Are Essential Oils a Scam? ~ A Skeptic Looks at Thieves® Oil

The information provided in this post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice.
It is not a substitute for your doctor's care plan or advice.

I thought essential oils were a scam. Then I got really sick and got to put them to the test. Did the Thieves Oil perform? Find out what happened next.

UPDATE 1/2013- Before reading this post, please note that I am no longer using Young Living Oils.  I moved on for various reasons. You can read more starting with this post, or skip ahead to the final post here. You can see my DIY Antibacterial Essential Oils Blend here.

I'm not one to trust in alternative remedies easily.

Really, I'm not. However, when one is really sick and mainstream medicine isn't helping, one starts looking elsewhere.

With all that we've been through with autism, adrenal fatigue, heavy metals, and more, I've been in and out of doctor's offices, both mainstream and alternative.

Among other things, we've tried:

  • chiropractic
  • homeopathy
  • kinesiology
  • ionic foot bath (only once)
  • acupressure
  • tons of supplements (no–I haven't weighed them.  But if I did I'm scared it would be close to a ton.)
  • Nutritional Balancing.  You can read more about this in this post on adrenal fatigue.

Anyway, we've tried a lot on our road to healing.  I've been really careful not to mortgage the farm (er–our house) while trying to heal my son's autism, but it's been tempting at times.

Looking back at that list of alternative medical practices, I guess it's pretty hard to think that I'm a skeptic, right?

But really I am.

We've tried a lot of things, but we really did put a lot of thought into all of these “healing options” prior to working with them, and most of them we aren't doing anymore.

Either they haven't worked, or we've found something that's worked better or cheaper.

Well, the latest object of my skepticism is….you guessed it.  Essential Oils.

I'd heard about essential oils a number of times over the years.

People would tell me how great essential oils were and I'd think, “Yeah, right. You're just trying to get me into another one of those network marketing things.”

And frankly, putting oil on your body and expecting it to heal anything sounded, well, basically loaded with “woo woo foo foo” to me.

Nonetheless, it seemed that over and over that someone would be telling me about essential oils. Especially the antibacterial blends, often called “Thieves” or “Four Thieves” or something like that.

Those blends and the oils in them are supposed to be antiviral, antibacterial.  And are often touted as being a cure all for many ailments.

“Yeah, right. Sure,” this skeptic thought.

I thought essential oils were a scam. Then I got really sick and got to put them to the test. Did the Thieves Oil perform? Find out what happened next.

I Got Sick

Anyway, about 10 months ago, I got sick.

Really sick.

I had a bad cold that I just couldn't shake. For a long time.

I had fluid in my ear and then my nose – and then both. Three weeks or more passed.  I started asking friends for advice and feared that the dreaded antibiotic would be in my future. One natural-minded friend suggested I try one of these multi-level-marketing company anti-bacterial blends.

“I always use that when I feel something coming on.  It's great!” she said.

“So, do you sell the oils?”  I asked.


OK then. Someone recommending it who wasn't selling it.

Now I was seriously curious and was wondering if maybe the essential oils weren't a scam?

So I went on a hunt to get some without spending the huge retail price for a bottle.

I got a small sample from a local woman, but it wasn't nearly enough to deal with my problem. So I called the original person who had told me about Young Living and she sent me a larger sample– enough to get me through a few days.

Three days after I started taking the oil (I took 5 drops, followed by a “gulp” of water, up to 5 times per day) –I was better.

Good stuff.

(Please note that I no longer recommend taking essential oils internally unless one is under the care of a physician or other medical professional or certified aromatherapist — someone who knows your condition and your overall health.  Furthermore, taking oils internally can lead to damage of the mucous membranes, and essential oils must be emulsified before using with a water base.)

Since then, this oil blend, or similar blends from other companies have helped myself and others with various ailments:

Fingernail Infection

I used to be really prone to these–getting an infection just after something jabbed me under my fingernail (for one of them about 5 years ago, I ended up needing antibiotics since it got really nasty).  I hadn't gotten them for awhile, but I did get one again about 5 months ago.

Colloidal silver and peroxide wouldn't do anything, so I thought about the “Thieves oil-type” blend.

I stuck a little of the oil (straight / neat – I wanted it to be strong and didn't care if it stung) on another clean fingernail, pushed it into the injured area – and a few days and several treatments later, the infection was gone.

(Update 3/17: I no longer recommend nor use essential oils neat / undiluted.)

Cold / Viral Mouth Sores 

One night, while we were out, my son complained that his lip was sore.  He said he'd gotten bumped.  When we got home, however, there were 6-7 obvious herpes sores, filled with pus (sorry to be so descriptive.)

After doing research on oils and herpes sores, I ended up trying Thieves again, this time diluted with a carrier oil.

The next day, here is what his lip looked like and it was MUCH better than before. (I wish I'd thought to take a photo the first day.  Sigh.)

Herpes Cold Sores

There was no sign of the sores within 3 days.

Cystic Acne

I used to have a rough time with acne in my 20s but hadn't really struggled with any skin issues but rosacea since then.  Suddenly, this past month, I started getting some small breakouts.  None of them really bothered me, however, until I got a large cystic breakout next to my cheek.

I used the anti-bacterial blend diluted with a carrier oil and overnight the cyst had shrunk noticeably.  Within 3 days it was gone.

Another reader shared that she's used one of these blends on some underarm cysts / sores and they've vanished.

Sinus Infection

A local reader who is prone to sinus issues had a bad sinus infection again.

She ended up trying the Immune Strength blend from my favorite essential oils company, and all signs of the infection were gone overnight.

Persistent Illness with Fever

Another local reader's son had a bad fever for several days that was had become worrisome.  She'd gotten an Rx for an antibiotic but really didn't want to fill it (see my story about avoiding antibiotics).  She ended up trying an anti-bacterial essential oils blend along with an herbal supplement and said that the next day her son woke up and he was his old self again.

The “Thieves Oil Story”

Thieves-type oils were apparently developed from historical information about four thieves in France who would rob victims of the Black Plague (get it–stealing things off of dead bodies.  Ick.)

They'd protect themselves from the plague with a secret recipe of natural ingredients including cloves and rosemary. The thieves were captured and given a lighter sentence in exchange for their recipe. And it really works.

Now I don't know if this is a valid story at all, but it's interesting, and the essential oils involved have been shown to have many antibacterial and antiviral properties.   There are many studies about these qualities including this one and this one.

Essential Oils can be a very valid part of your natural medicine cabinet. I'll fill you in on more in my next post on essential oils where I'll talk about Peppermint, Wintergreen and other oils and my experience with them.

And I really don't mean this to be a commercial.  I am just so floored by my experience with them that I feel compelled to share (some things are just too good to keep to yourself!)

But Essential Oils are Expensive!

Do you feel this way? I did.

So – how do essential oils fit into a “financially concerned” household?

You can buy these blends pre-blended for convenience from the essential oils company that I recommend. You can go here to see how I ended up choosing this company.  It's a series, so you can read what you like – some of the comments got pretty dicey though.

And when someone gets sick, we don't go through a whole bottle.  It's a whole lot cheaper than the gas (whoa – $4 per gallon?!) and copay and maybe an antibiotic on top of it.  And we all know there is more than up-front finances involved with antibiotics and other meds, right?

Additionally, you can make your own anti-bacterial essential oils blend and save a bunch of money that way.

Again, please note that I am no longer using Young Living Oils.
I moved on for various reasons. You can read more starting with this post, or skip ahead to the final post here.
You can see my DIY Antibacterial Essential Oils Blend here.

I'm not one to trust in alternative remedies easily.

Interested in learning more about using essential oils for healthy living?  This book is a GREAT resource:

Essential Oils Natural Remedies Book

Free Essential Oils Report and VIP Newsletter Access

Also, if you go and grab my Free Report on 10 Things to Know About Essential Oils Before You Buy, you will not only get more myth-busting essential oils information, but you'll get access to my VIP newsletter as well–complete with updates, great healthy living offers, of course new posts on essential oils, and more.

Wondering about essential oils? I sure was. Get this guide to buying the best essential oils from a mom blogger who dug deep into the industry to find out what's really going on. Fascinating information including some real debunking that saved me a ton of time and money.

Please share your thoughts on and questions about essential oils.
Do you or did you think essential oils are a scam?

This post is for entertainment purposes only and is not to be used as medical advice as I am not a physician, nor do I pretend to be one. Please consult with your physician prior to using any kind of natural remedy or supplement.  Thank you.

These comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Whole New Mom, LLC.


    Speak Your Mind


  1. I have been a practitioner in both allopathic and alternative medicine…
    My opinion is that essential oils are quackery.
    I was invited to party were the host was making medical claims that essential oils heal breast cancer. Additionally she was speaking to someone about the adrenal glands and pointing to the back of her neck. i believe that this person knew that I was on to her bullshit…she couldn’t get rid of me fast enough.

    No one should ever be making medical claims if the are not a licensed practitioner
    As far as Chiropractors go, there are good and bad. Mine has been practicing for 38 years, has multiple PH.D’s…I would trust him with my life
    The best thing any person can do is research, use their own critical thinking skills, talk to others…I.e., word of mouth

    • Hi Lilli.

      I’m sorry that the person that you saw do the party thought that the adrenals were in the back of her neck. That’s wrong, of course. There are many pub med studies on essential oils that might be of interest to you, however. Do you think that those are inaccurate?

  2. I am wanting to know the best thing to become more regular in my bowel movements as I have slow transit constipation …what things would you recommend ? Please n thank you

  3. Laura Lee Kelly says:

    Hi, just wondering why some of you are skeptical of MLM companies. I always buy from home based businesses rather than the Walmarts of the world! Making CEOs rich. Young Living is a straight commission company. You sell a starter kit, you make $67. Simple. I love Thieves and recommend it to everyone.

    • I think you make a good point. I am not anti MLM but many of them do have overpriced products for things you can get elsewhere at a lower price and some make claims that they shouldn’t make. But I think the concept can be a good and sustainable one. Thanks for reading!

  4. Hi there, I just recently came across EO’s and particularly curious about the Thieves ones from YL. I’m personally not a fan of MLM’s and would prefer to avoid purchasing from them. So I’m wondering…is there an equivalent blend by Rocky Mountain? Would appreciate any input 🙂 Thanks!

  5. Hello Adrienne, I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and I sincerely appreciate the time and effort you have put into your research. I am doing a bit of my own research right now concerning EO’s and it’s a bit daunting and confusing. My husband is currently on so much medication for numerous ailments. Sometimes the medications cancel each other out or just don’t work. I have been reading reviews from actual people and there are some who have tried EO’s that swear on the benefits they have. My issue is the cost. Our household has 7 kids and three adults. My husband is retired and we both are in school.We provide for his sister and our own 7 children. So again cost is an issue. I’ve recently tried Viola Essentials….and a knock off brand from Walmart. However, my husband’s migraine subsided using these oils.and I paid maybe $20 for 7 of them whereas with the companies that are out there charge nearly that much or more for just one vial. I guess my question is, even though the EO’s aren’t supposedly great quality, if they work should they be good enough? And also, I would like to know your thoughts on Viola Essentials. They are fairly reasonable from what I’ve seen. Thank you for all your time and work. I look forward to your reply.

    • Hi there and thank you so much. I know it’s a lot to weed through. I completely understand being on a tight budget. I have never heard of Viola. Here is the thing. They might be OK. But just b/c something works doesn’t mean it is pure and doesn’t have something in it that isn’t good for you. Think about weed killers and pharma meds. They work but they aren’t good for you or the environment. I know that some additives to adulterate oils are not dangers (they just cheapen the final product) but others are dangers. I would be careful. This post should help.

      Perhaps shopping sales is the way to go? It’s up to you.

    • I’ve never bought from any of the large MLM companies because of the price. You can get good essential oils by researching other companies. Some companies have great marketing,but other companies can also distilled good oils that work as you expect, and for less cost. Wishing everyone health and happiness.

  6. Gosh I thought essential oils were a scam. And they are!

  7. Aromatherapy is pretty interesting. Read this article on it on why its not accespted

  8. Thanks for the article on essential oils, from the perspective you were giving (being a skeptic). It is exactly what I was looking for.

    May I make a suggestion, however, about the pop-up I received while reading the article? It seems very snarky and rude that if I don’t want something being offered, the alternative to saying yes has to be, “No Thanks, I prefer to pay”. These type of things, I have seen on other sites. It is sort of like saying it like this:

    Hey, do you want to take advantage of this offer:

    Yes: Yes, I want to make my life a whole lot better!!
    No: No thanks, I want to be miserable and stupid.

    Just something to think about. It’s definitely not the Christian way.

    God bless!

    • Hi there.

      Thanks for writing and for bringing this up. I too have been bothered by the rude comments on some pop ups. Do you think that saying “I prefer to pay” is snarky and rude? I think “I want to be miserable and stupid” is quite off putting. Thanks.

      • Hans makes a valid point; I had the same thought when it popped up on my screen.
        Reread the comment without the defensive lens and you might interpret it differently. It certainly isn’t suggesting to replace your text with “I want to be miserable and stupid” as you imply.

        The reply sounds defensive and put me off reading more of your blog.
        Someone is freely giving you constructive feedback on why people may leave your site (as I will be after this comment) and you responded with arrogance and dismiss a reasonable point of view.
        You don’t have to agree, just thank them for their feedback and move on.
        It would be easy to have a ‘No thanks’ comment instead of a snide “I’d prefer to pay”

        • Hello Em.

          I just reread my question back to Hans and I didn’t think I was being defensive. I was asking him sincerely what he thought about the “I’d prefer to pay” message. I didn’t disagree but said that I had seen really rude ones out there and that the one that he posted was really off-putting.

          I’m not sure why you thought that I was implying that he thought that I should replace my text with “I want to be miserable and stupid”. I wasn’t at all and I’m not sure why you thought that I was being arrogant and dismissive when, in fact, I asked for further dialogue. I for sure don’t want to be that way. I have purposely tried not to “go there” in many posts when it would have been easy to do so.

          In fact, I’m not sure if my IT team put those words up or I did. I have been juggling so much that I don’t recall. In any case, I just made an adjustment to the wording. It didn’t look like it was going to work in the system but it appears to have changed.

          Thanks for reading and I hope you will reconsider your decision to leave, but of course that’s your decision. Have a good rest of the weekend.

  9. Andrea Nelson says:

    Adrienne, I came across your blog on EOs & thank you for your time spent on research. I have recently started my own experimenting with EOs & im excited to learn more! I began with Melaleuca, using the natural cleaning products, & I’ve been amazed with the results. Of course I branched out to the oils carried by Melaleuca. I was wondering your thoughts on this companies product. Do you feel the oils reach the stringent guidelines you want in your personal oils? The oils pass the following requirements.
    Melaleuca PURE™ Essential Oils
    GCMS Testing
    Chirality Testing
    Heavy Metal/Pesticide/
    Herbicide Testing
    Organoleptic Testing
    Optical Rotation/
    Refractive Index Testing
    Specific Gravity Testing
    Microbial Testing
    Flash Point Testing
    Isotopic Analysis
    Thanks in advance for your input

  10. ? Do you mean MRSA? I can’t medically advise – sorry.

  11. Carole Wagener says:

    What essential oils are good for warts on hands or feet?]

  12. Hi Adrienne!
    What I am reading about you is that you are a special mom & wife that wants only the best for her family as far as health & nutrition. Also, that you are not like most consumers who do not know to look for “research” before they try a new product. Our world Is filled with toxins & we are suffering from malnutrition. Love your recipes!
    I don’t know whether or not this would be for you, but would you be open to taking a look at a whole food nutrition product? Not a vitamin or supplement but REAL food. Fruits & veggies in a capsule! There is no product, pharmaceutical or supplement in world like it & has the research to back it up. You will love the research! Family’s all over the world are benefiting from this amazing product. Love to chat with you!

    • Hi there. I’m assuming you found my blog via the blog post on Mamavation?

      I know the company that you are talking about and I’m already affiliated with them. Not sure if I will be promoting them or not….it just depends. Thanks for reading.

  13. I also never believed in EO’s!
    My entire thought process on it was, that it is nothing more than snake oil! How could rubbing, taking or diffusing oil of any kind do anything better for you than actual prescriptions?
    However, I could not have been more wrong, and thankfully so!
    I recently spent 5 weeks with the worst case of bronchitis which then turned into pnemonia that I’ve ever had.
    As if that wasn’t bad enough, as soon as I started feeling better, I developed Shingles on my nose, over my right eye and right temple. I was so miserable and not only did it look horrible, the pain was even worse!
    I went to the doctor, and said “I believe I have Shingles.” He looked at me for 5 minutes and replied “Yeah, I’d say you have Shingles.” He gave me a very strong antibiotic to get filled at the pharmacy and that was it.
    So, I picked it up and was actually happy to start taking it, with the anticipation of the horrible pain coming to an end!
    Well, I was only to take a total of 2 pills because the side effects were absolutely horrible! I literally thought my head was going to explode at any minute the pain and pressure was that bad!
    Anyway, I’ll try to make a long story a little shorter, my daughter works at a local grocery store, she was telling her boss Cathy about what I was going through and she said as soon as she mentioned I had Shingles Cathys eyes got big and she said Oh my gosh I went through the same thing, shes got to try Lavender Essential Oil!!
    She explained what she did, mixed the L.E.O with Olive Oil and applied a couple times a day and also used it in her diffuser and she was amazed at how fast the sores healed up and how much better she felt.
    Well, my daughter bought me a vial of l.e.o from the grocery store for six bucks, came home and excitingly explained what Cathy had told her
    I mixed it with organic, cold pressed coconut oil and applied it all the painful areas, even areas with no sores and I also added to the diffuser that I’d gotten for Christmas and hadn’t used. As soon as I gently applied it, I was so absolutely amazed at the soothing relief that I got, I seriously could’ve cried!
    After using it for only 24 hrs. the lesions had dramatically decreased and you could actually see that they had begun healing and the constant burning, stinging pain wasn’t as intense. After 3 days the lesions had completely stopped weeping (I know gross!) and I had actual hope that my face wasn’t going to be massively scarred from this. Doctor told me that I would probably still have large red patches on my face in 4 to 6 months, possibly longer, from where all the Shingles were.
    Well, its been 3 weeks now since first starting the Lavender E.O and there is not one mark on my face from where the Shingles were!
    I just thank God that for some reason my daughter happened to mention to Cathy what I was going through!
    Needless to say, I definitely believe in E.O’s and the benefits of them!
    P.S Doctor visit was two hundred sixtey five dollars,
    Prescription was twenty six dollars and as I said one bottle of L.E.O was six dollars and coconut oil was seven dollars!!

    • Wow. Thank you for sharing!!!!! So glad you are better and I hope others read this so they can avoid the meds as well and hopefully heal.

    • This is very odd. no MD would give you an antibiotic for shingles. Shingles is a virus, and is totally unaffected by antibiotics. Perhaps he was treating you for the bronchitis?

    • Barbara Washington says:

      Thank you for sharing this. I don’t want the shingles vaccine or any other one for that matter. But I watched my grandmother go through it for months. How I wish I could have ordered her that relief!
      My dog was shaved yesterday before getting neutered(poor boy!) & today it was very red and raw. The vet said to go get an OTC “calming”cream. Didn’t know what that was, so after pressing for more information she said a lavender based salve. I whipped out my coconut oil and blended 2 tbls with 2 drops L.E.O. & applied it everywhere but the incision area. Patted off the excess…came back 45 minutes later and the bright red raw skin had turned to pale pink/not raw! I’ve rarely seen anything work so fast, the exception being topical cannabis salves.
      This will be my go to for skin problems for now.

  14. Robert Patrick says:

    RMO,,,,,what does this stand for. Why do you recommend them?

  15. I think essential oils and alternative therapies in general are not given the consideration they deserve. My M.D. actually recommends alternative therapies before she goes to medications. AND they have worked.

  16. Adrienne, I hate to burst your bubble but unfortunately you have absolutely no concrete evidence regarding ANY of your claims about essential oils. For all you know it could honestly just be a “placebo” effect instead. Please don’t ever blog again unless your either: a) a certified doctor or b) you have conducted a study and evaluated your findings. Your wasting everyone’s time by us viewing this and your giving extremely misleading information, complete garbage review !!!!

  17. Yordan Yordanov says:

    I believe. The person that wrote this .. not article but a piece of text is sooo uninformed. It is just, sad. It is so dull. Jesus. Dear Americans, you have way way way bigger problems with what you eat everyday than with essential oils. U purchase EOs from big companies and u dont even know where they come from, how are they extracted etc. I am producer of oils and herbs i know so much about them and how they help. I export to so many companies all over the world and I know that pharmas use them extensively. This blog or whatever this is is pathetic. Please hire some professional to edit your crap. And for god sake, learn some medical researches. Please do!

    • Hello Yordan. I’m really confused by your comment. You are correct that we have many issues with what we eat. However that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be concerned w/ putting synthetic oil on our skin. Then in the next sentence you seem to be saying that it’s important to know more about where our oils are coming from. I’m confused.

      I don’t appreciate your saying that my blog is pathetic and crap. That kind of accusation isn’t welcome here.

    • I couldn’t agree more buddy. Finally some truth 🙂 !

      • So Yordan seems to be an exporter of essential oils but you think they are garbage according to your other comment. Which is it — you think they are garbage and so you think his business is stupid or you think that they are a valuable product?

      • I find that people that make these accusations are employed by the pharmaceutical industry. You ignore validated studies on E.O’s with significant anti-viral-anti-bacterial & anti-fungal properties.

    • Yordan, can you give the link to your blog, or your info? I want to read all the info and research you’ve written and shared with us. Thanks.

    • Charlotte says:

      I think you may need someone to edit for you. Read your post again. And why is it necessary to bring “Jesus” and “God” into it? And by the way, out of respect for God, if you are going to use his name in vain, capitalize it. I would think a major producer/exporter of oils and herbs would construct a more educated “blog”.

    • It is because the whole medical research scheme has become so tainted that I seek out alternatives.
      I use Thieves oil for viruses all the time. Due to the financial windfall pharmaceuticals enjoy,
      and that I have found no relief there I stay away from their poisons.

    • We are not stupid!!! I can do my own research!!! Your not the only one here that can study and rea search !!! Why read the blog if you don’t like it

  18. I am so thankful for your posts regarding EO. I have been looking into them since my daughter suffers with 4-5 ear infections per year. Her doctor said that’s not enough for tubes (really?) and that we can just treat with antibiotics. Umm, no more thank you! We are changing doctors and looking for alternative solutions to this problem. Anyways, my EO loving friend got me to buy some YL because that’s what she uses and said that it’s costly, but worth it. I’ve done MLM before and I know that great products don’t have to cost a fortune. That’s a huge reason I chose not to participate in MLM companies anymore. I came across your post after submitting my purchase with YL and trusting my friends advise, even though I felt I should have done my own research. Your post are so informative and I appreciate you recommending a company that takes the quality of their products to a whole other level. I am have looked around their site all evening and have decided that all my future EO purchases will be made with them. I greatly appreciate your honesty, your ability to admit if you were wrong and your constant updating to make sure that you are providing the most accurate information possible.