Here’s an essential truth about essential oils: There is no sound science that demonstrates they can treat, prevent, or cure COVID-19. The FTC announced three settlements with distributors for Utah-based multi-level marketing company doTERRA International, LLC, who made COVID-related claims for some of the company’s essential oils and dietary supplements. Filed by the Department of Justice on the FTC’s behalf, the complaints also note that the three defendants – nurse practitioner Eliza Johnson Bacot, former registered nurse Lauren Busch, and California pediatrician Dr. Tina Wong – touted their medical expertise in webinars recommending the products for COVID.
Diamond-level doTERRA distributor Ms. Bacot appeared in two webinars titled “The Path Forward: Protocols for the Current Climate.” You’ll want to read the complaint for extended excerpts of what she said, but one notable claim was that the ingredients in one of doTERRA’s products “have had some great studies behind them as far as helping with COVID, post-inflammatory response and viral replication.” She stated that another doTERRA product could help prevent or treat “COVID Long-Haul Syndrome” because “of the oils in there like tangerine and cilantro, which help the body detox and also repair.”
According to the FTC, Ms. Busch – also a Diamond-level distributor at the time – organized a series of webinars featuring doTERRA distributors who were also current or former healthcare practitioners. She promoted the webinars on her website and in social media. The complaint includes extensive quotes from those webinars, including her statement that certain doTERRA products are part of “protocols that have been found to be completely effective and amazing by practitioners who are actually working with patients who are struggling right now and that they have been very successful with.” Referring to chemical compounds “in several of our oils,” Busch stated that there is “amazing research on essential oils that inhibit the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.”
Also appearing on one of the webinars was Dr. Tina Wong, a doTERRA distributor who identified herself as a board-certified pediatrician. According to the complaint, she, too, promoted specific doTERRA products as part of “COVID prevention basics” and “pediatric prevention/support for COVID.” She also claimed that “. . . there’s lots of studies that show that oregano is effective against a coronavirus, which is the family that COVID is in,” and that “. . . lemon and geranium essential oil inhibit the mRNA transcription of the virus.”
The three defendants have been charged with violating the FTC Act and the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act. According to the complaints, they made false or misleading claims that doTERRA products treat, prevent, reduce the risk or severity of, or cure COVID and counteract inflammation or other purported negative effects of COVID vaccinations. In addition, the FTC says defendants Bacot and Busch misrepresented that the products were effective for long-haul COVID. According to the complaints against defendants Busch and Wong, they also claimed the products were effective for adults and children.
To settle the cases, each defendant will pay a $15,000 civil penalty. Bacot, Busch, and Wong also agreed to court-enforceable orders that will – among other things – prohibit them from representing that any product can prevent, cure, or treat COVID unless the FDA has approved the claim. The orders require them to have reliable human clinical testing to support claims about other diseases.
This is the latest FTC action to enforce the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act. It also serves as a reminder to product distributors – whether through multi-level marketing programs or other arrangements – that they can be held liable for false or unsubstantiated claims.
The FTC has more information for businesses and consumers about what the agency continues to do to combat COVID-related deception.
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