Essential Oils: So Much Hype, So Little Science

The rise of the wellness industrial complex has put things like natural beauty and essential oils in the spotlight for their perceived lack of chemicals.

Though common in skincare and household cleaning products today, essential oils have long been revered for their healing powers and are used for health and medicinal purposes such as alleviating anxiety or curing the common cold. In fact, a cursory glance at the web results for “essential oils” tells the story of a magical cure-all — one most vehemently told by the multi-level marketing companies that sell them.

But when it comes to the science-backed benefits of essential oils, what’s actually effective? According to experts and research, not much. Here’s what you should know before you invest.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are not vital to humans, as their name might suggest. They’re compounds extracted from plants through a distillation or cold-pressing process that captures the plant’s “essential” scent and flavor.

Known for demystifying chemistry, Joe Schwarcz, director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society, explains that many plants’ compounds are volatile: “Some [are] destined to attract pollinators, others to ward off bugs that have the intention of making a tasty meal of the leaves. It is the volatile chemicals that are regarded as the plant’s essence and are the ones captured in the ‘essential oil.’”

(In fact, another name for essential oil is “volatile oil.”)

How they’re used

Today, essential oils are used to add scent to cosmetics and cleaning products, and flavor to food and beverages, Schwarcz says; but they’re also used as “medical treatments by application to the skin, through ingestion, or through inhalation, the latter commonly being referred to as ‘aromatherapy.’”

Essential oils have a long history of use. They were used for thousands of years in cosmetics and perfumes and for therapeutic purposes by ancient cultures from China and India to the Egyptians and Romans.

Dilini Vethanayagam, an internist and associate professor of pulmonary medicine at the University of Alberta, says Western countries are simply new to the trend. “I’m originally from South Asia, and alternative medicines are very popular there, but that’s over many decades of training,” she notes.

It’s undeniable that it’s a booming business right now, thanks in part to billion-dollar companies selling essential oil products. Rachel Monroe reported for The New Yorker last fall that in 10 years, essential oil company Young Living grew tenfold. Its competitor doTERRA claimed it made $1 billion in sales in 2015.

As Monroe theorized, people today are turning to essential oils because they’re disillusioned by Western medicine. And as Annaliese Griffin recently speculated in Quartz, women are doing so in particular, since modern medicine and the U.S. healthcare system has failed them time and time again:

“The medical system is even more terrible for women, whose experience of pain is routinely minimized by health practitioners. … Enter the wellness industry, which specializes in creating safe, welcoming, amber-lit spaces that make people feel cared-for and relaxed, and which treats the female body as its default. … The problem is that the rest of the wellness industry hitches a ride on their coattails of compassion and competency, benefiting from the utter lack of warmth found in mainstream medical treatment.”

So, what are the claims?

Lavender oil is good for skin irritations, easing muscle tension and helping with sleep problems. Rose oil cures acne and increases sex drive. Sweet orange oil controls gas and stomach problems.

There seems to be an essential oil solution for just about every condition and problem. Guides on the topic are common on health and natural living blogs, but even institutions like the University of Maryland Medical Center offer reference guides for aromatherapy.

Many of the claims about essential oils come from studies showing that their chemical compounds have certain benefits — like tea tree oil, which has antibacterial and antifungal properties. But just because it has antibacterial properties doesn’t mean it can necessarily cure your acne. Other circulating claims are based on studies in which essential oils were tested on rats or other animals rather than humans, or studies that were inconclusive, the results indicating a placebo effect.

In other words, the leap to suggest they can cure and treat conditions is a stretch, Schwarcz says.

Sketchy companies and marketing

In her New Yorker piece, Monroe goes into detail about Young Living (the self-described “World Leader in Essential Oils”) founder Gary Young’s questionable background, which includes opening a health center in Washington state in 1982 where his own daughter died from a birthing service in which she was submerged for an hour in a whirlpool bath; being arrested for practicing medicine without a license; and opening a clinic in Tijuana where he made false diagnoses to get patients to join a costly detox program.

Young, by the way, is a naturopathic doctor who uses natural healing to cure and treat illness. (The legitimacy of naturopathy as a practice has been criticized.)

Even taking Young out of the picture, the business model for these companies is problematic. Two of the biggest essential oil companies, Young Living and doTERRA, work as multi-level marketing schemes. Salespeople in the companies are known as distributors who buy the products at wholesale prices and mark them up to sell them to consumers. “But the real money,” Monroe writes, “comes from recruiting other distributors into your ‘downline’ and getting a commission on their sales.”

Schwarcz adds that distributors often make incredulous claims in order to make sales. “Some of the people the company has snared with its promises of wealth through multi-level marketing end up making a bevy of claims about essential oils helping with cancer, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, mononucleosis and arthritis,” he says.

An unregulated market

Like other complementary and alternative medicines (CAM), the essential oil market is unregulated. But several years ago, the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates prescription medication, issued a warning about Young Living’s marketing. After reviewing the company’s websites and social media accounts, the FDA found that the company was mislabeling and misbranding their products as drugs even though they were not approved as such.

The company had been marketing their products as cures, treatments and preventative measures for things like viral ebola, Parkinson’s disease, autism, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, insomnia, heart disease, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dementia and multiple sclerosis.

Per ATTN’s reporting, the FDA sent similar warnings to doTERRA and another company, and FDA spokesperson Lindsay Meyer informed the outlet that consumers should be wary of fraud and scams that involve claims to prevent, treat or cure health conditions. “Health fraud scams waste money and can lead to delays in getting proper diagnosis and treatment. They can also cause serious or even fatal injuries,” she told ATTN.

(The companies have also had legal troubles unrelated to product claims.)

The language on Young Living’s website and other similar companies’ websites has since softened, for example, by claiming a scent will help you “refocus.”

No proven benefits

As opposed to modern medicine, CAM is difficult to clock as pseudoscience or not, because human studies and clinical trials on things like essential oils are lacking. “If patients talk about using them as treatment,” Vethanayagam says, “I stop them right there.”

According to two studies (one in 2000 and another in 2012), there’s no convincing evidence that aromatherapy can calm hypertension, depression, anxiety, pain or symptoms of dementia. Schwarcz adds that studies shown to prove the benefits of essential oils are often not reliable, noting that “the scent of lavender may have a calming effect in some people and help with sleep, but it can cause headaches in others.”

And while it may be true that scents can be calming and pleasing to people, Pam Dalton of the Monell Chemical Senses Center says that “they likely aren’t working due to any pharmacological or biological effect, [but] rather a sensory/psychological effect.” For instance, the scent of mint may make you feel more alert because it stimulates a nerve that allows you to perceive irritation and pain (or lack thereof).

In other words, these are mood-based changes rather than physiological ones, and the evidence for the mood-based changes depend on subjective memories you have tied to particular scents. Dalton is currently working on a project funded by an essential oil company, but she says she’s still a skeptic.

In addition, in most studies looking at the benefits of aromatherapy on cancer patients as complementary to chemotherapy and other treatments, the results are mixed.

Dermatologist Diane Berson, who recently spoke at a conference about essential oils as a cosmeceutical trend, says they’re typically okay to use in skincare products if you don’t have an allergic reaction to them. Many people use them since they’re advertised as “botanicals,” but she says there’s no evidence that these are any better than ingredients made synthetically.

Are they dangerous?

Most essential oils are generally considered safe to inhale or apply topically, but be aware that they can cause different reactions in different people, Vethanayagam cautions.

Some people with underlying health conditions might experience problems. A 2013 study she authored, focused on fragranced household items, confirms this. “In an open air environment, if you whiff an aroma, maybe it doesn’t cause negative issues,” she says, “but if you have asthma, it can have a negative impact. It can either be an irritant effect or an inflammatory effect.”

Vethanayagam, whose practice focuses on allergies, says this can potentially cause damage to the hairlike projections, or cilia, that line our airways. As for ingesting? Vethanayagam says it’s probably okay in small quantities. “The lungs are very sensitive, but the stomach goes through many processes to take out the bad stuff,” she says. Berson warns that “some ingredients do cause dermatitis or negative reactions, and some common ones that cause allergic reactions are tea tree oil, lavender, peppermint.”

The University of Maryland Medical Center states that, in general, essential oils should not be used during pregnancy.

The bottom line: Essential oils smell nice, but there’s no evidence they work. In fact, depending on your sensitivity to fragrance and your past medical history, they might even be irritating.

If you enjoy how they smell and still want to use them, go ahead! “If the smell of lavender relaxes you for whatever reason, sniff it at bedtime when you find it difficult to disengage,” Dalton says. “If the smell of wintergreen makes you feel more energized, take a whiff when you’re heading off for a run on the treadmill.”

But you’d be wise to be aware of their limitations and — perhaps more importantly — of the companies that stand to profit from understating them.

Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi. Photos feature UMA oil kits and a Bel Air Naturals oil kit.

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  • Adrianna

    Man Repeller comment community implodes in three… two.. one…

    • Funny how so many of the people getting upset have never commented in this community before. Saw that one coming…

  • I personally just add a drop or two to my humidifiers in the winter to make the house smell lovely.

  • Bea

    Whatever guys, tea tree oil 4 LIEF. (no, I wouldn’t use essential oils to cure a life threatening disease)

    • Bridgett

      My skin gets super irritated by tea tree oil, so I obviously can’t get the suggested benefits that a lot of people get from using it.

      • Suzy Lawrence

        tea tree also burned my skin (like, literal burns)- pure vitamin e also burns my skin- so i only use tea tree oil in steam treatments. just a suggestion if you want to keep exploring the benefits of the oil without having to actually put it on your skin.

    • KK

      Came here to say I am an essential oil skeptic BUT tea tree oil was more helpful than OTC/chemical antifungals in healing my persistent foot/nail issues!

  • HALLELUJAH! Thank you for posting.

    Don’t get me started on this whole topic… all the anti-Pharma and “natural is better” crew pls avoid me.

  • Cristina

    When I was paleo, I jumped on the EO badwagon. Basically, if you want anything to blow up, market it to the paleo community lol.
    After a while I was like, shit this shit is expensive. And I’m pretty sure it’s all placebo effect. Also, no way can rubbing an oil on my feet cure my cold and keep me from getting the flu. So I backed off. I keep tea tree oil for pimples, clove oil for mouthwash and lemon cause it get’s the sticky label residue off glass bottles like wine or spices.
    I really love when you challenge the science behind these two major companies, and their distributors come at you verbatim with some truth they’ve copy and pasted, or gets sent to them in their rule book.
    And am I the only one that notices all the images they share are pixelated af? As if someone has distributed them so much they’ve distorted? It drives me crazy.
    Anywho, if it wasn’t for our gullibility, a lot of SAHM wouldn’t be able to stay at home though.
    And damn it if that Thieves doesn’t smell like Christmas miracles!

    • Mama M.

      No, it doesn’t but it worked for me this winter had the flu.

  • ErinPaige

    A well researched article on a woman’s website that isn’t trying to sell me something? I love you ManRepeller. I also like nice smells, science and separating these two things because that’s ok. Thanks Julissa!

  • Ciccollina

    Urgh, THANK YOU. I am so sick of people telling me to use this or that essential oil when I’m sick or not sleeping. Get your snake oil away from me!!

    • Eraem

      😂snake oil

    • Emily

      Sad to think snake oil might actually make come back

  • Autumn

    My boyfriend and I have found that rubbing some peppermint oil on our temples really helps with headaches. And the others do smell really nice. But yea, the fact that people are claiming they cure illnesses is more than crazy.

  • Didi Teufel

    I’ll stick with Johns Hopkins University studies, and first hand proof. Wondering what folks think is going on, money wise, with any boxstores, or drug companies.

  • leilanigl

    Total side note but feels worth adding: some essential oils are really terrible for pets! (Liver failure and nerve damage terrible!) So do a bit of extra research if you have animals.

    This was a great article 👌

    • Laura Shook

      Actually, the only essential oil that isn’t good for pets is Malaleuca (tea tree). There are many other oils that are beneficial for pets.

      • Bubb

        Laura that is incorrect. For example lavender and all citrus and pine are all bad for cats’ livers, I believe because of phenols. I can’t even use patchouli oil because I have a cat. (I miss using all those oils, I love the natural scents) What you are saying about the oils benefiting animals goes against the article. They did a study and it did not do anything for animals, probably because they do not have the psychological experience and placebo affect involved.

      • leilanigl

        Actually, that’s patently untrue. There are risks associated with plenty of types of oils, especially for cats. I love using lavender oil in my little wool dryer ball on my sheets, for example (and grow lavender at home) but I have to take precautions with storing and using it. This is a pretty good overview of some of the risks and a few common oils with issues to look at:

  • Jeanne Michelle Wokurka

    Lol… My family is proof they work. Even my husband asks for the oils for stomach n head discomfort as well as a sleep aide. If they seek it again when need be, it’s because they work.

    • Rita

      I have been using essential oils for years, I did start with young living , however I was introduced to Barefut , which is way less expensive ,as they have no distributor , no pyramid, I have been under pain management for many years and miserable, I started using essential oils and have been able to cut way back on narcotics so I can assure you that my entire family uses essential oils, my son had a huge tumor on his spine that had attached to the spinal cord , after major surgery and extensive therapy he was told he would probably never walk again, I started applying essential oils and after a few months he is walking with the oils and doing 100% better than the doc ever expected . My grandson had lost his sense of smell ,several doctors told him nothing could be done to restore it, after seven years of not being able to smell anything I introduce him to three essential oils that would change that problem , he too made jokes of my ( snake oils) but after three weeks his ability to smell anything was totally restored . My list could go on and on ,but as you can see I do not buy into the so called scientific research, and by the way most prescription drugs are derived from plants so why is it hard to believe that essential oils work without all the harsh toxic additives ,,because the pharmacutical companies don’t want people to know the truth , they want you to think you need their medicines ,derived from plants as well are better than natural ,I don’t try to force my essential oils on anyone I simply tell them about my experience , it’s up to each person. But please don’t bash something you really do not know if it works for you or not . I’ve used the Rx’s and oils , and I still use Rx’s as well as my oil , sometimes one will get the job done when the other won’t . Have a wonderful week and try essential oils for a while before you trash the thought of it , or try to claim it’s just from the aromatic scents ,Not True ,Thanks Rita

  • Jeanne Michelle Wokurka

    And I am part of a company but don’t push since I’ve found other companies that are less costly n work just as good.

  • Maria

    Thank you, Man Repeller, for running this story. Information and critical thinking are so important, and yet almost always forgotten in the beauty/wellness industry. Thank you Julissa for a well-balanced and well-researched piece! I wish Man Repeller would post more scientific content…

    • Lyna

      *chiming in as your hype girl*. Yes! All too often women are subject to bad science in the realm of beauty and wellness. I mean, look at all of the fancy vitamins that are marketed towards women, the word ‘natural’ being thrown around without meaning, assigning the words ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ to foods/menstruation products, etc..

      I think the main takeaway is it feels good to take care of yourself and feel taken care of, something that is often missing in the doctors office and sometimes our lives in general.

      I don’t defend all things that pharmaceutical companies do, nor do I deny that essential oils may have a pleasant placebo effect, I just would love to see more encouragement and skepticism, criticism, and critical thinking on women’s blogs.

      Can we talk about crystal healing, astrology, and scrutinize the assumption that menstrual cycles and moon phases are related next? I vote for a series devoted to this!!

      • Tatiana

        Thing is, we do know it’s bullshit. Just like facials, anti-frizz products and any of the other promises offered by the fashion and beauty mainstream, it’s just a game, only it’s one that benefits what are often women entrepreneurs, sustainable businesses and cottage industries. Is it really so sinister? Women who like crystals don’t need antagonistic skeptics to save us or debunk our fun self-care rituals. We’re doing fine.

        • LS

          No, of course no one needs a fun self-care ritual debunked. But I have friends who sell essential oils posting on social media about how essential oils can cure diseases and keep you from getting the flu. It’s sinister when they are convincing people to forego actual medical treatment or vaccines and buy their product instead.

          I like essential oils. I diffuse lavender at night because I find it relaxing and it’s nice to have a good smelling bedtime routine. I use essential oils on felted balls as an environmentally friendly dryer sheet alternative. I put drops of essential oil into my shower steam to make me feel like I’m at the spa. I get it. But when someone says you can cure cancer with essential oils (an actual thing I’ve heard someone say) I do think it’s important to make sure the people getting that message realize that there isn’t scientific evidence behind that.

        • Heina Dadabhoy

          No one is trying to save you from your crystals or oils, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable to push back with scientific information when y’all push that stuff on us. I cannot count the amount of times someone has told my disabled husband to just breathe or wave a rock over his head or ingest/rub some oil to magically cure his multiple chronic health conditions.

  • Caroline

    One thought here- naturopathy is deeply underfunded because the rise of it would cause extreme damage to the pharmaceutical and medical industries. For my uses it has worked miracles and not just a placebo. Do people still need medicines and vaccinations? YES but maybe not as often as the medical community leads us to believe. I think a healthy balance of the two is absolutely great and maybe if the medical condition isn’t severe, try the natural way first and see if it makes a difference? I know for me, it definitely has.

    • Kristin

      I mean you wouldn’t really know if you were experiencing a placebo effect

    • sarah

      Not necessarily true that it would cause “extreme damage to pharmaceutical and medical industries.” As an RN who has worked both at bedside with critically ill patients, out in the public with kids, and now as medical support partnering with pharmaceutical companies in providing patient care – this idea that Big Med is out to get you can be so so harmful to patients and inhibit them from getting the care they really need. Yeah, shit is expensive and it’s a huge industry. But the people making these drugs, trialing them, holding companies accountable for safety standards, prescribing them, handing them to you at CVS – it’s because they care about your health and they’ve devoted their lives to it, not because the medical community is trying to pull a fast one on the public and get rich quick.

      • Kiks

        THANK YOU. I have a degree in pharmacology and another in pharmacy. An additional point I don’t think most people understand — SO MANY DRUGS were originally discovered by studying plants. Compounds isolated from trees and flowers and plants are literally the backbone of modern medicine.

        So it’s not as though “Big Pharma” (God how I despise that term) is, like, a bunch of greedy evil businessmen just making shit up in a lab and then selling it at an inflated price. Research scientists have been toiling in labs for decades exploring every possible source of medicine to improve our health. People love to claim that “Western medicine” has just buried its head in the sand and refuses to consider the benefits of so-called natural remedies. This is completely false.

        From this 2011 article:

        “To date, 35,000-70,000 plant species have been screened for their medicinal use. Plants especially those with ethnopharmacological uses have been the primary sources of medicine for early drug discovery.”

        Aspirin, morphine, digoxin (to treat irregular heart rhythm),
        galantamine (Alzheimer’s), and countless chemotherapy drugs that have saved millions of lives — all of these drugs produced by major drug companies were discovered by studying plants. The medical community KNOWS that natural compounds can cure illnesses. If there was evidence for any essential oils having real benefit, drug companies would be isolating those pharmacologically active compounds and developing them into a widely marketable form.

        Pseudoscience is just that. It’s not that there isn’t research. It just doesn’t show the results people want to pretend it would.

        • Bri

          thank you x 500000

          • Kiks

            it’s so rare I get to discuss this sort of stuff on a forum like this 🙂 🙂 🙂

        • Ciccollina

          Thank you so much for taking the time to share, I just learned something I didn’t know about the pharma industry. I think you should seriously consider writing something on this topic and submitting it to a major media publication to spread this message. You’re a good, clear communicator and have perfectly articulated your point. If you need tips on being a non-professional writer and getting things published, just reply to this post and I’ll give you some pointers 🙂 The world needs more informed conversations like this.

          • Kiks

            Wow, thank you so much! It is something I’ve thought about before — I did a minor in English and always secretly wished I was a writer. I actually have been dreaming for awhile of making some moves into that arena.

            I would love to hear any and all advice you can share! 🙂

          • Ciccollina

            COOL!!! So basically the things I know that work are:
            1. Make sure your article is well-timed. Usually their is media interest in a certain aspect of culture and as soon as you see this brewing, jump on that. Also a good way to leverage a topic is by writing a response article.
            2. Have a strong point-of-view (ie. headline). Don’t shy away from saying that a commonly held belief is total bullshit – this is what will get you published.
            3. Become the queen of the 4-minute read. My best successes have all sat around this reading time.
            4. Don’t publish your works on Medium before submitting them!! Some publishers don’t care, but for some, it’s a deal-breaker. Keep your stuff off-line until you know for sure no-one wants to buy it.
            5. Keep the publication that you want to submit to in mind. What is their tone of voice? What their political stance? What type of opinion piece do they usually publish?
            6. The pitch. Most publications will take your pitch more seriously if you start your email by establishing your own credibility in the field. Then, make sure you include a couple of lines as an overview of the article so they don’t have to read it. Include the reason that you’re writing it.
            That’s it!! There’s more but those are my top tips. I wish you the very best of luck, and please let me know if there’s anything else I can help with :)))))

    • Tyler

      Every specialist I saw, and I saw several, said my children were non verbal from an irreversible condition. At 5 and 7.. NEITHER had ever uttered so much as a “momma.”
      A good hippie friend of mine recommended Frankincense. I rolled my eyes and refused to entertain the idea. MLMs were pyramid schemes and I had no interest in spending my hard earned money on her snake oils.
      Fast forward 2 years and several testimonies later… she sent me a bottle and told me to call her when it was empty.
      3 months later… the bottle was empty, and not one, but BOTH my children were speaking.
      Not all oils are created equal… they are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure. That said… they were made by God… and that guy… knows what’s up 😉

      • Suzy Lawrence

        May I ask how you used the oil? On a diffuser or on the children’s pulse points?

    • Rafael Molina

      Being,a massage therapist, my experience with essential oils has been very positive. When I started using them most of my patients started to express that massages improved greatly, especially in people with sciatica and fibromyalgia. It also does wonder for migraines and it’s symptoms.

  • Laura

    I think the popularity of essential oils does more to demonstrate the power of the placebo effect (which does have some great, mind-blowing science behind it) than anything. That said, nice smells are nice

  • omg thank you so much for spreading the word on this! Don’t even get me started on how annoying skincare with “natural fragrance” is. It’s always essential oils that my skin finds irritating -_-

    I’ve actually started to document all of the truly fragrance/irritant free skincare out there because it’s so frustrating to have to read for 45 minutes in a Sephora any time I feel like trying a new face mask haha

  • Ruth Dressler

    So much falsehood in this article.

  • Emily M

    I want to just copy and paste this article link in a reply to every girl from college who now wants me to “join her team and start reaping the miracles and life-changing benefits that YoungLiving has given her”!!!!

    • SAME, except with girls from my high school

  • Kat

    Loving the well researched, scientifically backed and reasoned article! More like this please!

  • I’m glad you addressed this issue. I have asthma and the smells are irritating depending on the oil!

    Charmaine Ng
    Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  • Jaci McNamar
    • sarah

      Wow, this is great! Thanks for linking. I think people would be surprised to know how often “naturopath” remedies are actually used in western medicine. I have loved tea tree for years for its antiseptic properties. When I worked in the ICU at a hospital in California a few years ago it was pretty common for doctors to prescribe honey as a wound treatment. Manuka honey, a monofloral honey from bees buzzing around flowers in the tea tree family, is actually an FDA-approved wound treatment. Modern medicine is historically slow at embracing simple solutions to complex problems (see for instance the history of the WHO’s electrolyte recipe) – but nothing gets adapted unless there’s solid science and evidence behind it. Studies like this are absolutely necessary if people really want oils to be more widely embraced as legit treatments for diagnoses they claim to help.

  • jugarboo

    I live and work in Utah, about 2 miles from DoTERRA’s mothership and right around the corner from a Young Living office. I’d just like to beg all of you, any of you, not to buy from these companies and if you do anyway, NOT to ingest any of these oils. From the capital of dupe, I beg you.

    • Lauren

      Why? Would you like to elaborate on the “living nearby” thing?

    • Beng

      Why? Care to share more info ? I have been using Young Living oils for 4 yrs. still amazed at what the oils have done for me as I continue to try different oils for issues that crop up in my life. I’m surprised to hear that DoTerra is near YL. I heard that some former ppl/employees of YL started DoTerra.

  • ciani lords

    “The medical system is even more terrible for women, whose experience of pain is routinely minimized by health practitioners.” Wow that is so correct! That’s why I started looking into oils, has it helped my horrible pain I get every couple months lasting for a week or two? No, no it has not. But they do provide relaxing aromas during my time of pain. I do like them for my beauty routine, they have helped me in other aspects of my life, so I will still use them.

  • Jaci McNamar
  • Kinsey W

    Is it just me or does anyone feel like MLMs put a bad taste in people’s mouths about essential oils? They’re a nice addition to my self-care routine because the scents are nice, but I’m not going to claim it can cure illnesses.

    • Heina Dadabhoy

      IDK if it’s just MLMs. My husband is disabled and people who aren’t selling them try to push oils on him all the damn time.

  • Romaine Williams

    If the FDA is involved regarding essential oils, that means the oils are working, I use essential oils often and they are helpful to me,. I can only speak for myself, don’t knock it until you try it.

  • Maria Fernandez-Davila

    LOL I read this right after I rubbed my “focus” EO on at work! I didn’t actually go out and purchase them but found them on our free table and took “focus” and “sleep” (they’re the little Bath and Body Works ones you guys photographed!) just to try out.
    I never knew that people used them thinking they could cure serious illnesses…that seems like a huge stretch. I think its all just my mind tricking me into thinking that the scent is really helping me focus…but I’ll take what I can get! I mostly just love the smells 🙂

  • Ash

    THANK YOU! I don’t for a second believe an oil can cure anything. Although, if you like them and they are not harming you or the people around you…THEN BATHE IN ALL THE OILS for all I care…but don’t push them off onto others who probably need to visit a doctor. Oils are cool, some of them smell nice, but I think the whole MLM thing has made me associate them with bullshit in my mind.

    This reminds me of a few months ago when a girl on my fb was asking people if they had ever put sliced potatoes in their socks to “remove toxins” through the soles of their feet. She used the trick?, hack?, shitty life advice? on her toddlers to help them get rid of their coughs/runny noses/colds…whatever they had. In the morning she posted pictures of black potato slices claiming it had worked (because look at how the potatoes turned SO BLACK) and that her kids were a little better. Of course they’re a little better after getting some rest. Of course the potatoes turned black after being exposed to air. She also believes a woman should never be president because we’re not good enough for it or hormones or something. *insert shrugging emoji here* I keep her around to remember that not everyone thinks the way I do.

    • Angela Bilyeu

      You made me laugh. Did you suggest cutting a potato and leaving it on the counter overnight to see what happens? Although, I have no clue how to double-blind the experiment.

    • Suzy Lawrence

      omg. the damned potatoes in the socks. geez.

    • Tatiana

      Does no one else find this charming? Might not do potatoes, but may do something equally implausible in the same spirit that I’d apply anti-aging cream or pop my antidepressants that do fuck all except line the pockets of big pharma. A wing and a prayer my friends.

      • Heina Dadabhoy

        Anti-aging cream isn’t sold by the pharmaceutical industry, which is why it’s all bunk. Pharmaceuticals are regulated.

        As for anti-depressants, if they don’t work for you, you’re right to not take them. They do work for others, though.

  • Jessica S

    I wonder who’s putting money in ManPellers pocket to use use modified scientific research to claim a point that has no ‘it’s black or white’ outcome like the rest of ‘modern medicine’. When something has been around for so long, there is some validity to it, if you understand your body and it’s relationship with these oils. Just like some people are allergic to penicillin, certain foods or have digestive issues from GMOs… come on people – there is no one size fits all cute all, you need to know your body instead of trusting someone else to just prescribe something… plecbos are a plenty there too, and believe me, I have had several FDA approved prescriptions not do good, but harm to me. You can’t tell me big pharma is less about profit than an MLM business – I can think for myself there. How many plants and foods to you eat that are toxic to other animals? Yes, essential oil can be harmful to some pets, but so can your prescriptions, onions and chocolate!! Um… not giving up the chocolate ladies! I believe his author has her own opinion and some of you commenters wanted to give her an ‘amen’ … but nature has provided us with many options, educate yourself – it’s your body after all!!
    *I message as someone with chronic migraines that is now taking fewer prescriptions than ever that have contributed ( along with over use of naproxen) to leaky gut and now experience a much better functioning system due to modern scientific testing of ME and how my body responds to foods. Some cause inflammation, which can be aches and migraine tiggers – without this real knowledge, everything else was a guess. No more band aids, a variety of herbs and oils have contributed to true healing where the bandage script has failed to pinpoint and resolve the real issue!

    • Elly

      Actually, just because something has been around for a long time doesn’t mean it necessarily works or has any validity. Faith healing has been around forever. These things take off and become marketable when the public health system breaks down or is nonexistent.

      I’m just about sick of the idea that “there’s no one size fits all” as well. Sure, people have different metabolisms, underlying health conditions, family histories, and so on and so forth. But we’re the same species. This idea is the reason why lots of women never check out symptoms and just treat them as a specific quirk of their unique and different body, a reflection of their individuality. Women put up with crippling pain, loss of libido, urinary discomfort, hormones all over the place, just because gynaecology is treated as some special mystical reflection of each woman’s beautiful soul, rather than a medical science, and treated with marketable products rather than anything effective – if you’re poor you get told to go eat a chocolate bar, if you can afford it it’s essential oils. Those things are harmless, but they don’t replace healthcare.

      You want to stick it to “big pharma”? Good. Then fight for public healthcare for everyone. Your country’s healthcare system is outright barbaric. Most of the rest of the world is talking about you like, how can anyone live like that? You pay tens of thousands for the privilege of having fallen down the stairs and broken your leg. That’s incredible.

      • Jessica S

        They are NOT talking about me, they are discussing the government that I have to live under. They fact that we still don’t have some sort of universal coverage is incredible, and I’m not alone in believing this. Please don’t presume to know that I’m not in support of this because I have an opinion that we cannot ALL be treated the same. We belong to the same species, but that does NOT make us identical. More preventative care would really resolve a lot of having to find the root of the the problem for such a variety of health issues, but would not resolve it entirely. I believe there is more than ONE way to treat the body and that modern science is great, but not the be all end all to healthcare. There are some things, like essential oils, that can be helpful to some, not a cure all.

  • Rebekah Jane

    I’m in no way a believer that essential oils are going to clear my skin/cure my asthma/boost my credit score, but I will say that they are a nice addition to my routine that I’ve used to train myself to react a certain way. I diffuse lavender at night to signal to myself that it’s time to sleep. I apply a peppermint oil to my temples as a distraction when my head starts to ache so that I can focus on the tingle rather than the pain. I sniff an anxiety blend when I’m too far in my own head to process the outside world and use the break as a way to center myself. Just like with prescription drugs, all treatments are part of a system and should be looked as a piece, not the whole solution.

    • Kaitensatsuma

      It’s nice to put a drop or two of pepoerment into a steaming shower in the morning to wake up a bit

  • Donni77

    Peppermint oil against headaches got me through the first trimester of three pregnancies, when I had intense tension headaches but couldn’t/didn’t want to take regular headache medication (ibuprofen is not allowed, paracetamol is, but has recently been linked to ADD and ADHD later in life). Maybe it’s not for everyone, but I feel some essential oils have definite benefits.

  • Shanon Herzer

    There is actual science out there from European companies who specialize in French Medical Aromatherapy. You should take a peek at Veriditas by Pranarom (not a MLM) who come out of Belgium and are strictly based on science and 100% chemotyped and organic essential oils.

  • Lyna

    Yesss, thank you MR! More science, less astrology!

    • Lino Langouretou

      My thoughts exactly!

  • Luarnaiz

    I’m just here to say that whenever Julissa writes a piece I try to really take some time for it, because it will surely be a well thought and researched piece with useful unbiased information. It is so nice to find articles like that in a website like ManRepeller. Thanks!

    • Bee

      Unbiased? Really? This article is strikingly familiar to the Drunk Elephant brand’s take on essentials oils…

      And aren’t the active ingredients in the pharma product Vick’s Vaporub made with essential oils? It wouldn’t work without them…

      • Kiks

        Are the makers of Vick’s Vaporub encouraging stay-at-home moms to buy hundreds of dollars worth of it to sell to family and friends with claims it will prevent their children from ever getting a cold again?

  • Eraem

    I enjoy some essential oils but I’m not big on them. I do believe if a scent (e.g. lavender or mint) is connected to a bad or traumatic memory it won’t have the desired results. Our bodies are wonderfully complicated. I don’t think either side has the answers and they would have a better chance if they would work together but they are greedy.

    • Robin Wagner

      Eraem you are right. We associate smells with good and bad from are past. If you don’t like a smell of an oil, you are not going to want to use it. That is were know what the therapeutic properties of oils comes in. Lavender is antimicrobial,analgesic, but so is Laural leaf.(totally different smell) Lemongrass also has the same properties.A GC/MS report will tell you what the chemical components are and which would be most beneficial for you.

  • Robin Wagner

    Their are ways of knowing if your oils are REAL, their is a sanctioning body called NAHA. Their IS alot of science behind oils. Any co that is selling REAL oils will willingly give the oils GC/MS data sheet for each oil.Your can find what the chemical components and the therapeutic properties are. If you want to use oils the correct way, take a class from a certified Aroma Therapist.

  • Jenn

    The science is very clear. Search PubMed and you will see hundreds of peer reviewed studies on the efficacy of essential oils.

  • Megan

    Anyone have advice on the brand cocokind? I received it as a gift. I’m not sure if it qualifies as an essential oil organization as it markets its oil blends as skincare. I’ve been loving the results but this article is greatly thought-provoking!

  • KathND

    Don’t get me wrong: I am not an EO practitioner. I love their scent but haven’t adopted them as personal treatments in the doTerra or YL way

    However, claiming their efficacy isn’t backed by science doesn’t mean it’s that simple. It means, at least in part, that there are very few organizations or companies out there that are willing to fund such studies. Go to NIH or PubMed and there are many many MANY published studies from academic institutions in Europe and Asia that demonstrate real evidence that these EO’s can be antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti fungal, etc.

  • greg

    Pure essential oils will inflame skin. Those who use them on skin mix them with a carrier like coconut oil.

    • Spandangle

      Every YL and doTerra person I know uses them directly on their skin, their children’s and their pet’s. They drink it too. I’m there rolling my eyes so hard I almost have a stroke but there is literally no reasoning with them.

  • Dog Mom Lori

    Blah blah blah. Oils are awesome!

  • Kaitensatsuma

    It’s better to focus on the actual pharmacological effects if yours really into *that* sort of Essential Oil use.

    Clove definitely numbs
    Mint definitely makes the skin feel cool and helps with breathing
    Lemon certainly has antiseptic properties
    Orange definitely has a calming effect.

    Other than that though, you won’t see me buying Heartwood Diffusion orbs or some shit like that.

  • I think the MLM twist on marketing and the science-backed effectiveness of essential oils need to be separated. There are lots of articles on Healthline that cite scientific research.

  • Tucker Robertson

    To the author; don’t use them. They work great for me. Vetiver to sleep and Frankensense when I feel a cold coming on. They work magic! FDA approved or not and we have heard all the stories about the FDA…Essential Oils for me and many others are a blessing. So go give your kid meds to calm him or her down instead….have fun. Everything doesn’t work for everyone but you’d be silly not to try them. DoTerra is a quality company and worth looking into and you don’t have to be inched with their sales platform. Join like you would a Club Store . I certainly wouldn’t let this article be my deciding factor.

  • Ruth Dressler

    This article is well written but has so much falsehood in it. I am a YL distributor and if I make a claim that an oil will heal a condition, the company itself will shut me down. Maybe the author should have checked her “facts”. This is so group mentality mindset, ie, fake news. I will make sure not to read anything else from this site and author because I know I won’t get the truth.

  • Angela Bilyeu

    Donald Gary Young is not a Naturopathic Physician. He is not licensable in any state in the US. It took less than a minute of research to learn that his diploma came from a diploma mill. I am angry that you use the actions of people who aren’t even in the profession to cast aspersions on Naturopathic Medicine. While I am not a fan of multi-level marketing, calling them ‘schemes’ is pejorative.

  • yogibearfarms

    First of all “manrepeller” you need to do your research. Young Living distributors do not buy product wholesale, then mark it up and turnaround and sell it…I know because I am a distributor! Anyone can become a member by paying a $45 fee and from then on a discount is applied to all purchases..anyone. I, as a distributor get the same discount to those who buy retail if they purchase a membership. I’ve been selling for a year now and have been an EO user for years and there are REAL benefits to using EO instead of popping a chemical pill. Do not judge what you do not know. We’ve NEVER touted we can “cure all”.

  • Laura Shook

    I’ve been using dōTERRA essential oils for a couple of years now. I was probably one of the biggest skeptics of how well these would work. Do I think they’re the end-all, be-all in treatments for health concerns? Not even almost. However, when I use them in conjunction with my daily medicafions, they work amazingly well. I have an impinged sciatic nerve, and mixing Copaiba, Serenity, Balance, Rosemary, Past Tense, and Wild Orange into a roller ball bottle with a carrier oil (fractionated coconut oil), the pain is decreased by more than half. I highly recommend using essential oils. At least give them a shot!

  • Gray Light

    I’ve incorporated essential oils into a few of my beauty and self-care routines and am happy with the results. And personally, RESULTS are all I care about. The bottom line is do what works for YOU.

  • yogibearfarms

    First of all “manrepeller” you need to do your research. Young Living distributors do not buy product wholesale, then mark it up and turnaround and sell it…I know because I am a distributor! Anyone can become a member by paying a $45 fee and from then on a discount is applied to all purchases..anyone. I, as a distributor get the same discount to those who buy retail if they purchase a membership. I’ve been selling for a year now and have been an EO user for years and there are REAL benefits to using EO instead of popping a chemical pill. Do not judge what you do not know. We’ve NEVER touted we can “cure all”.

  • A

    While they seem overhyped essential oils DO have medical use.
    1. Various Essential oils in capsules can kill Candida, pathogens such as Lyme, viruses, fungi and bacteria. These herbs can often be more powerful than Rx. See clove, oregano oil, thyme, rosemary, lavender, myrrh.
    2. Why is it not enough for an essential oil to relax you, clear your mind, or put you in a better mood? That’s literally the most important thing we can do for our body.

  • Justin Deemer

    What a slanted view! Be careful using natural products is the warning. I can’t think of one prescription drug that can’t be said the same thing. The number three leading cause of death in the United States are doctors and so goes the medical cartel! We are brainwashed to trust and believe in the all knowing and almighty physician.

    Current life expectancy of the United States is 31st by WHO which is only one spot above Cuba and three above Qatar. Yes our medical professionals certainly speak with total authority on health matters. Our own CIA, yes THAT CIA, lists our life expectancy in the world as 44th. There are many, many studies showing how long we live but NONE of these studies are favorable concerning our life expectancy OR HEALTH.

    I live at home unable to work because of chronic pain caused by Spinal deformations and disease it isn’t mental there are to many MRI’s, CT scans, and X-rays that prove it. Here are the options laid before me as of now after 9 fusions and three surgeries. Drugs. That is it. Just drugs. Not cheap drugs. Expensive drugs. Opioids. What used to cost me twelve years ago just over $150 per month has increased to $480 per month. Of course anyone who reads the news knows what is happening with the opioid drug industry (cartel). Myself and thousands of others who also are verifiable in the same condition as I am are now facing a very uncertain and fearful future created by our medical industries.

    Any product that is not created in a lab can not be controlled by FDA. So when some proven Eastern medical methods are brought overseas to our country using natural methods to treat, for instance, pain, arthritis, depression, heart disease, then those methods are immediately brought under attack. And here is what I have stated above now all comes together. These methods are from countries such as Japan, Morocco, Hong Kong, India, and others who all use as their first step of treatment natural plants and oils all of which are NOT under the control of the FDA and the AMA. Are they perfect? No. Do they have all the answers? Certainly not! But one the one thing that makes their treatments superior are their open minds to try other things for the benefit of the patient. THAT mindset does not as a rule exist here in the United States.

    If you have not lived the experience of which I speak you really have no idea of what you are talking about. What would you do in my situation if the only form of treatment was under attack and under threat of being removed? What would do if you were exhausted from the endless pain that drugs can no longer treat effectively? You may sit on your seats of judgment and call oils snake oil or something else but if it works then what? Of course our medical cartel will tell you it is a placebo effect to brush off even the idea it may really work.

    The important thing I have learned about natural treatments is this. They take time because they work more subtle than our drugs. For instance you want to feel it work now! How many commercials speak of immediate relief? We are taught through our media that is how real medical treatment should work. Right?

    I have seen and experienced with my own eyes natural products work and cure. But because I do not have the MD initials behind my name my opinion is anecdotal. If I have a degree it is fact. Our society’s medical system is a train wreck. We should all see and know that by now. Treatment prices are out of control. Life saving is determined by finances not by medical knowledge first. Simply if you are poor you suffer then die. If you are rich you suffer less and live. Natural products threaten that standard and heaven and FDA and AMA forbid. Shame on you if you defend this system because it does not have all the answers and it is prejudice to the rich. Most importantly and dangerously it will fight and outlaw anything and anyone who attempts to change it.

    That is the whole just of the article above. Right? Natural treatments are crazy, unscientific, unjustifiable, and just plain stupid! The trail of many natural treatments that worked and cured and then outlawed is long. All you need to do before someone erases the evidence is look and see. It is your life. And it is my life. And how I seek to find relief and even a cure should not be left in the hands of a board of executives who are concerned about only the bottom line. But as it stands now it really is. Be assured this article above was promoted by them. How sad and unfortunate for our children, our loved ones, and eventually ourselves. But judge on it is in our blood. Then one day WILL COME then you too will see. Too late unfortunately.

  • Trella Dubetz

    Ever hear of You will find plenty of scientific articles supporting the health benefits of essential oils.
    This article is nothing more than conjecture and for some reason, irrational opinion, posing as some sort of journalistic whistle blower- which it fails at.
    If you want science- do real research, instead of vomitting opinions.

  • Suzy Lawrence

    I use tea tree oil for breakouts, breathing treatments for sinus infections, and scalp clarifying treatments. I do not use tea tree oil to cure ebola, however (that line, as heartbreaking as it is to know people with dying family members were so taken advantage of, made me lol).

  • Michelle Kline

    Yessss THANK YOU THANK YOU for bringing science into this. I’m all for people enjoying essential oils in non harmful ways, but there is so much pseudoscience science in beauty products that is used to manipulate women in some really effed up ways (I’m looking at you, Goop). And it means so much to me as a woman scientist that Man Repeller is somewhere I can go where I don’t have to leave either the science part or the woman part of me at the door!

  • Michelle Kline

    I would absolutely love to see a feature with Jen Gunter on gyno stuff here, btw!

    • Lyna

      Me too, I love her!

  • Tatiana

    I remember the last time aromatherapy was a big deal – around 93-94. I was in year 5 and essential oil burners and oils were the cool present to give and receive. That and Sylvanian families figurines. What a time.

  • Chelsea LaBelle

    You all do such a fantastic job of writing evenhanded, well-informed pieces on topics that are relevant but not reactionary. What a bunch of beautiful brains you’ve got.

  • Kelsie Coe

    As a physician (and beauty lover)- thank you!!