Note: This post was reviewed and updated in May, 2020.
Making promises its essential oils can’t keep has warranted a warning letter from the FDA to Young Living Essential Oils, a multi-level marketing company whose founder seems to have a knack for trouble.
Because we receive so many questions from people asking about essential oils, when I learned that Young Living Essential Oils (YLEO) had recently been confronted by the FDA, I immediately investigated.
Sure enough, a warning letter was sent to company founder and CEO, Gary Young, warning him that the health claims his distributors were making for their products – such as that they could cure Ebola, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, etc. – “cause(s) them [the essential oils] to be drugs under section 201(g)(1)(B) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act) [21 U.S.C. § 321(g)(1)(B)], because they are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease.”
Which means if Young wants to make these claims, his products have to be tested to be certain that they can do what he claims. Unfortunately, testing is not something that has gone well for Young in the past. For instance, he likes to claim that his oils are more pure than others, but the one time he allowed one of his products to be tested, it was found to contain a carrier oil not listed on the label as well as an artificial chemical fragrance. Young countered by accusing the distributor of tampering with the product but never offered any additional samples for independent testing.
The truth of the matter is that essential oils – whether from Young Living, doTERRA or any other company – have never been found to do much more than smell good.
“The published evidence is sparse to nonexistent,” says Harriet Hall, M.D., on the Science Based Medicine Blog. “There are clinical studies to support a few of the recommended uses, but they are generally poorly designed, uncontrolled, and unconvincing. Research is difficult, because patients can’t be blinded to the odors, and mental associations and relaxation could account for most of the observed effects.”
The latest skirmish with the FDA is not the first time Gary Young found himself on the wrong side of the law. According to this extensive report by Dr. Eva Briggs, he’s been arrested several times for a variety of charges relating to the sale of bogus medical treatments. On January 10, 1994, he was also arrested for assaulting several family members with an axe.
Making false claims seems to be another one of Young’s bad habits. In addition to falsely claiming to be an MD, he also calls himself an N.D. – naturopathic doctor – even though his degree is from Bernadean University, a notorious “diploma mill”. He is not licensed to practice medicine anywhere.
Even though Young’s supporters like to disparage research such as Briggs and the health fraud watchdog Quackwatch, even liberal publications like the Daily Beast find Briggs and Quackwatch more credible than Young.
The bottom line is that consumers who are fed up with the U.S. medical establishment need to be even more skeptical when considering alternatives which are – and always have been – the realm of snake-oil salesmen.