Cleaning-supply brands have seen a surge in sales due to the spread of the coronavirus, now a global pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. People have been stocking up on sprays, wipes and hand sanitizers containing isopropyl alcohol and bleach, which can kill the virus on surfaces or on the skin.
Online and on social media, it seems as if essential oils salespeople are hoping to benefit in the same way—despite the Federal Trade Commission maintaining there are currently “no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)—online or in stores.”
On March 5, a Facebook page said Thieves—a blend of eucalyptus, clove, lemon, cinnamon and rosemary essential oils—can “maybe” help keep you from getting the coronavirus. Their reasoning goes back to the Plague; thieves who robbed the dead or infected people during that time but never got sick happened to be drenched in the mixture. The author then shared a link to Young Living’s version on Amazon.
In late February, on the facepalm SubReddit, a screenshot of a Facebook post was shared, where a person recommended putting droplets of Thieves into a mask. Although the author of the post said the blend is “not a cure,” they referred to the oils as “anti-plague” and told people that if they were interested in purchasing, they would place a bulk order the following day.
Twitter is also filled with people promoting their essential oils business while mentioning the virus.
And if the sellers aren’t posting claims themselves, there are plenty of people on the internet or on social media who have heard them from others.
But it’s not just individual sellers who have been misleading people desperate to avoid infection. Companies have been too, and they have gained the attention of the FTC and Food and Drug Administration.
On March 11, the two agencies jointly issued warning letters to essential oils companies GuruNanda, LLC, in California, and Quinessence Aromatherapy LTD, in the UK, for leading consumers to think their products can treat or prevent COVID-19.
For example, on February 5, GuruNanda wrote a Facebook post that said “Municipalities of Wuhan have declared that people should use Pure essential oils as a preventative therapy . . . #coronavirus #essentialoils.”
The Quinessence website, meanwhile, displayed the following text to customers: “Essential Oils to Protect Against Coronavirus… There are a wide range of essential oils that have been clinically proven to possess antiviral properties. Whilst these essential oils do not all offer the same level of defence, many have been proven to have a measurable effect on a wide range of infective agents such as influenza A and B, parainfluenza strains 1,2 & 3, vaccinia, herpes simplex and polio.”
The agencies told the companies to “take immediate action to correct the violations” cited in their letter. They also advised people “not to purchase or use certain products that have not been approved, cleared, or authorized by FDA and that are being misleadingly represented as safe and/or effective for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19.”
In addition to the two companies, warning letters were sent to five others, including two that sell products containing silver, and one that sells tea.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website says that people can take everyday precautions against COVID-19 by doing the following: avoiding close contact with people who are sick, washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer, avoiding touching high-touch surfaces in public places, avoiding touching one’s face, nose or eyes, cleaning and disinfecting their home to remove germs, avoiding crowds and avoiding all non-essential travel.