In 2014 I wrote a blog post that honestly changed the trajectory of my aromatherapy career. That blog post opened the door to countless emails from people telling me about their injuries and the bad advise they were given. In case after case I asked people to report their injury, but each year when I read the injury reports I didn’t see the majority of the injuries I had been emailed about. The tide is turning! People are starting to feel empowered by the bravery of my co-writer Stacey Haluka from the book The Unspoken Truth About Essential Oils and the Facebook group she founded. Since the book came out I have been hearing from several people in Australia and New Zealand about the troubles they are having with unsafe training from MLM companies.
Kim is from Australia and has given me permission to share her story.
My Adverse Reaction Story by Kim Hungerford
Debate around essential oils is raging and I am now telling my story after seeing so many unsafe and unethical posts shared in my community.
I am involved as an activist for two aromatherapy safety groups and am formally trained in ethics, research and advocacy. I learnt about and discussed adverse reactions/injury with both groups run by fellow qualified and certified aromatherapists. I was so gullible and alas badly injured from one of the two large MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) essential oil companies.
At first, I had not the slightest idea what MLM and essential oils were.
At the end after suffering bad consequences, I pondered, why was I given bad advice and suffered adverse reactions? I would feel irresponsible if I don’t share my MLM journey, adverse reactions and hospital story.
From My Ignorance to Eventual Awareness of Three Incidents of Unethical Behaviour
I was not fully aware of an MLM’s structure, coupled with lots of unethical and unsafe advice. I was asking professionals for research, ethics and advice after leaving the pure health success group, team and company.
I was invited to an old friend’s party in late 2016. My upline introduced us to essential oils. S/he made claims, “organic”, “therapeutic grade”, “CPTG”, “amazing because they are pure” “use the Modern Essentials book and app”. Then we smelt each of essential oils and talked about the LRP (Loyalty Rewards Program). I fell into becoming an LRP member with an essential oil starter kit worth over 200 dollars. I also bought the book, “Modern Essentials”.
I eventually bought a diffuser, lavender, lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit, frankincense and on-guard essential oils. I used those for haircare for 4 months from December 2017. I was advised to use:
- One drop lemon or one drop peppermint in my water daily
- One drop of F.L.O.O.M into a capsule five times for my colds
- On-guard to wash my hands daily
- One drop of frankincense under my tongue and under foot daily
- Deep blue rub on my lower back pain daily
- One drop of lime and lavender with very small amount of FCO carrier all over my skin daily
- One drop of lavender, lemon and peppermint oil in a diffuser for two hours at bedtime.
I was contacted by two uplines to host a party at home. Only one guest came. My close friend came to learn about essential oils with us. He is not the sort to jump into things quickly, so he told them he would think about it. They exchanged their mobile numbers. My friend knows about MLMs (and he indicated he wasn’t entirely against them, when the product is safe and good, but is aware of how they operate and the problems they can cause and that most people don’t make any money through them) and the separate idea of pyramid schemes. So, does my poor mother. He didn’t reply immediately to their messages. I then got harassed by one of my uplines,
“Why is not he responding to my messages?”
I finally got them all together to work out a final decision online. My friend reflected and indicated he wasn’t interested.
One of the events, I sat with a group of people and a team leader on a round table. He opened his mobile checking my monthly purchases:
“Kim, why did not you buy anything this month?”
I was so humiliated. I wanted to leave the event immediately. I couldn’t leave out of courtesy to my other friends and I held back my tears until I got home.
I realised their unethical behaviour after starting my own research on company structure, ethics, qualifications and essential oils. I questioned my group team members and uplines’ about their qualification and the company’s structure. None of them have any qualification in aromatherapy or aromatic medicines.
They are just sales reps, throwing out suggestions all the time. I was told that there was an oil for “everything.” I was told these oils were natural substances with no side effects. I was told any side effects were detox reactions. I was also asked if I was not interested in essential oils then could I bring my family members and friends to meet with them. Sadly, looking back everything I experienced would be a red flag!
I thought I was alone in my bad experiences with this MLM and essential oils. A few weeks later someone I know from our community posted: “……. is a scam.”
I finally came out and shared my story in a comment on someone’s post. Then one of my uplines came to harass me by posting his inappropriate text messages, that I had not read, on my Facebook timeline (visible to all my friends).
I finally cut off my friendship with my uplines and their team members completely. I could no longer hang around or stand by their unethical behaviour. I left them immediately with both physical (adverse reaction) and emotional injury and tears. I lost some friends that I used to enjoy hanging around with and sharing parties together.
April 2017 to May 2018 Adverse Reaction
In April 2017 (fig 1-3), I had a bad fall on a wet parking lot and went for an assistance at the Health Shop. My left knee was badly bleeding. They cleansed my knee with cleansing wiper and bandage. A few days later, I read the Modern Essentials looking for what oils to use on wounds:
“Wounds…Oils: clove, tea tree, helichrysum, lavender, lemongrass, cleansing blend, basil, cypress, eucalyptus, frankincense, roman chamomile, peppermint (after wound has closed), myrrh, rose, sandalwood, thyme, juniper berry, bergamot
Once bleeding has stopped and the wound has closed, apply a drop a lavender (to help start healing), a drop of tea tree (to help fight infection and a drop of lemongrass (for possible ligament damage) p.382.“
I used these oils neat on my knee for a few days. Now my scar has not healed and is permanent. I never had scars from previous falls before.
May 2017 (fig 4-6), I developed redness on my stomach, lower back, arms, hands and ring finger. I went to see my General Practitioner (GP) doctor and my GP thought I had a bad sunburn. It was not. I showed them my essential oils and deep blue rub. They instructed me to stop all oils and rubs immediately, including diffuser, inhalation, topical use and ingestion. I was prescribed steroid cream.
August 2017, I developed a respiratory problem – initial asthma and cough that lasted for almost three months. I was prescribed an asthma inhaler for two months. Still ongoing, my tastebuds pop up uncomfortably when I come close to essential oils.
December 2017 to January 2018 (fig 7), I developed rashes on my armpits from using my organic lavender deodorant. I have used it for years. I had to change to a new deodorant. Lavender was my favourite aromatic oil.
May 2018 (fig 8), I had 3 emergency admissions in Hospital for my lower back surgery. During my first admission, one of three incidents that occurred there was that essential oils were brought to me by a healthcare professional. I had showered and used an Australian organic haircare product to wash my hair. One of our healthcare professionals on the ward assisted me walking me back to my bed. She liked the smell of the shampoo I had used. Without warning she pulled out a bottle of MLM essential oil, put it neatly on her wrists to see if I like the smell. I frowned to indicate that there was a problem and motioned for her to leave immediately. I wrote her a note: I am severely allergic to essential oils. She left the room and later apologised. I made a report with the Head of Neurology and Governance office of one of Australia’s leading hospitals.
During my second hospital stay (fig 7-8), I had a skin irritation and rash from my IV on my right arm a day after surgery and lasted for a few days. I attribute this to the sensitisation caused by my use of essential oils.
Reflection, Healing and Advocacy
With my own research and reflection, I became so sick to my stomach. I slowly picked up and now speak up when reps and wellness advocates come to recommend ingestion and topical application of essential oils without dilution (neat).
I could not believe when I recommended to create my F.L.O.O.M and lemon with water to ingest. Unfortunately, I was tagged, tricked and tested by one of my uplines to see if I would answer to one of their members who had had a transplant asking around if ingestion was okay. I was upset to face his unethical behaviour.
I took the time to heal slowly. I joined the Unspoken Truth About Essential Oils, found by Stacey Haluka following her video story, and Aroma Safety support groups. I have been encouraged to report my adverse reaction in three places – two in America and one here in Australia after sharing my story with everyone. This story of mine is to educate others and prevent people from getting injured by essential oils. I took some seminars from the Tisserland Institute and would love to continue my education and understand more about my internal and external adverse reactions.
I love this quote from a certified and professional aromatherapist/friend, “I don’t use essential oils daily, I exhale and inhale essentials outside daily.”
I will be always advocating for safety, ethics and respect for our certified and qualified aromatherapists. Only they should give advice on the careful use of plants or essential oils internally and externally. I cannot continue to support anyone giving out advice without qualifications in aromatherapy and professional organisation membership.
-used with permission Kim Hungerford © 15/07/2018
It is my opinion that one adverse reaction followed by poor advice is too many, but unfortunately report after report has not been enough to stop bad advice in MLM companies. I simply do not understand what is the harm in educating people on how to use essential oils in moderation?!
Recently I shared Robyn’s story. I hope someday to run out of adverse reaction stories to share when safety becomes a priority to all sellers of essential oils. In the meantime if you or someone you love experiences an adverse reaction (large or small) please report your injury.
SOURCES TO REPORT: Tisserand Institute Adverse Reaction Database and Aromatherapy United Essential Oil Reaction Reporting Form (in the United States), Citizens Advise and (in the United Kingdom), and AromaSafety in Australia or New Zealand.
I can identify with the incidents that Kim described. I spent some time unknowingly in a line in a MLM that was run like a cult.