When I did my original training in aromatherapy from the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy, honestly, the chemistry chapters put me to sleep. Now as I’ve practiced aromatherapy I’ve really come to appreciate the chemistry of essential oils. These are the details that I am driven to study because I want to, and just what I’ve been doing with the Young Living and doTerra products.
This article will cover the differences and similarities between the two, that will help you decide what is best for you. Just a little note, that I am not an all or nothing gal. Someone asked me if I’m a poster child for YL. I’ve used them the longest, but I’m not opposed to trying something new if it truly is quality. Competition in the marketplace will only make products better, and then we all win. It keeps companies honest and products pure. If you are a network marketing professional you may have an all or nothing approach, that’s fine. But I really don’t want to promote that here. I believe there are good things in many companies, and not any one is doing everything perfect. I’ll give you some details that will help you decide where you’ll put your money in personal care. I’m an advocate for purity in personal and home care products whether essential oils, supplements or home care.
My professional background is in marketing, so I fully understand the drive to sell products at all costs. It’s also the reason I’m committed to helping consumers sift through the hype and really find products that are pure.
The bottom line is quality is often compromised to get sales. This is very prevelant in the essential oil industry where there is very little regulation. The internet makes it difficult for many companies to hide behind packaging and labeling that is missing information, but the essential oil industry falls through the cracks. An essential oil can be labeled “100% essential oil and still have synthetic fillers in it. This would be where the derogatory term “Snake oil salesman” comes from.
Unfortunately, many consumers have come to associate essential oils with this term, possibly because of a bad experience with them. A company may be able to get away with it for a while, but eventually the word will get out, like KASHI using GMO soy in their products. With essential oils, the proof is in the results the oils produce and the quality that lasts over time. Good quality essential oils will do what they are suppose to, and will not “go bad” over time (if they do, it is the fillers or added chemicals that are breaking down over time) Transparency in labeling is the best approach any company can take, because eventually someone will ask or test them for purity. It’s a good thing, and will result in continued growth in products that are really pure. If you are a consumer that just looks at packaging and promotion for how to decide, this article is probably not for you. I talked with someone like this just last weekend, a health food store owner who felt that Young Living and doTerra essential oils are basically the same, she decided based on the packaging. For those of you that like some more detail so you can make informed choices read on.
As I’ve been working on this article it was brought to my attention that several lawsuits have been filed, one against Young Living by doTerra and another against doTerra by Young Living. Both lawsuits involve product purity and truth in advertising. We are at a defining moment in the essential oil industry with these two high profile lawsuits just filed in the past month. The essential oil industry has been in long need of better regulation to protect consumers, the time is coming. For the sake of simplicity and because the results of the lawsuit are not yet decided, I am assuming the essential oils used in these comparisons are pure plant material with no synthetic additives or crossover of oils (for example, lavender that might have geranium or chamomile molecules in it). True aromatherapy relies on pure products, it is simple science. If the ingredients are tampered with in any way synthetic or natural, the outcomes are unpredictable, possibly even dangerous.
Sourcing natural recources is the foundation of a quality product, especially essential oils. The essential oil industry has largely been driven by players called “brokers”. While there may be exceptions to this model, simply put, these guys are really the middle man for essential oil suppliers. They find the products, then look for wholesale buyers who package them nice and pretty and market them to us, the consumers. The essential oil industry is known for diluting, extending and adding synthetics to supplies to increase profits and meet consumer demands. (hence, the “snake oil salesman”)
In 2000, Henry Pouchon the president at the time of the Confrerie de la lavande stated it well that “we (the Provence region of France) produce about 50 tons of True and clone Lavender, but brokers end up exporting 250 tons. This is a greater miracle than the one of Lourdes and Fatima together, where the Virgin Mother has appeared three times”.
The demand for pure lavender essential oil (and other essential oils) has only increased exponentially since this comment, and will continue to do so as more essential oil companies are formed. With the growth of demand grows the temptation to alter oils further to meet consumer demand. As demand increases and supply goes down, the prices should naturally increase. Simple economics.
Right now, Young Living is the leading producer of quality essential oils, doTerra is a growing company hoping to get a share of the market. So, what are the main differences between these two competitors? Some pretty significant details:
1. Sourcing One major difference between Young Living and doTerra sourcing is
- doTerra sources all their essential oil supply from brokers. doTerra states that they work with brokers so they can source the best essential oils in the world and not be tied to farmland.
- Young Living grows many of the plants they distill and package into essential oils on 9 farms including Idaho, Ecuador, Utah, France and Oman Young Living farms produce essential oils of lavender, helichrysum, peppermint, melissa, frankincense, balsam fir, cedarwood, lemongrass, eucalyptus, rosemary and clary sage my latest check. there may be more. The essential oils are distilled on each farm at the optimal time after harvest. Young Living grows their own plant material for many essential oils so they have full quality control from seed to plant to distilled oil that can be tested at each processing point.
This is a huge difference between the two companies, with propenents having arguements for both sides. Many essential oils are imported from overseas and quality relies on proper testing and a great deal of trust in the brokers you are working with. One of the lawsuits recently filed is challenging the purity of over 20 doTerra essential oils, another with 1 of Young Living’s. The former being issues with potential mixed plant oils in lavender essential oil, something that could easily happen with oils from a broker who is funneling oils to many sources. The outcomes of further quality control testing will have a huge impact on the players in the essential oil industry.
2. Product Standards are published in essential oil desk references. The Essential Oils Desk Reference features “Young Living products”, the Modern Essentials guide features doTerra’s. Both of these guides list the ideal chemical structure of essential oils, with a few marked differences.
- Young Living’s Essential Oil Desk Reference lists chemistry standards for 99 single oils, several of which are not sold as single oils by the company but used in their blends such as lavandin and fleabane.
- doTerra’s Modern Essentials guide lists chemistry standards for 37 single essential oils, there are many essential oils used in their blends that do not have chemistry standards listed anywhere I could find: camphor, lavandin, eucalyptus globulus, lemon eucalyptus, black cumin seed, spruce, clementine, mandarin, tangerine, tarragon, osmanthus, elemi, caraway, jasmine, cistus, citronella and vitex. The company is only 5 years old, so I’m sure it’s just a matter of updating their current guide with the chemistry standards they used to approve these oils for purity.
The information in the two guides is listed differently as well. Important details? Aromatherapy resesarch I’ve read, including Jane Buckle RN clinical aromatherapy lists ranges for chemistry standards. With essential oils, too little or too much of any constituent can have an impact on the oil potency and safety, even making an oil toxic (thujone as one example). Here’s some food for thought,
- Essential Oil Desk Reference (YL) lists chemistry ranges for all their oils (lemon should contain 59-73% d-limonene)
- Modern Essentials (doTerra) lists them as <Less than or >greater than quantities. (lemon should have up to 72% d-limonene)
- Pure, unadultured essential oils with no synthetics added should last forever. I have a bottle of rose essential oil that is over 10 years old and the aroma is still as pure as it was when I got it. Any additives will break down in time and reveal the addition of chemicals in an off-aroma. Young Living does not list an expiration date on their essential oils, doTerra does. Both companies note lot numbers on their essential oils.
Are these differences going to make or break the therapeutic value of the essential oils? As I said before, this is a defining moment in essential oil history, the more data we can standardize, the better it will be for consumers. For now, I believe that the more specific we can be about chemistry and standards in the essential oils the easier it will be to spot one that’s been adultered. It’s a starting point. See the photos below for examples.
3. Blending essential oils is an art. One reason I chose to use essential oils is I know what is going into the ingredients of DIY products I make. You can’t get more simple and pure than using 1 thing for non-emergency issues like cuts, burns, insomnia, nausea, headache, etc. There are no additives or fillers. Young Living and doTerra have both gone to lengths to develop blends that can target specific issues. I like that I do not have to purchase all the single oils to make a targeted blend. When essential oils are blended, the whole is more effective than the individual oils.
The main difference between Young Living and doTerra blends is
- Young Living discloses all the essential oils on their blends
- doTerra does not disclose all ingredients in their essential oil blends. Their labeling of TerraShield reminds me too much of greenwashed packaging that lists “all natural ingredients”. It might not be a big deal except I’m especially suspicious of bug sprays with a “proprietary blend”. Maybe the scent of TerraShield is a bit too close to some OFF scented sprays I’ve smelled and I have a negative association with it.
I understand a company’s desire to protect intellectual property and recipes, but I will not use an essential oil blend that does not list single ingredients or have published chemistry standards for oils commonly used as an insect repellant like citronella or lemon eucalyptus.
Camphor doTerra also uses camphor (of which the chemistry standards are not included in the “Modern Essentials Desk Reference, doTerra’s essential oil standards”) in their pain blend, it is listed as the 2nd ingredient. Camphor is one of those “oils” that can be produced naturally from a pine resin, it’s also mass produced from mineral oil – a petroleum product. A similar comparison would be vegetable glycerin vs. synthetic, man-made glycerin (which is used in many lotions). Camphor can technically be classified as an essential oil if it is distilled properly, but it is not referred to in beginner aromatherapy training. Camphor is cheap to produce synthetically and naturally, it has an overpowering aroma that produces a quick, cool sensation compared with a subtle, healing, anti-inflammatory oil like helichrysum which is much more expensive. It’s like putting gummy worms on your creme brulee, kids might like it, but for someone with a refined palate it ruins the original recipe. Blending is an effective way to use essential oils if all the ingredients are really pure and not synthetic counterparts and care has been taken in choosing oils that are harmonious with each other and create a balanced aroma that is neither too overbearing or flat. While the art of blending essential oils is somewhat subjective, the clear labeling of ingredients is not. The essential oil industry is headed to clear truth in labeling, blends are no exception.
4. Species Choosing proper plant species is very important in labeling essential oils for sale to consumers. In horticulture, there are ornamental varieties of plants and hybrids that are edible, like elderberries. With essential oils, the same holds true. Some plant species are better just for aesthetics or aroma (aka perfume, meditation, or spirituality in the essential oil industry lingo) while others have more therapeutic benefits like being antibacterial, mucolytic (reducing mucous) or sedative.
If you choose the incorrect species for the intended use, you’ll most likely be disappointed with the results. Essential oils that do not meet therapeutic standards would serve better as a perfume rather than for therapeutic purposes. Lavender is one of the best examples of this. As Henry Pouchon explained, there simply is not enough lavender to meet worldwide demand.
Plants are natural resources and once the seasonal supply is gone, the only way a company can keep supplied is to
- Substitute another species
- Add a synthetic filler
- Fill in with another plant species to extend the supply.
Lavandin is a plant species that smells similar to lavender, but the chemistry and uses of each are very different. Lavandin contains marked levels of camphor, noted in therapeutic standards.
True therapeutic lavender (lavandula angustifolia) should have no detectable camphor. The camphor in lavandin could make a burn worse. This is a basic aromatherapy standard that is taught in all beginner courses I’ve read. Kurt Schnaubelt, PhD and essential oil chemist, notes that “any level of camphor in lavender essential oil would indicate a mix of lavender and lavandin”. Lavandin is a cheaper plant to produce, the flowers are more prolific and it smells similar to true lavender. Once a leader in production of true lavender, most of the farmers of Provence are now producing the cheaper lavandin. Modern Essentials (doTerra) lists camphor as a chemical constituent in their lavender.
The following are some essential oil species that vary between the two companies. Due to the complexity and length of this article, I won’t be diving into the differences between the species. This is an area that has the potential for huge growth in the industry, specific research into the strengths of definite species. Too often, research does not indicate (to the reader) plant species or company names of essential oils used in studies. This would be helpful to research students, essential oil producers and consumers searching for the most effective oils.
Young Living doTerra
Frankincense Boswellia carteri Boswellia frereana
Clove Syzygium aromaticum Eugenia caryophyllata
Roman Chamomile Chamaemelum nobile Chamaemelum nobile or Anthemis nobilis
Cinnamon Cinnamomum Verum Cinnamomum zeylanicum
Lavender Lavandula angustifolia Lavandula angustifulia (with detectable camphor)
These are some pretty significant differences between Young Living and doTerra. These basics should make it easy to start reading labels of other products you use. It’s important to look at the fine print and think about the details that matter. Is one company the answer for everyone? Of course not. In fact, it may be prudent to keep an open mind when it comes to essential oil use. It is not good for anyone to use the same products day in and out, the same is true of essential oils. Mix things up and you’ll keep your immune system strong. It can even be helpful to use the same essential oil from different growing seasons because the constituents will slightly different. Bacteria are smart and have learned ways to overcome man-made antibiotics, but they are not always resistant to minute differences in essential oils from different regions and growing seasons, just like wine. We can all benefit from more research into how many species of different essential oils can be effective against multiple strains of bacteria rather than viewing oils as a one size fits all. Most importantly, don’t assume all things are pure unless they are labeled clearly and from a company you can trust.