Young Living is a Utah-based multilevel marketing company which manufactures and hawks essential oils and related nonsense. The company claimed 4 million members and sales of $1.5 billion in 2017. It has been compared to a cult.
Young Living products are sold not in stores, but by members who operate as franchisees. Like other multilevel marketing companies, these "independent distributors" are notorious for aggressive sales tactics and for making dubious claims about the health effects of Young Living products, much of which amounts to medical advice. The vast majority of commissions are paid to about a thousand high-level members; nine-tenths of the rest earn less than a dollar a year selling Young Living products.
Young Living was founded and led by Donald Gary Young (1949–2018), a self-described "naturopathic doctor." After at least one conviction for practicing medicine without a license, Young (get it?) moved his "clinic" to Rosarito, Mexico, where he offered quack "detoxifixation" treatments for cancer and lupus, among other diseases. When a Los Angeles Times reporter submitted a mixture of cat and chicken blood to Young's clinic, he failed to recognized the sample was bogus and diagnosed the "patient" with aggressive cancer and liver disease.
In 1982, Young and his then-wife accidentally killed their newborn daughter during a botched "natural childbirth" procedure. While the death was ruled accidental, the county coroner's report stated that the child would likely have survived if a conventional delivery had been performed.
Young began distilling essential oils in the late 1980s and founded Young Living in 1993. Besides selling essential oils, Young Living operated a clinic which dispensed essential oils and other alternative medicine treatments for numerous conditions, including cancer and depression. After a patient developed kidney failure from a Young Living vitamin C treatment, the clinic moved to Ecuador.
Despite literally selling longevity in a bottle, Young died unexpectedly at age 68 after a series of strokes.
Young Living and its distributors have a long and well-documented history of making dubious and false health claims, about essential oils in general and its products specifically. Most incredibly, during an outbreak of Ebola virus in 2014, a Young Living distributor who claims to be a nurse (?!) flatly stated on her blog that "viruses (including Ebola) are no match for essential oils" and that "Ebola virus can not live in the presence" of cinnamon oil or oregano oil. The blog then claimed that several Young Living blends had anti-viral properties and recommended others for fever, bleeding, and "liver support."
The alt-med claptrap is sprinkled with a generous helping of Mormon wackiness for good measure. For example, the company once donated frankincense and myrrh oil to a local Christmas display, claiming rather inexplicably that its extraction process was based on "customs that were practiced during the period of Christ."
The US Food and Drug Administration is not amused, but they've done little besides firing off an angry letter, and though the company has toned down its official marketing materials, individual distributors continue to recommend Young Living products for serious medical conditions.
Young Living makes a big deal of its "Seed to Seal®" policy, "a rigorous quality control standard" that involves "a battery of physical, chemical, and microbiological scientific tests to measure the exact components and properties of our essential oils," all while "sustainably sourcing plants… uplifting local communities… [and] complying with environmental and other laws." Most of their web page on the subject is (surprise, surprise) rather vague and full of unsourced puffery.
However, many of the ingredients in Young Living's oils, such as sandalwood and copaiba, are frequently poached and smuggled, with devastating environmental consequences but few legal ones. In September 2017, Young Living plead guilty to federal misdemeanor charges for procuring illegally-harvested rosewood and spikenard; the company's punishment was a measly $760,000 fine and a pledge to implement changes.
This is all, of course, notwithstanding the idiocy of shipping plants halfway around the world, distilling or extracting them into oil in massive, specialized industrial machines, and selling it by claiming that it's "natural".
- Young living exceeds $1.5 billion in annual sales for 2017
- Huber, Andie (March 2, 2017). "If Another Mom Tries to Sell Me Something on Facebook, I'm Going to Lose It". Money.
- Mitchell, LaTonya (September 22, 2014). "Warning Letter: Young Living". U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
- Monroe, Rachel (October 9, 2017). "Something in the Air". The New Yorker. "According to a public income statement, more than ninety-four per cent of Young Living's two million active members made less than a dollar in 2016, while less than one-tenth of one per cent—that is, about a thousand Royal Crown Diamonds—earned more than a million dollars."
- Prager, Mike (March 9, 1983). "Police arrest 'doctor'". The Spokane Chronicle.
- Hurst, John (October 23, 1987). "'Patient' Submits Blood (From Cat), Is Given Diagnosis". Los Angeles Times.
- Mills, Judy (October 17, 1982). "Babies: Home-style birthing continues to generate controversy here". The Spokesman-Review.
- Longevity | Young Living Essential Oils
- TruthInAdvertising: Young Living Health Claims Database
- The Oil Dropper: Young Living Versus Ebola Virus
- Hardy, Rodger L. (December 3, 1998). "Ancient oils of Nativity offered by Payson Firm". Deseret News.
- "Essential Oils Company Sentenced for Lacey Act and Endangered Species Act Violations to Pay $760,000 in Fines, Forfeiture, and Community Service, and to Implement a Comprehensive Compliance Plan". US Department of Justice. September 18, 2017. Retrieved September 20, 2017.