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, brands that I'd consider reputable include Butterfly Express, Edens Garden, Healing Solutions, Plant Guru, and WellnesScent. If you check out those suppliers, 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.

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.

Here's what the letter says, redacted to remove the company's name because that is apparently a violation of their new policy. Yes, that's right: websites (other than their own!) are no longer allowed to use the company name, or they risk cancellation of their account for being "non-compliant".

Thank you for taking my phone call today. I enjoyed getting to know you and look forward to helping answer your questions as you work on your site. The purpose of this letter is to recap our discussion, provide additional guidance, and refer you to several helpful tools.

As discussed, [REDACTED] has a new website and social media policy. The goal of the new website policy is to enable you to responsibly share the empowering benefits of [REDACTED] products. To that end, [REDACTED] has developed improved [generic websites] to assist you in promoting your business, [REDACTED], and [REDACTED]’s products. [REDACTED] social media policy provides you with the flexibility you need to promote [REDACTED] products in a compliant way. To be responsible in sharing [REDACTED], the new policy continues, clarifies, and strengthens [REDACTED]’s prohibition on [MLM participants] associating drug or disease claims with its products and implying that [REDACTED]’s products diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent diseases.

Practical Guidance. We’ve also developed new tools that provide practical guidance to assist you in complying with the new policy. These tools are found on [REDACTED]’s website. These tools include, [REDACTED: Social Media Claims Guide, Website Claims Guide, and Approved Claims List].

You will also find on [REDACTED] two videos that explain the difference between a non-compliant disease claim and a compliant structure-function claim. For more guidance, the FDA has produced “The FDA’s Structure Function Claims Guide.”

Your Website or Social Media Site. Today, we talked about the following websites and/or social media sites which are not compliant with [REDACTED] Policies:

Thank you for agreeing to bring the above website(s) and/or social media site(s) into compliance by 9/17/2015 [that's today, obviously]. We look forward to working with you to bring your sites into compliance. We appreciate your understanding the urgency and willingness to join with us.

Where your site is currently out of compliance, the [REDACTED] Policy Manual provides [MLM participants] ten days, after written notice, to come into compliance with company policies. If the necessary corrective actions are not completed within ten business days from the date on this letter, you could be subject to discipline under our policy manual. We value you as a [MLM participant] and do not want to interrupt the great work you do.

As you work through bringing these sites into compliance, be sure to refer to the above-described materials as most people have found them very helpful. The details and explanations are in these materials, but below please find a quick reference guide.

Websites: You may continue to publish information about essential oils in general on your websites. We encourage you to teach about essential oils using the Approved Claims List. Non-compliant product claims may not be used in the promotion and sale of [REDACTED] products. Although you may not use any [REDACTED] specific trademarks or trade dress (in other words, if it’s clear from your image or wording that you are talking about [REDACTED], you most likely are using [REDACTED] trade dress), you may have a “Contact Me” section that allows you to capture leads as long as your websites do not make or refer to disease claims or link to social media or other [REDACTED] websites. These leads create wonderful opportunities for you to reach out to individuals with whom you may personally share [REDACTED].

Social Media: You may continue to post about [REDACTED] using “[REDACTED]” and all trademarks, including images of specific products (your own or the company’s photos), on your Facebook profile page, groups, or pages (public or private); Instagram; Twitter; Pinterest; and other social media platforms. Use proper wellness language by using only those claims found on the Approved Claims List when posting about [REDACTED] product benefits. Non-compliant product claims may not be used in the promotion and sale of [REDACTED] products. Also ensure that other posts and comments on the same page use compliant language. In your groups, moderators can help you guide the content and set the example.

[REDACTED] continues to grow at an unprecedented pace. We appreciate that you have chosen to use and share [REDACTED]’s products. We continue with you in our mission of sharing essential oils with every family worldwide.

I am here to help you. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me. In addition to talking to me, you also can reach out to your Account Manager or [Leadership] Upline who will be here to answer questions as well.

So there's the letter; now you be the judge.

Let me start by stating that 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" 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 on 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. Now they've stopped but the participants at this MLM have had a lot of inadvertent training in making disease claims and so they all need to be "reeducated" -- myself included.

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 [REDACTED] and [REDACTED's chief competitor] would like you to believe.

Now this site faces the risk of going the way of, which has a "this site is no longer available" note at present. 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 [REDACTED]. Because if the owners of EverythingEssential as an example were high up in the MLM hierarchy and were making potentially tens of thousands of dollars each month through the MLM compensation plan, well, they either had to give that up or close the site. They chose 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. So thanks to all of you and hopefully many of you will stick with it! But I also make an additional $100-$200 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." Look at the above compliance policy however and it borders on the ludicrous. People can talk about and share information on [REDACTED]'s products through social media 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 can do on your website. You can talk about essential oils in general, but you have to use [REDACTED]'s approved claims list. Why? If you're not talking about [REDACTED], 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 [REDACTED] websites." That's the whole point of the Internet: to link to other sites and allow people to "find out more." Never mind the poor phrasing -- it sounds like my blog is non-compliant if I link to any social media site, not just [REDACTED]'s sites, which would be silly. Here's a link to my Facebook page -- is that non-compliant? If so, I guess every single website in existence is non-compliant; it's just [REDACTED] can't do anything about 99.9999% of sites.

This whole thing reeks of control and Big Brother, except it's not just the FDA acting like Big Brother in this case; [REDACTED] is doing their part as well. They can publish stuff about their products on the web, capture all the sales leads, and make millions/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 the monthly promotion, whether I think it's a good deal or not, or how you can try to build an MLM business around [REDACTED]. 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, I'm pretty sure there's nothing I have said/done on this site that [REDACTED] could or even would do anything about, and the FDA wouldn't care either. So instead, I'll have to move over to social media in the short term 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.

205 posts about [REDACTED], their 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 said [REDACTED] and had pictures of [REDACTED]'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'll be working to revise and republish the former posts as I have time, but all essential oils will instead refer to oils sold on Heck, let's just get that out of the way right now, in alphabetical order:

Individual Essential Oils:
Black Pepper
Clary Sage
Fennel (Sweet)
Juniper Berry
Roman Chamomile
White Fir
Wild Orange
Ylang Ylang

Essential Oil Blends:
Anti-Aging Blend
Calming Blend
Cleansing Blend
Detoxification Blend
Digestive Blend
Focus Blend
Grounding Blend
Invigorating Blend
Joyful Blend
Massage Blend
Metabolic Blend
Monthly Blend for Women
Protective Blend
Repellent Blend
Respiratory Blend
Soothing Blend
Tension Blend
Topical Blend
Woman's Blend

None of the above are intentionally linked to [REDACTED]'s products, though inevitably many of their products will show up since they're all essential oils. But 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. Use it 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.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

How to Make Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs

Those of you who have been following this blog long enough hopefully recognize by now that not everything I post is even remotely homeopathic -- or even related to essential oils. It's true that this blogging started thanks to essential oils, but I've since branched out into many other areas. Today, similar to my talk about raw milk, I want to visit the subject of food. Except, I'm not going to get into the benefits of eggs -- hard boiled or otherwise -- you can find all sorts of information about why eggs are good (or bad?) on the Internet elsewhere. Today, I want to give you the secret to making perfect hard boiled eggs.

Let me preface this by saying I have tried lots of tricks over the years. Some suggest you need to have eggs that are at least five days old in order to keep the whites from sticking to the shell. Others will say you need to boil for exactly ten minutes and then immediately put the eggs into an ice bath. I'm here to tell you that I've tried both, to varying degrees of success, but that the real solution is so simple that anyone can do it -- in fact, I'm not sure what you could do to mess this up it's so easy! Maybe this is common knowledge to some folks, but I'm 40 years old and I just learned this secret, so hopefully I can save some of you a few decades of messed up Easter eggs.

The solution is to not boil your eggs.

What? How can you have "hard boiled eggs" without any boiling? Well, there is boiling of water involved, but instead of dropping your eggs into the water, you steam them instead. Just grab a vegetable steamer and fill your pot until the water just reaches the bottom of the steamer tray. Don't put the eggs in yet -- place the pot on the stove and bring the water to a boil. I cover my pot while I wait (so the water doesn't evaporate too quickly), and when the water is boiling, remove the lid, put your eggs in, cover, and continue to boil (steam) your eggs for 10-11 minutes -- or you could do 5-8 minutes if you want a softer yolk. Here's my batch of eggs that I just finished making:
Now obviously at this point the eggs are too hot to handle, and normally people would send the eggs to an ice bath (or at least a cold water bath). You can still do that, but I've let the eggs sit (covered but removed from the heat) for 15-30 minutes and it didn't do much other than to perhaps more fully cook the eggs. But if you want hard boiled eggs now, all you need to do is cool them off a bit (cold water for 30-60 seconds should do the trick), then crack and peel. And look at how well these eggs peel:
Yes, that's after peeling. And what's even better is that if you happen to have a cracked egg shell, rather than exploding like you'll often get with boiling, the eggs still cook nicely -- that egg in the above image actually had a small piece of shell missing that stuck to the egg carton! I cooked it for 11 minutes, cooled under water for 30 seconds, then peeled it and cut it in half. Here's the result:
Other than the yolks perhaps not being perfectly centered (if you worry about such things), that's as good a hard boiled egg as I've ever seen. The yolks are still a nice yellow with no graying, the whites are white with no yellowing, and you could make deviled eggs anyone would be proud to serve. If you happen to let the eggs sit a while before cracking and peeling, you might get some slight discoloration (gray yolk edges), which is what happened below:
I'm not picky about such things personally, so just add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy. And if you ever have someone ask about how to make perfect hard boiled eggs, now you know the secret! You can use farm fresh eggs (which is what I used in these photos), organic eggs, bog standard supermarket eggs (why!?), or maybe even ostrich eggs -- though I haven't actually tried that and I suspect you'd need to cook them a lot longer. However you like your eggs, enjoy!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Washington Health Plan Finder: What's Not to Like?

So the open enrollment is going on with Obamacare, and I figured with all the hoopla I would look into it and see how bad things really are. I'm a technical guy, so I figure if I can't get a site to work then probably no one can. But, I live in Washington, so we don't use the site -- we have our own exchange just for the state of WA: Catchy name, isn't it? What follows is my journey into how NOT to do things if you're trying to sign up. I've snagged a bunch of images, grayed out names and dates, but otherwise this is what you'd experience if you follow the same steps.

You start at the home page, and there are several large buttons calling for attention: Find and Compare Health Plans, Apply for Coverage, and in the bottom-right is the sign-in section. Naturally, first time users don't have an account yet, but there's an option down there: Create an account. Again, I'm a tech savvy person, so I figured I'd just jump right in and start with creating an account. This, it seems, was a terrible mistake.

Creating an account was pretty straightforward -- choose a user name (it has to have at least six characters with one number and one letter, with a maximum length of 20 characters. The password requirement is a bit more strict: at least eight characters, 1 UPPERCASE letter, 1 lowercase letter, 1 number, and 1 special character. Enter your email address, pick and answer three security questions, agree to the Conditions of Use, and you're done. Ready to search for plans and apply for coverage now? TOO BAD! Here's what you get:

Hmmm...strange, there doesn't seem to be anything to do. Maybe it's under one of the other options on the site? Well, I checked around and it appears that's not the case. The home page in particular has now changed quite a bit, as all you can do is watch a tutorial video or go back to the useless dashboard. So that's a problem, but I thought after a bit maybe they just want me to search for a plan and then apply, so let's try that.

To find a plan at all, you need to first sign out -- which makes zero sense. Finding and comparing plans when you're lot signed in is easy enough, though -- give the site your zip code, birthdates and sex (and smoking/pregnant status if needed), add household members, and then input your household income. Search for plans, and in my case I get the following:

Huzzah! Check out all these plans! And with four people and a household income under $60K, there are some subsidies available (with higher subsidies for lower incomes). So far so good. Since my family is already with Group Health and we're okay with the care we've received there, let's just limit things to the Group Health options:

The Silver plan looks pretty good, so let's go ahead and apply for that....

Oh, now I can log in or create an account! We're getting somewhere. Except, we're not, since I already created an account. If I sign in, I'm back to the empty dashboard. If I try to create a new account, the system figures out that I've already created an account (same SSN, after all), and I'm stuck again.

There are a few more pieces of information to tack on, however. First is that the "estimated price after tax credit" figures are apparently a joke -- you'll pay more than this unless you're on Medicaid, from what I've read elsewhere. And that's apparently assuming your application is even accepted, which it might not be -- if it was guaranteed, you wouldn't be applying, right? Of course, you have to go through the site if you want any chance at a tax credit; skip the exchange and you're stuck paying the full price no matter what.

My bet: even if I happen to qualify for a tax credit, it will likely end up being smoke and mirrors. If I get a $200 tax credit on my health insurance but my other federal taxes end up being $300 higher, it's a net loss of $100. And as I've mentioned before, with all of the people now guaranteed the ability to get some form of coverage (if you can't get accepted on an application, you can always go with the single provider government option), I suspect a tax rate hike is coming down the pipe.

I'll be trying to make some phone calls this week to see if I can get to the "apply" stage, which will likely require some serious time on hold. Wish me luck....