You know the old adage “you get what you pay for.” In aromatherapy, this is not always the case. In this article, we are going to pit multilevel marketing (MLM) essential oil companies against direct (non-MLM) sellers. We’ll compare product offerings and find out the reasons behind the price discrepancy.
When it comes to essential oils, expensive does not always mean top quality.
The oldest and most established MLM company is Young Living, based out of Utah, and founded in 1993. (1)
We’re going to take a look at their Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) oil. As you can see in the screenshot below (from their website), a 15-ml (1/2-ounce) bottle of their Bergamot retails for $35.53. The wholesale price is $27. Unless you’re buying this oil in bulk, whenever you deal with a Young Living sales rep, you’ll be paying the retail price. To me, almost $36 for a half-ounce of citrus oil is a bit much. This works out to $71.06 for a full ounce. Exorbitant. If you were to ask the company why this oil is so costly, you would likely get answers along the lines of “commitment to superior quality,” or “our oils are sourced from our own farms,” or “purity,” etc. But this isn’t quite the case. Keep reading.
The second largest MLM essential oil company is doTERRA, also based in Utah. doTERRA is an offshoot of Young Living; a number of employees of Young Living left the company and launched doTERRA in 2007. (2), (3)
Below is a screenshot of their Bergamot essential oil. As you can see, their 15-ml (1/2 ounce) bottle retails for $36.67, which equates to $73.34 per ounce, which is a couple dollars more than the Young Living brand. If you want to pay the wholesale price, you need to sign up to become a distributor, which requires the payment of a membership fee. (4)
So, in order to save money, you gotta pay up front. I imagine the membership fee goes directly towards the company’s profits.
Since doTERRA is an MLM brand and an offshoot of Young Living, it would stand to reason that their products and services would be comparable. The reasons why doTERRA brand essential oils are so costly should be similar to those given by Young Living. Additionally, doTERRA reps will claim their oils are justifiably more expensive because they are “certified pure therapeutic grade” (CPTG). doTERRA coined the term “certified therapeutic grade” themselves. Young Living reps say the same thing about their oils. (5)
I smell a conflict of interest here. No company can certify its own products. Well, I suppose it could, but it’s always better to have an independent third-party vouch for your products.
Young Living and doTERRA were duking it out in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah a couple years ago over trademark infringement concerning the use of the CPTG label by doTERRA in addition to allegations that doTERRA’s essential oils were adulterated with synthetic substances even though the company claimed their oils were “100% pure.” (6)
My friend from across the pond, The English Aromatherapist, in her YouTube video, says she prefers not to use MLM essential oils because they are overpriced, and this is due to the multiple layers of commissions that are earned by the numerous sales reps in the network. Also, high prices don’t always mean high quality. MLM distributors often claim their essential oils are “certified pure therapeutic grade,” when no such designation exists. This label is merely a marketing term that these companies have given themselves. (7)
In reference to essential oils practices, MLM consultants have acted in contradiction to the respected advice and scope of practice recommended by Aromatherapy and Herbal associations, organizations and health care providers. For example, doTERRA recommends “take one drop [of peppermint] internally to calm indigestion or upset stomach” in their Introduction to Essential Oils. In doTerra’s Introduction to Essential Oils, almost every oil listed in the manual is recommended to use undiluted. Topical application of essential oils without carrier oil is called NEAT. Both of these practices are unsafe and also consume more essential oil than is necessary. When someone uses an essential oil NEAT (full strength), then he or she is, of course, using the oil at 100 percent strength. The professional aromatherapy community recommends applying essential oils to the skin at 1 to 3 percent dilution, which uses far less oil as compared to NEAT. By charging highly marked up prices and suggesting practices that consume essential oils at a higher rate, MLM’s ensure that consumers use more product, thus requiring the consumer to purchase more oil. (8), (9)
See where I’m going with this? This is purely profit-driven.
In fairness, and to my surprise, about a month ago I saw a tweet from doTERRA that stated, “Diluting essential oils for topical application does not reduce effectiveness and may actually have advantages.” (10)
Okay, it’s a start. I’m happy that at least one MLM is finally coming to terms with the reality that essential oils were not designed to put applied to the skin at full strength. I’m starting to see this on Young Living’s product web pages as well. Essential oils and carrier oils work together as a team. One of my recent blog articles talks about this in more detail. I’m still highly concerned about their recommendations for casually internally ingesting their oils.
Another MLM company I recently became aware of is NYR Organic. They are based in the United Kingdom and sell products ranging from essential oils to skincare kits to haircare products. You can order their products from a consultant, in-person at one of their many retail stores, or through a product catalog. They do not sell their products through their website.
Below is a screenshot of NYR Organic’s Bergamot essential oil. The price for a 10-ml (1/3-ounce) bottle is currently £8.70. That’s 8.70 British Pounds, which, at the current exchange rate (April 2, 2017), equates to $10.915 US Dollars. A full ounce (30 ml) of NYR Organic’s Bergamot essential oil would then be worth $32.75 USD. This is a much more competitive price as compared to Young Living and doTERRA.
This company has received an impressive number of awards over the past few years, as you can see from their website. I ordered a product catalog from them and might consider purchasing a bottle of one of their essential oils. I like trying out products from new companies.
My favorite essential oil company is Plant Therapy, based in Idaho. They are a family-run operation and sell individual essential oils, as well as blends, carrier oils, hydrosols, lotions, creams, butters, and more. This is my preferred supplier because of their affordable prices, friendly customer service, free shipping, and commitment to quality, as evidenced by their working relationship with Robert Tisserand.
Below is a screenshot of Bergamot essential oil sold by Plant Therapy in a 30-ml (one ounce) bottle. As you can see it sells for $13.95, and shipping is free.
Plant Therapy’s essential oils are first organoleptically tested by Robert Tisserand before being sent to a third-party testing facility. Organoleptic testing involves smelling the oil from a testing strip over time, in addition to evaluating the color, consistency and general appearance of an oil, and comparing these characteristics to those of a good quality oil. After the first round of testing, the oils are sent to a third-party laboratory, where they undergo multiple tests including Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS). Both rounds of testing are conducted on every batch of oil. Every bottle of oil purchased from Plant Therapy has a specific batch code that is directly linked to the testing reports for each batch of oil. Each essential oil’s GC/MS report is available on the website from the essential oil’s product page. (12)
Another excellent alternative to the MLM giants is Edens Garden, based out of California. This vendor has the most extensive selection of essential oils I’ve seen in a non-MLM company, offering 150 different types of oils, plus synergy blends, carrier oils, hydrosols, and more. Edens Garden is a lot like Plant Therapy and I purchase from them in the event Plant Therapy does not carry a particular oil.
As you can see in the screenshot below, Edens Garden’s Bergamot essential oil is comparatively priced to the same oil sold by Plant Therapy: $18.95 for a 30-ml (one ounce) bottle.
Edens Garden has a similar commitment to quality as Plant Therapy. For example, performing third-party GC/MS testing on each of their essential oils and reports are available from each product page. Eden’s Garden says their oils are “100% therapeutic grade,” but also states:
“Some companies use the term “Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade” to make consumers think they are getting a superior product when in fact they are getting the same thing (and often paying more). Because some plants are native only to specific countries, certain oils can only be sourced and purchased from one place. This means that every reputable company selling that particular essential oil botanical is purchasing it from the same country and is undergoing the same testing. Most MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) have huge margins and overhead costs. Based on their company’s overhead and profit margin, they then determine a price point.” (13)
Seeing a pattern? Part of the overhead costs of MLM’s are the lavish perks they offer top sales reps. So, not only is your hard earned money going towards an essential oil, you are also paying sales commissions and rewards for high-performing distributors.
Mountain Rose Herbs
The last company in this article is Mountain Rose Herbs, based in Oregon, and in business since 1987. They sell not only essential oils, but herbs, spices, salts, carrier oils, butters, waxes, hydrosols, teas, and more.
Below is a screenshot of their Bergamot essential oil. You will see that Mountain Rose Herbs carries oils that are 100% Certified Organic. This is likely why their version of Bergamot retails for $28.50 per ounce, a bit higher than Plant Therapy and Edens Garden.
Mountain Rose Herbs is also committed to quality control by sourcing certified organic herbs, ethically wild harvested or “cultivated without chemicals.” They perform Organoleptic, Macroscopy, and High Performance Thin Layer Chromatography (HPTLC) testing on each lot of botanicals, although it is not clear whether this testing applies to their essential oils. Certificates of analysis, pesticide residue tests, GC/MS printouts, and MSDS forms are available upon request. (14)
Young Living & doTERRA Quality Control
In reviewing the websites of Young Living and doTERRA, I was able to find some information on how these companies ensure the quality of their essential oils. With doTERRA, in order to view GC/MS reports, you simply enter the Quality ID of the particular bottle of essential oil into the form on their website. The Quality ID is located on the bottom of dōTERRA single essential oil bottles purchased after May 2016. (15)
In the case of Young Living oils, I was not able to find any information on laboratory testing of their essential oils, nor any information on obtaining GC/MS reports. There is plenty of information on their “Seed to Seal” process, yet I was not able to find any objective quality control information. Not even an FAQ page.
Finally, below is a table of three common essential oils listed by company, quantity, and price, so you can see for yourself how much prices can vary by seller. Each of these figures is taken directly from the website of each company. In the case of NYR Organic, I used the current exchange rate (as of 4/2/17) to convert British Pounds to US Dollars ($1.25 per £1).
Today we’ve learned that you don’t always get what you pay for when it comes to essential oils. Now you are more informed about the pricing structures of MLM companies versus those of non-MLM retailers. The way a company does business has a direct impact on the costs that are passed on to consumers.
To be clear, I think the MLM companies produce quality oils. They have been in the industry for a number of years and I have never personally had an issue with the quality of their products. I’ve bought a couple oils from Young Living and I have a bottle of doTERRA’s Black Pepper at home. My main concerns are with business practices and exorbitant prices. This is why I go the non-MLM route.
You likely have some strong opinions about this topic. It seems nowadays that modern aromatherapy is divided into two factions: MLM companies and the professional aromatherapy community. Hopefully, they will find common ground soon. How do you feel about MLM companies and non-MLM retailers? Do you prefer one over the other? What are your reasons? Are you a current or former MLM distributor? If you were, did you ever feel pressured to sell a minimum quantity of essential oils? Feel free to share your opinions and experiences in the form below.
DISCLAIMER: I do not represent any of the companies mentioned above, nor do I hold stock or have any financial interest in these entities whatsoever.
Thank you for your time,