Essential Oils vs Snake Oils

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I’ve heard it, and I’m sure you have too: essential oils are just “snake oils.” But… what are snake oils, and do they have anything in common with essential oils?

What is a “Snake Oil”?

To understand what “snake oil” is and why that term is so popular today, we need to take a little dive into history.​ This history actually dates back to the 18th century when a massive influx of Chinese workers came to the United States to work on railroads, bringing with them knowledge and supplies of Eastern medicine. They used their oils and tinctures on sore muscles and for immune system boosting properties after long days work.

The term “snake oil” actually comes from snake oil, made from a Chinese water snake, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and was specifically used in an ointment to help relieve sore muscles.

While the Chinese flourished with their Eastern Medicine practices and dedication to self-care on the western side of the railroad, their Irish counterparts working on the eastern side of the railroad were struggling with their health, injuries, and sore muscles. Eventually knowledge of their prosperity was shared and the rest of America slowly caught on.

Naturally, when something works really well, it doesn’t take long for word of mouth to spread and popularity to increase, which also increases the demand for such products. This quickly lead to a select group of people looking into potential profits, as is in true American spirit.

Of course this also eventually lead to people seeking how to save money and increase profits via counterfeit products in the 19th century. These counterfeit products were labeled “snake oils” (after the products they resembled), and were sold in dramatic carnival-type settings, claiming to cure everything from pain to measles to typhoid.

Organizations, like the FDA and FTC, were commissioned because of the rise of “snake oil salesmen” and the growing counterfeit and mislabeled medicinal industry. These salesmen would tout their products’ healing abilities with all sorts of outrageous claims that were grossly exaggerated and counterfeit.

Since then, the term “snake oil” has been used by politicians and lobbyists to discredit their opponents.

Essential Oils or Snake Oils? What is the difference?
Don’t forget to pin this to your favorite Pinterest essential oil or history board!

Essential Oils and Snake Oils

If you think about it, essential oils and snake oils have a lot in common.

While there are no shortage of essential oil studies on the National Institute of Health’s PUBMED database that prove the effectiveness of their therapeutic qualities, there is currently a massively increasing rise in demand as people catch on to the goodness offered by these little bottles of life.

Counterfeit essential oils are everywhere! In fact, an essential oil does not have to be pure to be labeled “100% pure essential oil,” thanks to loose labeling laws. I’ve even seen the data proving the essential oils sold at Walmart are not, in fact, essential oils they’ve been labeled to be.

So, essential oils and snake oil have that similarity: they both have unfairly received bad reputations in some public opinion, and they both are victims of counterfeiting companies that are just looking to make a dollar off anyone gullible enough to not research the industry.

The biggest difference between the 19th century counterfeit snake oil and today’s counterfeit essential oils: with simple Googling skills and a phone call, you can quickly determine whether what you’re about to buy is the real deal. You do not have to succumb to the fancy carnival show trickery that play off your gullibility. While often this means you’ll have to do some extra leg work in researching brands and products before buying them, you have the whole internet to browse to make sure the claims are what they say they are. I’d strongly suggest browsing through the PUBMED database, though, to see what essential oils can do for you based on the science, and leave the mommy blogs and opinions about disease claims out of your decisions.

The Snake Oil of Our Generation

Unlike the 1800s, in today’s world we are constantly bombarded with toxin exposure, which contributes to making us fat, sick, confused, tired, and lazy… some of which can contribute to more toxin exposure as we seek products to make our lives easier. Since there are few labeling requirements that help protect companies’ “proprietary secrets” instead of looking out for public health, its easy to succumb to marketing ploys and “green washing.”

What is “Green Washing?” Green Washing is when a company inappropriately markets their products as being environmentally friendly in an effort to promote their company, policy, or product to sway support and sales among those conscious about environmental pollution. Most of the products you find on the shelves of local and chain stores are all guilty of “green washing.” Sadly, unless you know the company well enough to know exactly what they use as ingredients and where those ingredients come from, chances are you are purchasing their lies.

In my humble opinion, I really do see our chemical industry as the “snake oil” of our generation. Laxed label requirements with marketing gimics that spew special cleaning and life enhancing formulas… that are full of hormone disrupting neurotoxins that contribute to our headaches, digestive issues, infertility, mood swings, and attention deficits – all while only bathing our homes and laundry in chemical compounds that may not actually clean as marketed.

Sounds a lot like the snake oil controversy: take this for that to feel amazing, while not actually labeling ingredients so the public could see what they are buying. And yes… I just called out our chemical cleaning infrastructure for not telling the truth on their labels. Thankfully there is a nonprofit organization (The Environmental Working Group) who bridges the gap that the government has been refusing to help us with learning about the chemicals used and the harm they can do on their body.

Instead of using toxic chemical-laden products, or products containing chemicals that do not have sufficient safety data, opt for something safer: Essential Oils. Essential oils have some impressive purifying abilities that can help you clean your home without the toxic side effects. A simple search on (the National Institute of Health’s medical database) will yield an impressive amount of studies that show exactly how essential oils can help you clean and be healthy.

Just be on the look out for “snake oils,” and make sure you’re purchasing from a reputable source who is actually providing you with what you are intending to purchase, and not some diluted, altered, or synthetic version designed to swindle you out of your hard earned money.

** PLEASE NOTE ** Don’t be fooled by clever marketing. Not all essential oils are created equally. Make sure you’re not wasting your money on fake essential oils, or oils diluted in questionable solvents (even if they’re labeled as “pure essential oil”). Don’t miss our complete guide on how to find quality pure essential oils to ensure you’re not wasting your money on brands of oils that legally carry out questionable or unethical practices and mislead you through deceitful marketing practices.

Finding QUALITY Essential Oils

Skip the snake oil pandemic, and find yourself some quality essential oils that really do what the studies say they do. Are the studies true? In my experience, yes. I’ve overcome numerous debilitating health issues by supporting my body and minimizing toxin exposure. Amazing things happen to your body, your mind, and your spirit once you stop continually polluting it. Your body is incredible, and fully capable at healing itself… it just needs some extra supplementing, a proper diet, and a clean environment with minimal toxin exposure.

Every essential oil brand is going to tell you that they are the purest, the most effective, and the most therapeutic. Why? Because if they were to say “buy my synthetic lavender fragrance made with 300+ toxic, potentially toxic, and/or unstudied man-made chemical compounds,” no one would purchase it. It is all marketing!

There are red flags that you can easily notice, that can help you determine which brands are a waste of time and money. The way I see it- if you’re going to spend the money for a product, it should do what it says or implies it should do. There is no sense on wasting your money on something that is fake, heavily diluted, or could contribute to health ailments. You’re money is important and should only be spent on the real deal, without the gimmicks.

Red Flags that an essential oil company is not being honest with you:

  • Avoid companies claiming their essential oils can cure/treat diseases.
    The US FTC (federal trade commission) clearly denotes that if a company stands to make a profit off the sale of a product (like essential oils), it cannot make disease/cure claims. So while an oil can help you with its calming effects, if a company says their oil will help cure your anxiety, you can be assured that company is only after a piece of your wallet.
  • Avoid companies who state they have pure essential oils, but do not show where/how their oils were created or who did the creating.
    Many essential oil brands purchase from a broker and have no clue where their oils come from or what they contain.
  • Avoid essential oil companies that bash other brands in order to make theirs look better.
    This is often done to discredit other oil brands. If they bash, where is the proof (opinions don’t count)? MLM companies aren’t necessarily bad, but I won’t buy from or recommend any rep or company who dives into the drama. Chances are any rep who dives into the drama is more consumed by social nonsense than by doing their research and supporting those they should be more focused on serving.
  • Avoid cheap oils. You really do get what you pay for. If you are looking for a bargain price, don’t expect therapeutic results.
    Rose oil should be well over $100 (usd). If you find a 5ml bottle of Rose essential oil for under $100, you can be sure that oil is fake or seriously diluted (it takes over 250 pounds of rose petals to make an ounce of rose essential oil). Lavender oil should be over $20 for 15ml. For that matter, any essential oil 5ml or more for under $5 should be a major red flag. Chemicals are cheap and mass produced. Essential oils come from plants in the ground that are nurtured, cultivated, and distilled. That takes time and effort, which costs money.
  • Chemical solvents. Chemical solvents are much cheaper than distilling, and can leave behind chemical residue.
    Remember: what you put on your body goes in your body. This works for plants just as it works for us. So if a chemical is anywhere in the process, that can be in the plant parts we use, which can end up exposing us to that chemical too.

What to look for when searching for an essential oil brand:

Questions to ask when researching which essential oil company to purchase from

If the company you’re questioning does not fully answer those questions, or are cryptic with their answers (or doesn’t provide any answers to you), you can be confident that they don’t know – which means they’re purchasing from an oil broker and are more concerned about their profits than their customers.

What I look for in essential oil brands:

  • Farmed as grown in the wild – void of any pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides. Yup… pull those weeds by hand or leave them alone!
    *** Please note, I intentionally did not specify organic. Why? Because organic essential oils come from organic plants which are still more often than not still sprayed with pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides… just not with the super toxic Monsanto variety of sprays. The part that irks me the most: the sprays used on organic plants aren’t fully vetted for safety. Meaning: those chemicals used on organic plants have NOT been sufficiently studied for their safety data. What goes on the plants goes in the plants, which can be magnified during distillation and will go into you when you use the oil.
  • Farmers harvest the plants at peak times – meaning the farmer tests the plants to make sure they are ready to be harvested… and harvested in a sustainable manner that doesn’t involve chemical spray downs (like is prevalent with wheat)
  • Plants are grown in their natural habitat.
    Frankincense coming from the middle east. Sandalwood coming from India, Australia, or Hawaii. Lavender coming from France or western US. Spruce coming from Canada or western US. Growing plants in their native habitats help maximize the quality of the plants that will produce the oils.
  • The plants shouldn’t sit in a warehouse until its convenient to distill.
  • The plants should be distilled at low heat and low pressure for a long time.
    Rushing this process reduces the oil quality. Many companies choose high heat and high temperature because it doesn’t take as long, which maximizes profits. Low heat and low pressure produces a higher quality.
  • Citrus rinds should be cold pressed and not distilled. Also, its especially important the citrus plants were not sprayed with chemicals (“organic approved” or regular) as those chemicals can be magnified in the oils.
  • Testing for quality should be done at each task: the seeds, before harvesting, before distilling, after distilling…
  • I trust companies that have been around a while. They prove they’re here for the long haul and truly care about sustainable business practices and built solid relationships with their customers.
    Most (90%+) businesses fail within their first 5-10 years in business. With essential oils currently being such a hot market, many oil companies are swooping in to make a quick buck and are never seen again. To give you an example, both companies I use have been in the essential oil business for over 20 years.

“We don’t know how long these organic pesticides persist in the environment, or the full extent of their effects.”

University of California Berkeley

Which Essential Oil Company Do I Recommend?

My family uses essential oils from Young Living. After spending a few years comparing several brands (including their biggest rival, doTerra), I found they worked the best for our needs.

  • They worked more efficiently – I needed to use less for the same effects as other brands.
  • They smelled more earthy, like being on a farm
  • I followed my gut feeling during various smell tests on which was impacting my body better
  • They make every effort possible to be transparent in their manufacturing and business practices
  • Their customer service has always been enjoyable to deal with

I’m a firm believer in supporting companies who go above and beyond their expectations of providing a product. Young Living stands by their Seed to Seal Guarantee, and even has their farms open to the public. They also encourage members to be a part of the process every step of the way: helping plant seeds, helping to weed the farms by hand, helping with the harvest, and also helping with distillation and bottling. I love having regular opportunities to be involved in the processes and to see first hand how everything works. It really gives an extra sense of belonging, and shows how much the company does care for their customers and reps.

In addition to their open policies in how they conduct their business, their professionalism, and the training they provide urging their reps to embrace a higher standard of professionalism, they also are majorly involved in philanthropy.

Their Young Living Foundation is an international nonprofit with a mission to help humanity. They routinely donate supplies and their reps have also routinely donated manpower to help people struck by natural disasters in the US and abroad. They also have continuing missions helping to provide educations to children impoverished countries. This continues to prove how big of hearts they have, and their dedication to participate in something larger than themselves and profits: caring for your fellow humans, regardless of politicized demographic.

*** While I am a rep with Young Living, I do so because of the results I received using their products. I would (and previously did) recommend their oils prior to receiving any type of compensation, without expectation of compensation. My motivation is to help people achieve health and wellness goals first. My passion has extended to helping people create vibrant lifestyles that come with essential oils, and includes financial stability achieved by a few of my leaders. I can’t get enough of watching the lives of others change for the better, and having a hand in helping coach them along the way. YOU are welcome to join us on our journey, confident that we will never pressure you into anything. I am here to support and encourage YOU based on YOUR individual needs… even if that only involves reading our material

Interested in Acquiring Quality Essential Oils?

Young Living makes getting started with using essential oils easy with their Premium Starter Kits, containing 11 of their most popular essential oils and a diffuser (along with a few extra samples).

My team also provides training on how to use the oils, personalized coaching, exclusive online support groups, and our favorite references at no additional cost to you.

* available in most countries

The only other company I would recommend is: Oshadhi. They also provide high quality essential oils, though in my expeirence they aren’t nearly as transparent and inviting publicly about their farming/acquisition practices, and I don’t see any philanthropy. I do occasionally purchase through them for oils Young Living doesn’t offer. The price point for both companies are very similar.

Regardless where you decide to purchase your oils from, please take the time to make sure what you’re planning to purchase is the real deal. There are a lot of fakes out there from new(er) companies just wanting to take advantage of you to make a quick buck. While there are several other brands out there that are fantastic, the two I previously mentioned are the two my family trusts and uses. Many others use a lot of marketing to gain your attention. Chances are if it is sold in your grocery store, convenience store, drug store, or department store – it is NOT what you think it is.

A quick word of warning: DO NOT PURCHASE ESSENTIAL OILS OFF AMAZON, or other 3rd party websites (eBay… etc…). Essential oil caps are cheap to replace, making the bottles easy to counterfeit or dilute, reseal, and then sell. Purchasing off those sites will not guarantee you receiving what you think you’re paying for, and are most often not covered under any company’s warranty/refund policy. Young Living, for example, does not allow any of their oils or products to be sold on 3rd party sites, so you can be confident that anyone selling their products are counterfeit (which has been a continual issue). If you see a seller called Young Living, rest assured that is a forged account.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Nicole Graber, team leader, author, and editor to EssentialOils.Life and blog websites.

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P.S. If you need some essential oils, we provide special coaching, resources, and support groups for our members. Just head over to our getting started page to creation account or contact us.


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