FTC goes after doTERRA distributors for making unfounded COVID-19 cure claims

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / Tamilisa Miner
Getty Images / Tamilisa Miner

Related tags Ftc Federal trade commission COVID Essential oils disease claims Warning letter

The United States obtained permanent injunctions and civil penalties in actions against essential oils and dietary supplements distributors.

The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced​ that three distributors for the Utah-based multi-level marketing company doTERRA International, LLC, are facing lawsuits concerning false advertising of the company's essential oils and dietary supplements as both preventative treatments and cures for COVID-19.

The distributors, all current or former healthcare practitioners, made the claims in a series of webinars in early 2022 and touted their medical expertise in recommending the products.

The three complaints, filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC, allege that the defendants made numerous claims about the ability of various doTERRA products to prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19, in violation of the FTC Act and the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act.

The alleged offenders

Tina Wong, a pediatrician based in California, Eliza Johnson Bacot, a nurse practitioner based in Georgia, and Lauren Busch, a former registered nurse based in Utah, each agreed to pay $15,000 in civil penalties and to permanent injunctive relief to resolve allegations involving deceptive COVID-19 claims made in connection with their marketing of essential oils and nutritional supplements. The stipulated orders resolve lawsuits the government filed in the U.S. District Courts for the Central District of California (Wong), Northern District of Georgia (Bacot), and District of Utah (Busch).

Bacot claimed that doTERRA products helped with post-inflammation bodily response and COVID-19’s replication in the body. She also said another product could prevent or treat COVID-19 with “the oils in there like tangerine and cilantro, which help the body detox and also repair,” according to the FTC.

Busch said her products could inhibit the COVID-19 spike protein that causes inflammation and that they could mitigate purported negative health effects from COVID-19 vaccines.

Wong stated that lemon and geranium essential oils prevented the binding of the COVID-19 virus to human cells and that “a lot of studies” showed oregano also worked against Coronavirus.

A stark reminder for MLMs

“Those making baseless claims that essential oils and supplements can prevent or treat COVID-19 will pay a price,” said Sam Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Actions against doTERRA ‘wellness advocates’ should be a reminder that distributors for multilevel marketing companies can face consequences for making deceptive claims.”

In addition to the financial penalty, the defendants have agreed to court orders that will require them to:

Stop making unfounded COVID claims: The orders prohibit the defendants from making any claims that a product can prevent, cure, or treat COVID-19 unless the Food and Drug Administration has approved the claim.

Back up any health claims: The orders require the defendants to have reliable human clinical testing to support claims about other diseases, require them to have scientific proof for any other health claims they make, and prohibit them from misrepresenting that a product’s benefits are scientifically or clinically proven.

doTERRA responds

Corey Lindley, doTERRA co-founder & CEO, told KJZZ-TV that he is aware of FTC’s settlement with one former and two current doTERRA’s independent distributors.

“The complaint does not name doTERRA. Instead, it focuses on a limited number of claims made at three private webinars in January 2022. doTERRA does not condone claims that its products prevent or cure COVID-19, as this would be a violation of our policies.

doTERRA is committed to training its distributors and monitoring claims made to existing and potential customers to ensure that they comply with what the law allows us to say about the health benefits of our products,” said Lindley.

FTC familiar with doTERRA

This is not doTERRA’s first run-in with FTC. In 2020, the agency sent warning letters to 10 multilevel marketing companies, including doTERRA. The letters were due to claims distributors made about their products’ ability to treat or prevent coronavirus, or about the earnings people can make if they’ve recently lost income.

The FTC’s letter to doTerra outlined examples such as a photo of doTERRA-branded essential oils bottles accompanied by the hashtags ”#covid” and ”#prevention.”

One doTerra seller posted “Need to make extra money? Find it difficult to pay your bills? Were you laid off/ #fired? Be your own Boss w/doTERRA essential oils. Msg me to achieve financial independence #laidoff #unemployed #cantpaymybills #cantpaymyrent #student #sales #sidehustle #makemoney #stayathomemom.”

The letter to doTERRA also asserted that earnings claims, both express and implied, must be truthful and non-misleading.

″Claims about the potential to achieve a wealthy lifestyle, career-level income, or significant income are false or misleading if business opportunity participants generally do not achieve such results,” the 2020 letter stated.

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