Through Tupperware parties and by being the neighborhood Avon lady, multi-level marketing has a history of introducing women to financial freedom. It also has a history of over-promising profits in order to trick people into investing money they will never earn back. And now, multi-level marketing has a new toe-hold in vaccine refusal among those people who sell so-called Essential Oils (EOs).
I don’t have any experience with Essential Oils, other than witnessing the eventual hawking of them on social media any time someone posts about an illness. A friend might post that she is taking antibiotics for strep throat, only to have someone comment that they should meet up so that the friend can cure the strep with EOs–no antibiotics needed! On a local parenting group, one mother recommended EOs to the mother of an asthmatic toddler in order to ward of strep and influenza. (A dangerous recommendation I warned against.) Even HuffPo has chimed in on the healing wonder powers of EOs, claiming they treat everything from acne to purifying the mind.
If people only bought EOs at Walgreens, the health claims might not be so ubiquitous. After all, when mothers gather online or in real life and complain that their kids are stopped up, I might tell them about the wonders of Miralax, but I don’t really care if they use it or not. I’m not looking for opportunities to push the medications I give my child because I have no financial stake in them.
And that’s really the problem with multi-level marketing that makes health claims. It turns everyone into a healthcare provider. In order to sell these EOs, people have to recruit others to also sell in order to get a commission, so it is important to convert people into believing in the oils. The health claims that these distributors make have to get larger and larger in order to accommodate an ever-growing need to sell. That’s why, on social media, EOs cure everything. The FDA has taken note, advising Young Living Oils to stop marketing their wares as ways to treat and cure illnesses.
The cure-all, MLM healthcare issues associated with EOs is problematic enough, but not every child gets strep, not every person needs a mind purification, and so forth, so those distributing and marketing EOs can’t market them to everyone.
But everyone (except the very few with medical contraindications) should be vaccinated. Vaccines are given to health people to prevent disease, so immunization is an issue for everyone, not just those who are sick. Vaccines are healthcare for everyone at set, particular times. And the Essential Oils crew have picked up on this enormous market.
One Young Living distributor in Australia held a seminar about the dangers of vaccines (Do Not Link hyperlink) and the EOs a person would use instead to prevent disease. The claims on the website included those about mercury being neurotoxic and vaccines causing SIDS and Alzheimer’s. The claims about EOs instead of vaccines are not relegated to one distributor, of course. Like a virus, they spread from distributor to distributor, and there’s no EO to cure it.
Vaccine Choice Canada (Do Not Link hyperlink) claims that EOs are a great alternative to those who are afraid of both vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases, and their explanation about how the EOs work defies both all science and logic:
Essential oils can be diffused in the home and have the ability to increase the atmospheric oxygen, as they release oxygenating molecules into the atmosphere. They also increase ozone and negative ions in the home, which inhibit bacteria growth. When applied to the body by rubbing on the feet, essential oils will travel throughout the body in 20 minutes. Essential oils play a major role in their effect on blood circulation, not only in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues but also in assisting in the disposal of toxic waste from the tissues.
Of course, this explanation about oxygen, blood circulation, and toxic waste is magical thinking. Measles doesn’t care how much oxygen you have in your system. It wants to party in your lungs.
It appears that even the founder of Young Living believes in vaccine refusal. So much so, that he apparently started an entire vaccine-free school in order to corral vulnerable children into a potential outbreak epicenter.
The use of EOs in lieu of actual health care is frightening enough. Vaccine refusal is also a threat that needs to be addressed. But combining the two is an exponential threat.
In essence, EOs are becoming multi-level marketing of vaccine refusal. Keeping in mind that one distributor needs to sign on more distributors in order to make a commission (and those distributors ever more distributors), these distributors learn vaccine refusal as a marketing technique. Every frightening anti-vaccine rumor is sold along with the Essential Oils solution, as is this case for this distributor who uses a false accusation about the tetanus vaccine in Kenya to tell her clients that they don’t need vaccines at all because EOs:
The worst part about this multi-level vaccine refusal marketing scheme is that the distributors are financially vested in it. Gone are the days when the people making a buck off of vaccine fears were the big guys like Mercola and Tenpenny. Now any mom with a bag full of oils might want you to be afraid of vaccines so that she can sell you something. Fear is a powerful motivator, especially when your income depends on it.
What can we do to combat a marketing scheme as old as Amway? While we do not want people to lose their livelihoods, we can also keep in mind that it is unlikely that selling EOs is going to make much money for the average person, and perhaps heralding them back to Tupperware could help. After all, we all need to store our leftovers, too.