerful stuff!
Did You Have a Bad Experience from Essential Oil Use?
If you've suffered an injury from the use of essential oils, the Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy wants to know about it!
Follow this link to report your experience, and contribute data for the safe promotion and use of essential oils worldwide.
Of course there are substances of which you can eat 1/1000th of, 1/100th of, the whole thing or maybe two, and not notice any ill side-effects, but essential oils aren't one of them. Here's why:
- When taken orally, essential oils are broken down by the liver into what are generally referred to phytochemicals, compounds that could affect health. If too many of these phytochemicals accumulate in the liver before the liver can properly process them, they could reach toxic levels. This is a potential side effect of essential oils MLM companies like Young Living and doTerra commonly recommend for oral use, like peppermint.
- Ingesting essential oils can have potentially hazardous effects on pregnancy, nursing mothers, young children and the elderly. The University of Minnesota cites that, "[m]enthol - one of the major chemicals in peppermint oil - has caused breathing to stop in young children, and has caused severe jaundice in babies...", and that "accidental ingestion of amounts [of undisclosed oils] as small as a teaspoon has resulted in death."
- "Because essential oils are immediately absorbed, they can shock your system, triggering a cleanse. This may include diarrhea, vomiting, fever."
- "The purity of the oil does not change the fact that they are extremely concentrated plant material and can be easily overdosed." All cases of death involving essential oils were a result of internal use
This last one may seem like common knowledge, but Young Living affiliates adamantly claim otherwise:
"I researched essential oil/drug interactions thoroughly when I was writing my Chemistry Book and was unable to find a single citation or publication that indicated any adverse reactions between drugs and essential oils anywhere. If there is a problem between oils and pharmaceuticals, it must not be a serious one since no medical reference I checked referred to the topic." David Stewart, credited as a PhD and Doctor of Natural Medicine.
I don't think I'll be reading Dr. Stewart's "Chemistry Book" anytime soon. Let's see what science does actually have to say about the side effects of ingesting essential oils.
Interaction With Other Medicines
We'll begin by examining one essential oil commonly recommended by Young Living for ingestion, peppermint oil (Mentha piperita).
An article published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics (Vol. 17, Issue 3, first published online 4 Feb 2003) explains how Peppermint leaf essential oil has been shown to slow intestinal transit, which may slow the absorption rate or increase the total absorption of coadministered drugs.
"In our study, pharmacodynamic proof that peppermint oil ... inhibit[s] gall-bladder contraction in humans was obtained for the ﬁrst time." (pg. 449)
So to begin, there is at least a single citation or publication that indicates an adverse reaction between drugs and essential oils.
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy actually lists three potential drug interactions for peppermint essential oil ingestion:
- "Peppermint leaf essential oil ... may slow the absorption rate or increase the total absorption of coadministered drugs. (Goerg, K.J. and Spilker)
- "Peppermint essential oil in large doses internally may inhibit a drug-metabilizing isoenzyme, leading to increased plasma levels of drugs metabolized by that isoenzyme.
- "Coadministration of peppermint leaf essential oil ... and felodipine (a calcium antagonist drug used to control hypertension) moderately increased the plasma concentration of felodipine..."
Even though your Young Living representative has never heard or found evidence of contraindications for peppermint oil doesn't mean there aren't any. The bottom line here is potential drug interactions with the ingestion of peppermint oil do exist.
Now, let's compare directions for use of peppermint essential oil from a multi-level marketing business to the information provided by leading aromatherapy organizations both in the United States and internationally.
Ingestion Side Effects
Want the Healing Power of Plants? Make a Tea!
One teaspoon of most dried herbs is all it takes to promote health and well-being. So if you want to consume the healing power of plants, simply steep the herb in a cup of hot water! You'll have the synergists and buffers that come along with the plant's active ingredients to help your body gently and properly process the active components, all the medicinal power you probably need, and a tasty beverage to enjoy!
As always, consult your physician before beginning a new regimen, especially if pregnant, nursing, or using prescription medication.
Directions for use of peppermint essential oil vary widely depending on who you ask. There does seem, however, to be a consensus amongst MLM companies like Young Living about how to use them that is in stark contrast to instructions and precautions offered by the world's leading aromatherapy organizations.
Young Livings' directions for using peppermint essential oil include:
- "Massage several drops of peppermint essential oil on the abdomen..."
- "Rub one drop of peppermint essential oil on the temples, forehead, over the sinuses (careful to avoid contact with your eyes), and on the back of the neck to relieve head pressure."
- "Place 2 drops of peppermint essential oil on the tongue..."
- "Apply peppermint essential oil to the back of the neck and shoulders..."
- "...apply topically to your temples or neck, or put a drop on your tongue..."
- "Another way you could take Peppermint oil is by putting some in a capsule" (quoted from a Young Living affiliated production).
Young Living also recommends getting your daily dose by filling vegetable capsules with essential oils.
In stark and alarming contradiction, The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) offers the following safety information regarding peppermint essential oil:
- "When used orally, it may cause heartburn, perianal burning, blurred vision, nausea and vomiting."
- "...even with enteric-coated capsules, anal burning, rashes, headache, muscle tremors, diarrhea, and ataxia have been reported. (AHPA Botanical Safety Handbook)"
- "People with gallbladder disease, severe liver damage, gallstones and chronic heartburn should avoid the intake of peppermint oil."
- "Menthol and peppermint oil caused burning mouth syndrome, recurrent oral ulceration or a lichenoid reaction, by contact sensitivity in the intra-oral mucosa, in sensitive patients.
- "Peppermint oil should be used with caution. Doses of menthol over 1 g/Kg b.w. may be deadly."
As you can see, ingesting peppermint oil carries the risk of some serious side effects. If your essential oil sales rep doesn't mention that these are AT LEAST possible side effects, she's not giving you the whole story. And if you happen to mention it to her, she's likely to explain that those risks are associated with inferior and adulterated oils, like in the story that follows. But these are not the risks listed for inferior oils. These are the risks listed by the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy regarding the ingestion of pure, unadulterated peppermint oil - for instance, the ones sold by Young Living that they instruct you to drop on your tongue, twice.
Two drops of straight peppermint oil on the tongue would equal approximately 1/10 of 1mL. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports a medicinal oral dose of 90mg (just under 1mL) per day HAS been scientifically studied, but only when combined with caraway oil and administered with an enteric coating, a coating which holds the pill together to prevent stomach contact. Young Living's capsules are not noted to be enteric, and the NAHA safety information on the matter states that even with an enteric-coated capsule, burning, rashes, headaches and diarrhea have been reported.
The recommended dose for applying peppermint oil to the skin to treat a headache is a strongly diluted solution which only contains 10% of the straight peppermint oil.
Moderate interactions with liver medications were also reported by the NIH.
How Quality Is Measured
The purity and potency of essential oils are measured using scientific analysis. The composition of an essential oil is analyzed by gas chromatography, as used by the International Organization for Standardization for purposes of determining the characteristics "...of the chiral compounds contained in the essential oils." The composition of essential oils, including its adulterants if it has any, is further measured by mass spectrometry. Any reputable essential oil distributor will have the results of their GC/MS analysis available for your review.
Young Living frequently cites GC/MS testing to verify both the purity of their essential oils and to verify their claims of the existence of impure oils on the market. Their reps educate consumers about inferior quality oils by noting the price of the oil, and conjuring up the frightening idea that some oils could be intentionally adulterated with toxic additives and then mislabeled as pure. These two reasons are then used to reassure nervous customers that the straight consumption of essential oil is safe, but only if they are Young Living's high priced, "therapeutic grade" oils.
Let's examine some convincing arguments about spotting inferior and potentially adulterated oils by their packaging and cost. One Young Living rep claims, "[i]t is not possible to import the finest Frankincense resin ... then distill and bottle it for $20 per 1/2 oz." The rep convincingly suggests that prices lower than those of the Young Living oils, along with labels warning against their internal use, must mean the oil is inferior and/or adulterated with toxic chemicals.
"My first visit, a local, very popular, natural food store. I went straight to the essential oils and, yep, he was right…the price was cheaper. I pick up the bottle and ask a friendly employee…”can you take these internally”? She responded with a quick, no. This is not for internal use. Hmmmm. Okay. I look on the bottle and sure enough. "Do not ingest."
Well, well, well. There must be a reason why you can’t ingest these oils…right? As I began doing some research I found that many companies add things to enhance aroma, put chemicals on their plants, manufacture in a way that will take the “therapeutic” qualities out of the oil and so on. Let’s face it…it’s all about the bottom dollar for many companies." (quoted from http://granolaconvert.com/why-young-living-essential-oils 2 Mar 2014. Link broken and article removed June 2014).
"Even if the label says pure, natural, organic, it may not be. It may be adulterated with toxic chemicals like antifreeze, or other synthetic chemicals to make more profit."
"[M]any companies," writes the Essential Oil Cookbook, "add adulterants to stretch the oil for economic reasons. Some of these adulterants are toxic such as SD40 alcohol, propylene glycol, diethylenephalate and other synthetic chemicals."
Essential Oils Added to Products
Now it's true, many companies do add adulterants to essential oils to enhance and prolong aroma. However, these oils are then designated for their newly intended use, as is the case of "fragrance oils" which are sold as scenting agents for cosmetic, fragrance and perfume uses.
For instance, let's look at the list of chemicals they've mentioned above. SD40 is denatured alcohol, a common solvent. Propylene glycol is an FDA approved food additive, which is also used in antifreeze but is not antifreeze itself. As the FDA reports, "there is no evidence in the available information on propylene glycol ... that demonstrates, or suggests reason to suspect, a hazard to the public when they are used at levels that are now current or that might reasonably be expected in future."
Diethylenephalate isn't real, but if she's referring to diethyl phthalate, it's a common binding agent used in cosmetics and fragrances. These things are added to essential oils, but consequently they are no longer labeled as pure, "therapeutic grade" essential oils. Essential oils are a popular ingredient in many everyday household products like cleaners, soaps, and perfumes, and are blended with a variety of ingredients to serve their intended purpose.
It is entirely rational to assume that the "do not ingest" labeling on a bottle of essential oil exists because eating it straight from the bottle could be hazardous to your health. I'm still searching for a list of many companies who secretly adulterate their oils and still label them as pure, unadulterated essential oils. I did find one however who has been accused of such actions - the essential oil MLM company doTerra, in a messy court battle between doTerra and Young Living designed to edge out the competition and dominate the essential oil market.
"Well, well, well..." ... I guess it takes one to know one.
In a convoluted twisting of facts, Young Living reps claim that their essential oils are the only safe ones to ingest because they are guaranteed to be "Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade". Let's now take a closer look at exactly what that means.
The Truth Behind "Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade"
As any essential oil MLM representative will tell you, they sell 100% pure, undiluted, superior quality essential oils, typically designated as something like "Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade". They rationalize that because their oils are guaranteed to be "Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade," "Young Living Therapeutic Grade," "100% Pure Therapeutic Grade," or something similar, their oils are the only safe ones to ingest.
But Young Living is not the only provider of pure, unadulterated essential oils. There is only a limited amount of essential oil distillers in the world producing and providing pure, unadulterated essential oils to the rest of us, and common business sense tells you that they aren't just selling their oils to one customer! Young Living does not have a monopoly on the pure essential oils market. So, two clarities arise here:
- You CAN get pure, unadulterated therapeutic grade essential oils from sources other than Young Living, and
- if you research it, these official sounding, usually capitalized phrases like "Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade" are not terms you'll find in use anywhere other than these essential oil MLM companies. We'll cover why that is further on.
Young Living representatives claim there are 4 Grades of Essential Oils:
- Grade A: Pure, Therapeutic grade
- Grade B: Food Grade
- Grade C: Perfume Grade, and
- Floral Water
of course asserting that theirs are "Grade A" pure therapeutic quality, the absolute purest, highest form of essential oils available on the market.
The problem is, there aren't four grades of essential oils. There aren't any grades for essential oils at all. The reason is that no government agency or internationally recognized organization has a grading scale like this. While the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the AFNOR group are two prominent, internationally recognized organizations that develop, measure and publish international standards for substances, and do analyze the composition and promote the standardization of essential oils, there is no "grading scale" in place for the certification of essential oils. If this were the case, you would be able to find essential oils labeled as "Grade B", "C", and "D" quality. There aren't any. Either the oil is pure, or it's diluted and adulterated and no longer labeled as a bottle of "100% pure essential oil" by any reputable company.
As to why these Multi-Level Marketing businesses are the only ones selling "Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade" essential oils is merely a matter of marketing. The phrase "Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade" is a made-up, misleading term—a phrase trademarked and owned by the essential oil MLM companies - not a certification.
"*CPTG Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade® is a registered trademark of dōTERRA Holdings, LLC and represents internal standards of quality assessment and material control... [t]he CPTG protocol is not administered by government or industry regulatory agencies and does not imply regulatory approval of dōTERRA products."
By now it is no secret that the "Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade" label is a clever marketing ploy developed by essential oil marketing companies in the 1990s to convince you that their oils are the highest grade available, and better than all others on the market. Since coming under fire the phrasing has evolved and changed a bit amongst the individual companies, but you get the idea. These official sounding claims of purity are the primary reason MLM essential oil reps cite for why their company's oils are safe to ingest straight, and all others probably aren't. They're also the go-to rebuttal they use to overcome your hesitation of eating such a super-concentrated medicinal substance, assuring you that it is the extremely high purity and potentcy of their essential oils that makes them safe to ingest—the very same reason reputable sources advise against it.
Unfortunately, other reputable essential oil suppliers started using similar wording (like "therapeutic grade") to assert that their oils are equally pure and as fine a quality as the MLMs' oils. This makes navigating the world of essential oils very confusing to newcomers.
- 100% pure, unadulterated essential oils are claimed to be therapeutic grade, both by MLM companies and reputable suppliers.
- Essential oils are commonly sold for flavoring food. If you can use the essential oil to flavor food without it being toxic to human consumption, then it is considered "food grade". This is in contrast to essential oils that are absolutely toxic to humans and should never be used for ingestion, not even for flavoring food, like pennyroyal. It is entirely possible for an essential oil to be both "therapeutic" and "food" grade, though food grade oils with additives meant to enhance or prolong flavor would no longer be considered "therapeutic" and would not be labeled as a bottle of 100% pure essential oil by any reputable company.
- Fragrance oils often have additives or are entirely made of synthetic chemicals intended to mimic natural scents and extend the lifespan of the scent vastly. While a fragrance oil may be used in a perfume to help the scent last all day, or used in a candle to scent a whole room, essential oils are extremely volatile, meaning they evaporate quickly. So using only essential oils in perfumes, candles, soaps, and sprays most often results in scents that don't linger very long. Because of this, perfumes and other scented items often use natural and/or chemical additives to enhance and extend their tenacity, or scent life, thus making them fragrance oils. They are then labeled as such.
As you can see, there are frequent instances where additives are added to essential oils. However, once this occurs they are no longer called "essential oils".
As always, as a conscientious consumer, you must distinguish between items that are 100% pure versus items that claim to have 100% pure ingredients IN them, but that is simply a matter of knowing that this can happen and accurately reading the label.
So when an essential oil sales rep tells you that their oils are the only safe ones to ingest because they are "Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade", or some other official sounding claim of superior grade quality oil only they can provide, the deception is two-fold:
- Their oils are just as potentially hazardous to eat straight out of the bottle as any other 100% pure, unadulterated, undiluted essential oil, and,
- "Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade" is a trademarked term made up by them which holds no credibility. It is not a certification bestowed upon them by an independent outside organization testing the purity of their oils.
They may have a third-party testing the purity of their oils, but they would not then certify them as "Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade", first because they don't hold the trademark to use that term, and second, because it's not a legitimate classification of essential oils. They might as well call their oils "Super Awesome Number 1 World's Best Oils", it would mean the same thing. But you probably wouldn't take much stock in that.
Besides, they're pretty excited about testing their own oils anyway.
Online research can easily demystify the "Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade" (CPTG) claim made by Essential Oil MLM companies.
About the FDA and the "GRAS" Designation
Yet Young Living reps continue to claim that ingesting essential oils is safe. "Many Young Living oils are designated by the FDA as GRAS, generally recognized as safe for ingestion."
The designation of a substance as "GRAS", or "Generally Recognized as Safe" means it is not subject to FDA approval for its use as a food additive. "...[A]ny substance that is intentionally added to food is a food additive, that is subject to premarket review and approval by FDA, unless the substance is [GRAS]". The GRAS designation explicitly means the substance is NOT SUBJECT to FDA review. So while Young Living reps associate the safe ingestion of their oils with FDA approval, the FDA explains why this could not possibly be:
Q: "Must FDA approve GRAS substances?"
A: "No. If the use of a food substance is GRAS, it is not subject to the premarket review and approval requirement by FDA."
Furthermore, GRAS is a designation for the safe use of a substance as a food ingredient or ADDITIVE, as per its intended, historical, and common use, not to the complete and total safety of the substance itself!
Q: "If an ingredient is GRAS for one use, is it GRAS for all uses?"
So if an essential oil is designated as "Generally Recognized as Safe" because it is typically used 1-2 drops at a time in a recipe, that does not automatically clear it as safe for straight consumption.
"Some essential oils have been approved as ingredients in food and are classified as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, within specific limits. Swallowing large amounts of essential oils is not recommended."
"Aromatherapy is rarely taken by mouth..."
And, while we're examining the FDA's endorsement of essential oil ingestion, let's recall that their rules on the matter state that no dietary supplement, including essential oils, can claim that they treat a disease. When they do it in writing, like this...
"Medicinal Properties: Analgesic (for pain), anti-inflammatory (for inflammation), antiseptic (destroys and prevents germs), anti-infectious, antimicrobial (destroys pathogens), antispasmodic . . . fungicidal (kills fungus), nervine (strengthen and tone nerves), vasoconstrictor (blood vessels constrict) . . . . ..
"Peppermint is one of nature's finest digestives and peppermint herb is great to help oxygenate[s] the blood - therefore it assists invaluably in: healing of circulatory disorders, nervousness, insomnia, flu, headaches, fevers . . . . "
"Because peppermint herbs stimulate bile and digestive juice secretion, the peppermint therefore helps in relieving intestinal colic and other associated conditions. "
"Physical Benefits . . .
Asthma . . .
Colic . . .
Hypotension . . .
Migraine . . .
...they are notified by the FDA to stop, like this:
"...Lavender Oil, Lemon Oil, [and] Peppermint Oil" are drugs...because they are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease. Moreover, these products are new drugs,... because they are not generally recognized as safe and effective for their labeled uses. Under sections 301(d) and 505(a) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. §§ 331(d) and 355(a), a new drug may not be introduced or delivered for introduction into interstate commerce unless an FDA-approved application is in effect for it. Your sale of the above-listed "Therapeutic Essential Oils" without approved applications violates these provisions of the Act. Furthermore, many of the conditions for which these products are offered... are not amenable to self-diagnosis and treatment by individuals who are not medical practitioners; therefore, adequate directions for use cannot be written so that a layman can use these drugs safely for these intended purposes." —FDA
So if your Essential Oil Sales Representative is telling you all the wonderful health benefits of an oil, you can spot an unverified claim if he or she happens to directly name an ailment or disease. While it is alright to advertise that a substance can help "promote relaxation", it is not a justified claim to say the same substance can help "relieve anxiety", because anxiety is the name of an ailment. So while a sales rep may be trying to sell you products that promote well-being, remember, a sales rep is usually not a medical practitioner, which means they are not equipped to diagnose nor to treat a disease professionally.
Backed by Whose Research?
Through my years of independent research on the uses of herbs and herbal medicine, I have found articles that report results of scientific studies that conclude the ingestion of some oils is safe, like peppermint. One such article is "Topical and oral administration of essential oils-safety issues", co-authored by Johnson and Boren.
The article, like many of its kind, reports on how specific herbs like peppermint have been documented to provide relief for gastrointestinal issues. It goes on to report that studies of products which use essential oils in their recipes, like mouthwash, have verified that these products are safe to use orally. It briefly reports on a handful of studies done on the topical application of some essential oils, and broadly summarizes a scientific study done on the oral use of peppermint oil:
"Studies examining the oral administration of peppermint essential oil indicate that it is well tolerated even among children" (pg 3).
"... in a small randomized, double-blind controlled trial of 42 children with IBS... [c]hildren received an oral solution containing 187 mg of peppermint oil three times daily" (pg 4).
"The harmlessness of oral ingestion of peppermint was confirmed." (pg 4)
In this very official looking document, the conclusion is noted as only an opinion of the authors that administering a "wide variety" of essential oils orally is safe, and is loaded with the names of reputable organizations well-known for their authority in such matters, like the FDA and German Commission E. Note how the first instances they cite as evidence suggesting the safe ingestion of essential oils don't actually document ingesting the straight oil, only studies of the products that contained them in dilution like mouthwash, and the association of uses of the oil's parent plants for herbal medicine remedies like peppermint.
That last study does claim that peppermint oil was administered orally to children, but this was as a prepared solution, suggesting it was not the straight oil of peppermint that was administered, but a diluted substance containing peppermint oil. This article also states:
"Furthermore, fennel essential oil is considered safe to administer orally to infants to alleviate colic." It completely fails to note that the study which concluded this used a 0.1% fennel oil preparation - again, not the straight oil.
Who is dosing children with more than twice the recommended daily dosage of peppermint oil? And who is suggesting to unwitting parents that feeding your infant child essential oil of any kind straight from the bottle is safe?
Though this document looks scientific and credible, the statements contained therein are inconclusive and deceptive. Turns out this particular article is co-authored by two employees of Young Living. One had actually been hired to supply the research for Young Living from which they draw their claims.
It is not the only credible-looking article of its kind, just a good example of the types of articles, studies, and books you will find while trying to do your own independent research. As the title of my article here points out, all of the articles I have found claiming safe ingestion of straight essential oils have turned out to be written by Young Living representatives, and they are not in short supply.
So if you find information claiming that ingesting essential oils undiluted is perfectly safe, or hear someone telling you this, remember:
"The International Federation of Aromatherapists Code of Ethics states -
No aromatherapist shall use essential oils for internal ingestion or internal application nor shall any aromatherapist advocate or promote such use of essential oils unless the practicing aromatherapist has medical, naturopathic, herbalist, or similar qualifications and holds an insurance policy which specifically covers the internal application of essential oils. (IFA code of ethics. Simply Essential, No. 11 December 1993)."
That last sentence has me wondering if Young Living Sales Representatives have to carry their own insurance, so when someone has a bad reaction to a reps recommended usage, Young Living is not found liable. Whether they do or not, sales representatives ARE liable for what you tell people to do with essential oils. So from an educated and frustrated marketing professional and herbal researcher, I say go on, sell and make money - but please, for safety's sake, stop advising customers to ingest essential oils.
The World of Multi-Level Marketing
Multi-Level Marketing businesses (MLM's) broadly range from business-casual to brainwashing. The former is comprised of the recent explosion of popular home-based businesses, like Thirty-One, Tastefully Simple, etc. The latter is an all-encompassing system designed to control how you think, what you feel, and what you say. I say this as a sales and marketing professional with over 15 years of experience having direct experience working for this type of intense MLM business, and it is no exaggeration.
(An example of how you are cunningly led through a sales conversation with an MLM rep is broken down for you in this article I wrote a couple years ago on "How to Compose an Engaging Script", a step-by-step guide on how to talk to someone to land that sale! Keep an ear out for some of these key methods the next time you talk to anyone trying to sell you something they didn't produce themselves.)
So when the "Tastefully Simple" rep meets the "Young Living" rep, they assume their training is much the same. They both have a product they are pumped up to believe in, are trained by their supervisors in marketing and sales methods, and are sent out to sell. But while the sales representatives of some MLM companies are just trying to find sales, what the Young Living rep is doing is two-fold both dangerous and manipulative to the customer. Here's why:
- While the Tastefully Simple rep is reciting 3 key points she's been taught to announce about her onion dip, the Young Living rep is reciting 3 key points she's been taught about her super-concentrated medicine. And while I usually know ahead of time if eating onions or things that might go into an onion dip might give me a bad reaction, as a typical home-party attendee I am probably very unaware of the the concentration of essential oils - the straight, undiluted oil expressed from the plant. The peppermint oil you are about to eat is not the same concentration found in your mouthwash or gum - it is the STRAIGHT OIL used to flavor it! If your mouthwash or gum is as potent as it is with just a minimal amount of the oil in its entire recipe, imagine what eating the oil must be like!
- While the Tastefully Simple rep has been taught to counter negatives with a friendly smile and reassurance of the positive aspects of her product, the Young Living rep has been taught to counter concerns with pre-scripted answers and made up terminology you'd have to do some serious research to uncover!
I've been doing independent and unaffiliated herbal research for 10 years, and I'll tell you now, the unbiased information is getting overtaken online by affiliated articles. This cannot continue - essential oils are not safe to eat straight!
Online Rebuttals and Reputation
Online research into MLM claims on essential oils is littered with hundreds of personal accounts by representatives and seemingly unaffiliated users of MLM essential oils that all closely resemble each other. These stories first begin by naming an ailment the user had been suffering from. Then they briefly describe all the different methods and products they've used to try to find relief, including other company's essential oils. Finally they mention how they discovered their MLM's essential oils, and now they have relief. The conclusion praises the MLM company and its product.
While these stories may seem legit and read very authentically, the sheer abundance of them and their template like structure of "first A, then B, so C" raises suspicion of their authenticity.
I feel disheartened by the sales ethics of companies such as Young Living. They are entirely aware of what they are doing when they train people you know and trust to instruct you to use essential oils in potentially dangerous ways. Some of these reps are my friends, trying to earn a living selling a product they whole-heartedly believe in.
Your friendly Young Living representative, a reputable and trusting mild-mannered friend you've probably known all your life, repeats the lessons she has learned from her Multi-Level Marketing superiors. All she knows is what she's been taught - it sounds credible, it's been (deceptively) linked to scientific research, and it's very convincing. What's more, any questions she has about the product will be answered the same way she is eventually taught to rebut concerns from her customers. Her rebuttal will be full of empty wording that sounds official, using phrases like "Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade", "generally regarded as safe" and "approved by the FDA" as she's taught to turn your negatives into her positives in order to get that sale!
Some rebuttals commonly taught to MLM Sales Representatives designed specifically to overcome your hesitations while dodging the issues in question include:
Q: Can you overdose on essential oils?
A: You can overdose on carrots if you eat enough.
Analysis of the answer: That's not what I asked.
Q: Are there any side effects to ingesting peppermint essential oils straight from the bottle?
A: When we stop feeding our kids pharmaceuticals and drugging them for ADHD then I'll start worrying about eating peppermint oil. Until then I trust what God has given us.
Analysis of the answer: A triple-layered confusing response that also does not answer the question asked. Let's break this down into its separate parts. First, it would make more sense to simply learn about the safety of ingesting peppermint oil before eating peppermint oil, let alone instruct others to do the same. Next, drugging children has nothing to do with the question at hand. That's fear mongering - associating a completely unrelated and disproportionately devastating idea to disrupt logical, rational thinking. Finally, nature also provides nightshade, oleander, daffodil bulbs and jasmine berries, and if you're ready to eat a big salad of all that, you should at least take a basic botany class.
Q: The handling of vanilla oil has been reported to cause headaches and loss of eyebrows.
A: People have eaten vanilla ice cream for years with no ill side effects.
Analysis of the answer: Vanilla ice cream is flavored by vanilla EXTRACT, which is a diluted mix of the essential oil diffused from the vanilla bean in alcohol.
Q: I heard your company was a quack.
A: You can Google "Pepsi" and find bad press - it's out there for every big company. Those who call us unreputable are just those against alternative healing methods. Of course drug companies don't want you to know how powerful natural medicine can be - that takes cash out of Big Pharma's pocket!
Analysis of the answer: Cleverly pre-scripted rebuttal meant to both reassure you in Young Living's credibility and distract you from the actual issues that concerned you in the first place and prompted you to ask the question, like sales ethics and safety practices. Notice how it never directly discusses if their company really is a reputable company. It also uses keywords, phrases, and ideas that are already familiar to you (like drug companies vs. natural remedies, and money hungry pharmaceutical companies) to overcome your objections. Yes you believe in natural remedies, and yes you believe that "big pharma" is greedy, but what about your concerns regarding this company and this product? Always keep the question you want answered in mind—maybe even write it down.
Q: I read an article online that said eating essential oils could be dangerous.
A: It saddens me that people feel the need to spread fear unnecessarily.
Analysis of the answer:Yes, fear mongering is rampant both online and in mainstream media. However, properly educating you on the potential side effects of essential oils is not fear mongering.
Q: My essential oils are labeled as "pure, therapeutic grade too."
A: 'Young Living oils are verified by GCMS (gas chromatagram mass spectrometer) and organically grown without the use of pesticides...are your oils?'
Probably not a question you ever thought to ask. Now the rep is trumping you with scientific testing you'd probably never heard of and seemingly common sense questions you never thought to ask (until now). Now you feel like an idiot. Now you'll believe whatever they tell you - clearly they know something you don't.
Answers like these are not for your education. Answers like these are also not off-the-cuff responses by your rep. You are what's called "pre-empted", told pre-written responses to their most common objections, often before you even say them! This is a marketing mind-game cleverly devised by an experienced MLM company, it's a staple in the world of direct (person-to-person) marketing, and it's likely that neither you nor the rep telling you realize exactly how it's been intentionally scripted to specifically lower your defenses and hesitations to make a sale.
In my experience representing over 30 of the world's most well-renowned brands and products, I could probably recite 100 pre-written rebuttals for you. This type of mental manipulation is also why I don't represent a single one of them anymore.
The hesitation you feel the first time a sales representative tells you to drop an essential oil straight from the bottle onto your tongue (or even your skin) is the result of having a healthy respect for the power of nature. It is ok to feel nervous about ingesting essential oils, as the dangers of doing so have been studied, verified, and reported on by the world's most reputable aromatherapy organizations.
It is ok to tell the rep "no," even to drinking an essential oil diluted in water. I've got your back on this. By rule of thumb, never take an essential oil internally.
The number of online articles and print books published by Young Living representatives is growing, making it harder for you to discover the truth about the potential hazards of eating essential oils straight. It seems however that all are designed to convince you to buy THEIR product, instead of educate you on the benefits of essential oils overall. Researcher, be aware.
I'm alarmed to see a business wrecklessly endanger your health and well-being. But what's more, I'm frustrated to see such an irresponsible practice in the world of holistic medicine. The recent surge in popularity of natural remedies has the potential to disarm the strangle hold pharmaceutical companies have on offering relief to what ails us with harsh synthetic derivatives at sensationalized prices. With such irresponsible and unverified instructions regarding the safe use of essential oils internally, the entire practice of using them is vulnerable to attack and public scrutiny. Online backlash already includes articles questioning if all essential oils are just a scam.
Nature's medicinals hold the potential to treat and relieve ailments that is easily accessible and affordable to all of us. Let's not cast a devastating shadow of dis-credibility on the benefits of herbal medicine that are being newly being brought to light on the public platform by recommending we use them unsafely. Could it be that careless and dangerous practices like these are in fact a pharmaceutical plant (pun intended) meant to completely discredit an otherwise effective, useful, and invaluable field of knowledge for the well-being of all? Afterall, a house divided against itself cannot stand.
Regardless of your opinion of this article or its contents, the bottom line is this:
Essential oil MLM companies like doTerra and Young Living, their representatives, and affiliates need to stop deceptively promoting the safe use of ingesting straight essential oils.
Eating an essential oil straight out of the bottle is rarely if ever recommended by anyone outside the essential oil MLM world, and is specifically advised against worldwide by certified aromatherapists, scientific researchers, and industry experts. And dummies.com.
Disclaimer and Important Information
Please take responsibility for your own health. Do not use any products that may cause a sensitivity or allergic reaction, or if sensitivity or allergy status to a product is unknown. Information provided is not given or intended to be a substitute or replacement for qualified medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The owner(s), developer(s), producer(s) and maintainer(s) of this business, website, articles and its partners are not engaged in rendering professional or medical advice. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information presented in these pages should not be considered medical advice, and you should always consult a physician before beginning a new regimen, to be advised about complications, interactions, or contradictions to your current treatment, or altering your course of treatment.
Trademarked terms used in this article are property of their respective owners.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.