A doTERRA rep claimed we don’t need glasses to fix our vision. The internet erupted.

Claiming essential oils could help improve vision may have violated company rules, doTERRA said. It’s not the first time ‘wellness advocates’ have gotten in trouble.

A wellness influencer who declared on Instagram that glasses are not necessary to correct vision is being investigated by doTERRA for making claims about vision in connection with the Utah company’s products.

Samantha Lotus, who on her website calls herself a Canadian wellness influencer and “holistic master coach,” posted a video last week on her Instagram account claiming that glasses users may not actually need them. Instead, she said, it was possible to correct vision “holistically.”

“You may have been told you need glasses, but that’s actually a lie,” Lotus said on the video, which has since been deleted. She has taken her Instagram account, which had boasted around 28,000 followers, private. Her website also went private sometime Wednesday, and her LinkedIn page has been deleted.

Lotus is a brand representative — in the company’s term, a “wellness advocate” — for doTERRA, a Pleasant Grove-based company that sells essential oils and other wellness products. The company sells through a network of representatives, in a multi-level marketing model.

The video became the talk of the internet after another social media user — who uses only her first name, Mallory, on public platforms — posted it to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, with the caption, “I guess it was only a matter of time before the anti-glasses grift became a thing?”

Mallory’s mocking X post has been viewed 22.5 million times since it was posted Friday. Other users also “stitched” the video, meaning they recorded their reactions to it, on TikTok and Instagram in posts that have received thousands of views each.

Lotus did not respond to The Salt Lake Tribune’s request for comment. In an Instagram story that has since disappeared, she called out “media companies, influencers or other people out there hating on me based on a premeditated attack,” and said it is “neither illegal nor unethical to teach about or sell essential oils (nature’s original medicine).”

“I have never once said ‘I can heal you or that I can treat you,’” she wrote on Instagram. “I not only understand professional practice, I also taught it at the school I graduated from as valedictory with honors. I teach people how to heal themselves and I’m not just good at it, I am excellent at it.”

In a statement to The Tribune, doTERRA said it has taken “immediate action” to review Lotus’s statements and determine whether they comply with company policies. Making medical claims about its products is explicitly prohibited, a spokesperson said.

But the viral claims and responses to them raise questions about the responsibility of wellness brands like doTERRA — which is holding its annual convention Wednesday through Saturday at the Salt Palace Convention Center and the Delta Center in downtown Salt Lake City — to monitor their millions of brand representatives, and what happens when brand representatives go off-script. And this isn’t the first time doTERRA representatives have gotten in trouble.

Holistic healing?

The Instagram video was intended to tease Lotus’s “master class” on healing your vision “holistically.” When her website was active, Lotus offered business coaching, life coaching, wellness retreats and wellness workshops. For $11, Lotus offered “holistic multidimensional healing” through “practices and methods backed by science,” according to the Instagram post.

The class was offered live on Zoom; participants were allowed permanent access to the recording. References to the class were not on the website Wednesday morning, before it was taken private.

Mallory, the social media personality who first criticized Lotus’ claims, has devoted her platform to “wellness industry + misinfo + MLMs” — multi-level marketing.

Multi-level marketing is a sales structure in which people sell products directly, and recruit other people into the distribution fold, earning a cut of their own sales and those of their recruits.

There were 21 “direct selling” companies in Utah with at least 100 employees in 2020, according to a 2022 study by the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

The study said doTERRA was one of the four largest such companies based in Utah in 2020. The others — which also sell wellness products — were Nu Skin Enterprises, USANA Health Sciences and Young Living Essential Oils.

The Gardner study found that the direct selling industry provided 17,487 jobs in Utah in 2020, with an average annual salary of $63,652 — nearly $10,000 a year more than all industries in the state.

How much an individual “wellness advocate” at doTERRA makes in a year varies greatly, based on which of 15 levels of performance a person achieves — determined by sales and building networks of other salespeople under them.

According to doTERRA’s “Business Builders Report” for 2023, advocates at the manager level, just above new recruits, earned an average of $716 a year in sales commissions. At one of the highest ranks, the “Presidential Diamond” level, the report said the average annual commissions were just under $1.4 million — though 0.9% of doTERRA’s “builders” reached that level.

After commenting on Lotus’ claims, Mallory paid the $11 for the class, and on Saturday posted real-time reactions and screenshots to her X account, which has been viewed millions of times, and made a TikTok video that has garnered 2.5 million views.

It was Lotus’s reference to doTERRA products that might get her in trouble. On several slides, Lotus references or makes direct plugs for doTERRA products, especially Immortelle anti-aging oil. One slide is entirely devoted to Immortelle, which Lotus claims is the “oil of spiritual insight consisting of the highest vibrational oils on the planet.” Lotus instructs users to “run a figure 8 aroud [sic] the eyebrows and cheeks” and “into the third eye chakra.”

Mallory called the class a “trojan horse” for doTERRA, and tagged the brand on X to ask if brand reps could make such claims.

“Reminder: This is supposed to be a Masterclass on healing vision,” Mallory posted on X, accompanying a video of Lotus talking about her favorite beauty products.

Before her web presence was deleted or taken private, Lotus had responded on Instagram and walked back on some of her claims — she said she never told people to put essential oils “in their eyeballs,” and that her intention was to “help people improve their vision by holistic means.” She called the backlash against her “mob mentality” and “cancel culture,” and said her intentions are “pure and good.”

“It is not to say that if you currently have a visual impairment to take off your glasses and go drive a vehicle,” Lotus said on an Instagram story, which disappears within 24 hours. “We are talking about healing or improving, significantly, vision, which is what our bodies are made to do.”

In her master class, she clarifies that she is not a “pharma doctor or medical advisor,” and the class is for “holistic educational and empowerment purposes,” according to a screenshot Mallory posted of one of Lotus’s slides.

(Sean P. Means | The Salt Lake Tribune) The signage covering the Salt Palace Convention Center announces the annual convention for doTERRA, on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023.

Medical claims

A spokesperson for doTERRA did not specify what, if any, disciplinary action might be taken. According to a company policy manual, disciplinary action ranges from verbal or written warnings to suspension, termination and injunctive relief against the representative. “Wellness advocates” could be fined, reassigned, demoted, or let go entirely for violating doTERRA rules.

Such disciplinary action would only be taken after an investigation, according to the policy manual, during which representatives have 10 days to respond to any claims against them.

The policy manual says doTERRA representatives must follow relevant Federal Trade Commission (FTC) laws and only make representations about the “health benefits, performance, efficacy, safety or ingredients” that are “based upon competent and reliable scientific evidence.” Wellness advocates can say, specifically, that doTERRA products are “specifically formulated to support wellness; and intended to improve personal appearance.” They cannot, however, claim that doTERRA products cure or prevent specific ailments.

Representatives are also instructed to disclose that doTERRA product claims have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The reach of doTERRA is vast. Nearly 2 million wellness advocates represent the company across 134 countries, according to its website. And some advocates have gotten in trouble before.

Three representatives, all current or former health care practitioners, agreed to pay $15,000 each in March as part of a settlement with the FTC for making misleading claims about COVID-19. According to a press release, the reps were “high-level” distributors and all claimed doTERRA’s “essential oils and dietary supplements could treat, prevent, or cure COVID-19.”

Other multilevel marketing brands, like Nu Skin and Young Living, use guidelines similar to doTERRA’s. Nu Skin’s policy manual explicitly prohibits making any medical claims associated with its products, and says representatives can only make claims that have been approved by the company. Representatives accused of violating Nu Skin policies are subject to investigation, suspension, termination, demotion or legal action.

Young Living’s policies also prohibit false or misleading statements about its products, including claims that they can cure, diagnose or prevent diseases, “including in a personal testimonial.” Representatives are “fully responsible” for any statements they make about Young Living products and consequences those statements might invoke — including any legal fees.

A spokesperson for Young Living said Wednesday the company provides “extensive” training materials on its policies, and has implemented a “robust digital monitoring process” for brand ambassadors “to ensure the company can keep a close eye on claims” and “swiftly identify any potential issues.” Brand ambassadors who violate company policies are first re-educated, the spokesperson said, and asked to correct the statement or advertisement. If the ambassador refuses or “fails to align with mandatory approaches,” they could lose their accounts.

Neither Nu Skin nor Young Living ambassadors have been investigated by the FTC recently, though the commission has issued guidance and warnings about multilevel marketing as a business model.

Shannon Sollitt is a Report for America corps member covering business accountability and sustainability for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.

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