Thursday, September 24, 2015

The True Cost of "Pure Therapeutic Grade" Essential Oils

I've long thought about doing a post on this subject, and now is as good a time as any. Everyone knows that essential oils range in price from relatively cheap to crazy-town expensive. Much of this has to do with the supply of the plant that's used for creating the essential oils.

You want to make Lemon essential oil? Well, lemons are plentiful, and you can get a fair amount of oil from the peel of each lemon, so the result is that even the "best" Lemon EO isn't all that expensive. Rarer forms of lemon (e.g. Jade Lemon) may run as much as $35 per 15ml, but you can find other "Therapeutic Grade" brands for as little as $5 per 15ml. And if you really want to go cheap, there are 4oz bottles starting at $12 -- or roughly $1.50 per 15ml.

So here's the question: are all of these oils the same quality, or are some of them less pure? If you want to buy into the marketing hype (remember: MLM stands for Multi-Level Marketing), there's a huge difference in quality between regular oils and the best quality oils. My feeling is that the difference isn't quite so large -- obviously there would be some difference between lemons grown in organic soil in Florida and lemons growing on the side of the road in Mexico, because soil contaminants get into the plants growing in the soil. But if you have five oils that are all listed as "pure therapeutic grade," are there really major differences? I mean, the expensive MLM oils have to be better, right?

This might surprise you to hear, but the answer is: probably not. Why is it that certain brands of essential oil cost so much more than other brands purporting the same quality level? Within the MLM world of essential oils, the answer is simple: someone has to pay all those independent distributors a commission! I happen to know for a fact that one company sells oils to their employees (not distributors!) at a 75% discount from the wholesale price. This same company has said in the past that they only make 10% in profits off the oils they sell. So how's that all work out?

Say an oil has a wholesale price of $100. The true cost (to the company) of that oil is probably around $20. But of the $100, as much as 35% may be paid out in direct commissions, another 20-30% is used for rewards bonuses for people ordering product every month, and another chunk (maybe 10%) goes to bonuses paid out to the highest earning distributors. That makes for potentially 65-75% of the "earnings" going to distributors, and the company still has to pay for employees, buildings, equipment, etc. So if they still have net profits of 10%, that's pretty good for the company -- and they don't have to do any advertising as their independent consultants will handle that. Good times!

But what that means is if you're buying their products and you're not making enough money to cover at least 75% of the price of the product, you're probably overpaying. Another company could skip all of the MLM cruft and simply sell direct to customers through the Internet, charging $25 instead of $100, and they're still making a profit.

This is compounded by the fact that there are only so many places that actually source and produce essential oils for any specific plant, especially for rare oils. If you want some Frankincense essential oil, for example, there are several classes of Frankincense; the two most common are Boswellia serrata and Boswellia frereana. You can see that the serrata costs about half as much as the frereana, because it's easier to source and more readily available. There aren't many places where you can grow frankincense trees, and you still need to extract the essential oil from the resin.

If two companies end up buying frankincense from the same supplier, the quality of the oil for both companies is going to be largely the same -- within a margin of error. Independent testing might show some differences between the two, but even buying the same oil from the same company over a period of years will show differences. How often does a batch of essential oil fail to meet the "Pure Therapeutic Grade" standard that you'll see bandied about? Probably almost never, as the suppliers are contractually obligated to meet some standard.

This is all probably very painful to hear for the MLM folks, but don't worry: there are plenty of people that are willing to drink the Kool-Aid and believe that more expensive products are better, simply because of the higher prices. And sometimes, they're even right, but mostly it's because the supplier of the oils is different and one supplier happens to have lower quality oil/plants than another. And in most cases, the oils will still be high enough quality that it won't matter.

This is why the exact source of many essential oils is a closely guarded secret, because if you knew the exact supplier of company XYZ's Lavender essential oil, unless XYZ has an exclusive distribution agreement with the supplier (which does happen, particularly on rarer oils/plants), company UVW could go to the same supplier and offer to pay 10% more, then sell their oils at a 15% markup and still be less expensive than XYZ's "pure" oil!

So if you're looking for a good quality essential oil, go shop on Amazon. There are several brands sold there that I'd consider reputable (Butterfly Express, Edens Garden, Healing Solutions, Plant Guru, and WellnesScent). If you check out those brands, you'll notice they all use 10ml bottles, and there's a good chance many of the oils come from the exact same supplier and the labels are the only difference.

Or maybe they're inferior and you should pay more for the expensive MLM brands? Honestly, it's your choice, but if you're not interested in doing the MLM thing, I'd suggest saving your pennies. It's simply not worth the headache to spend more and have to deal with the compliance department.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Farewell Free Speech: the FDA and MLMs

If you're here wondering what happened to all the content on the site, it's pretty simple: I've been asked/ordered to remove any and all references to a certain company from my site. As a representative for the MLM (which means I paid a bit of money to sign up and then subsequently spent thousands of dollars buying their products, and also tried to share the products with others, mostly through this blog), my choices are simple: either abide by their rules, or have my account closed. Let me tell you: I'm seriously considering doing the latter, as the benefits of running an independent blog are generally higher for me than the benefits of being a representative of an MLM.

I apparently can't even tell you what the letter says, because that's another breach of their policies. You see where this is going, right? You can't talk about the company on a website -- but you can do it on social media, which is on a website, which is insanity. In short, websites (other than their own!) are no longer allowed to use the company name, show products, link to other places, etc. or they risk cancellation of their account for being "non-compliant".

I hate form letters, and I hate the passive-aggressive language and feigned helpfulness. They "look forward to working with me" -- how is that? Telling me to shut down my site isn't working with me at all; it's dictating what I must do. Their website guidelines and materials aren't "very helpful" (as the letter suggests) either; they just flat out deny the option to have a website of any form that is at all related to promoting your MLM business. But you can use their generic free site that looks exactly like three million other generic "sites" -- and I use the term "site" very loosely, as it's really just a scaled-down copy of the company's own site and you can't publish or edit anything on it.

I have received previous compliance calls (maybe four or five) that I have responded to and addressed as best I could. I understand the need to stay within the FDA guidelines, because the FDA is the government branch responsible for dealing with drug claims. So everyone has to tiptoe around their guidelines, and I've certainly made mistakes in the past -- but my mistakes pale in comparison to the "mistakes" made by the company itself.

These mistakes include outright bogus/exaggerated claims that don't just toe the line on disease claims but outright pole vault across that line and go well into dangerous territory. It's for those reasons that the FDA is cracking down on the company: They've become big, at least in part through making some grandiose claims, and now they're facing the consequences. As a billion dollar company, they have a lot to lose, but they're now established at lest. The next phase is that they stop doing things that attract the ire of the FDA, but the participants at this MLM have had a lot of direct and indirect training in making disease claims and so they all need to be "reeducated" as well.

Here's where I take issue with what's going on. First, I have already done my best to remove any and all posts with unapproved disease claims from the site. In fact, for the past year and more I have mostly run this site with monthly posts about the current promotions, business opportunities, and other incentives. My whole business model has been built around this approach, as I'm a blogger by trade, not some MLM representative working hard to get everyone to jump into the latest pyramid scheme. And as you might guess from the website name, I'm skeptical of many of the claims made by homeopaths, naturopaths, and essential oil advocates! So I've basically gone out to "try it for myself" and see how it goes.

You want the real truth? I think essential oils can help, but only in minor ways for the most part. More importantly, I think the MLM model is a huge cash cow and the prices on many essential oils sold by MLM companies are outrageous. All the talk of purity, potency, efficacy, etc. is just marketing hype. Yes, there are almost certainly companies that don't have very good processes in place to make "pure" essential oils, but if you compare the major brands I seriously doubt there's as much of a difference as the essential oil MLMs would like you to believe.

I fought the fight for a few months, but ultimately there's nothing more I can do here. This is my variant of EverythingEssential's "This site is no longer available" message. Tens of thousands of hours went into some of the sites that are now being dismantled, in part because of the FDA, and in part because of these big MLMs. Because if the owners of a site are high up in the MLM hierarchy and making potentially tens of thousands of dollars each month through the MLM compensation plan, well, they either give that up or close the site. Most will choose the latter, and I'm sure the FDA approves of that action.

Personally, I'm currently on the other side of the fence. I earn maybe $100-$200 per month through the MLM side of things, and that has come almost exclusively due to people joining my team through this blog. [Update: Now dropping to $25-$75 since removing most of this site's content.] So thanks to all of you and hopefully many of you will stick with it! But I also make an additional $100+ per month through my Amazon Affiliate links, and if the traffic to the site vanishes, so does that income. Which is more important to me? I'm not entirely sure, but this whole business of taking down my site with a bunch of double-talk and feigned help really upsets me.

If I had a website built up around using, testing, reviewing, and recommending various products, I would be able to mention company names with impunity. "Coca-Cola tastes better than Pepsi, but it often costs more." The new and revised compliance policy however borders on the ludicrous. People can talk about and share information on the MLM's products through sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and other social media platforms... but not on websites? This website is a blog, which is social media -- in fact it's just hosted at with a custom domain name. So what's the difference?

What I really love is this business of what you're allowed to do on your website. You can talk about essential oils in general, but you have to use language from the company's approved claims list. Why? If you're not talking about the MLM, what does it matter whether or not you follow their approved claims? But even better is the part where your website can't link to social media or other the MLM's websites. That's the whole point of the Internet: to link to other sites and allow people to "find out more." So my blog is non-compliant if I link to any social media site, or really any site related to health or essential oils in general, including -- okay, I can link to that last one, just not the essential oil category within Amazon, since it mentions the MLM name.

This whole thing reeks of control and Big Brother, except it's not just the FDA acting like Big Brother in this case; the MLM is doing their part as well. They can publish stuff about their products on the web, capture all the sales leads, and make billions. They can tell everyone what they can and cannot say, and threaten you with legal action and/or closing your MLM account. Everyone else will have to live off the scraps that fall from the master's table.

Ultimately, that means I cannot talk about things like monthly promotions, whether I think it's a good deal or not, or how you can try to build an essential oil MLM business. Not because any of that has anything to do with the FDA or making inappropriate claims, but because it's easier to manage. If I were to give up my MLM account, there's nothing I have said/done on this site that the MLM or the FDA would care about. Instead, I have to move over to social media and post about my thoughts and feelings there. Which is pretty much the same as posting about it on a blog, except that it's allowed whereas a blog is not. Stupid, stupid, stupid. And then in another year or so, maybe the MLM will decide you can't post about this stuff on social media as well!

205 posts about an MLM and their products, business model, how you might try to turn it into a business for you, and essential oils: all gone (well, "unpublished"). And not on an individual basis, but removed en masse because most of them either mentioned the company and/or had pictures of the company's products. That's probably close to 2000 hours of work over the past three years, mostly wasted -- or paid at something like $1 per hour, though that was starting to go up the past year or so since much of the initial ground work was already laid.

I've also been told that links to essential oils sold on are non-compliant as well, if the page on Amazon happens to make any non-compliant claims, mention the MLM company in question, or mentions any of the MLM oil blends. Since the layout of most pages is done by Amazon, nearly every essential oil page link ends up being non-compliant. This is awesome: let's go after the Amazon Affiliate linking to Amazon, rather than the people selling the essential oils on Amazon! So not only can I not discuss anything about the MLM or their products on my website, but linking to pretty much any essential oil on Amazon is also a problem, since most of those will have a comment or item in the description that trips off the compliance department's scanner and allows them to say the link is non-compliant. They even complained about my auto-populated Amazon Ad banners, which are likely populated with their own products due to them having looked at those products on Amazon. Whee!

At this point, if you're going to give essential oils a shot, I have no choice but to recommend buying whatever you want to try through Amazon, or at the very least don't buy it through any MLM if you want to be able to discuss it online. Use the oils carefully, don't ingest anything that doesn't have a "nutritional information" box, and if you want to talk to someone "off the record", drop me a note. Oh, and if you see any mention of an MLM product on Amazon, better call the gestapo and report them for being non-compliant!