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First things first: The term “essential oils” means that such oils are made from the essence of flowers and plants, not that they’re vitally necessary. 

And yet…

For Ilene Mitnick and Alli Baldwin, they’re not only necessary, they’re central to their business, their home, their whole way of life. 

Mitnick and Baldwin operate a business out of their St. Petersburg home called The Zest Zone, selling products made by doTERRA, “the largest aromatherapy and wellness company in the world,” says Mitnick. As “Wellness Advocates” for the company, they talk up the oils with friends and acquaintances, share samples and explain their uses. If customers like the results, they place orders with The Zest Zone — and, if they wish, become doTERRA members, which means they pay $35 a year to get the oils for wholesale prices. The price range is wide, from $11 for a 15ml bottle of Citrus Lemon (made from lemon rinds) to $275 for a 5ml bottle of Rose Oil — the most expensive of all the oils because it takes 10,000 roses to make one bottle. 

The uses vary from therapeutic to culinary. Aromatouch, for instance, is an elixir made from cypress, peppermint, marjoram, basil, grapefruit peel and lavender that Mitnick recommends in combination with doTERRA’s Deep Blue Rub to aid relief from localized pain. TRI Ease Soft Gels, a mix of lavender, lemon and peppermint, helps promote healthy respiratory functions, while a few drops of Orange Oil can transform an Old Fashioned. 

I can vouch for those three products because they were among the ones Mitnick chose for my husband and me to try, based on some questions she’d asked me during our phone interview. I can’t say that the Deep Blue Rub worked any miracles, but my husband now swears by Tri Ease for his sinus congestion and I am now an inveterate Orange Oil dropper; it packs a citrus punch that brightens up any cocktail. 

Mitnick and Baldwin haven’t always been oil tycoons. They met as colleagues in leadership positions at a branded casual clothing company in Connecticut 25 years ago, became a couple in 2002 and moved in 2013 to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where they opened an inn together called Roux. It was a success, winning Boston Magazine’s award for Best Inn on Cape Cod two years running, acclaimed for its cuisine and design. But they started wondering how they could improve the inn still more. 

They’d explored using essential oils in aromatherapy at the inn, but their big ephiphany about the products came over dinner. A five-course dinner, that is, prepared with culinary oils from doTERRA by two women in Provincetown who were working as Wellness Advocates. 

“You could cook with these?” Baldwin remembers thinking. “We were blown away.” 

Using essential oils in cooking.

“After dinner,” says Mitnick, “we sat in the living room and over coffee we started to learn about these oils” — how they could help with everything from hormonal to gastro-intestinal issues. “That was me, I take stress in my belly. Alli talked about pain, I talked about stomach aches.” 

Baldwin had been living with pain for 40 years, the result of sports injuries and car accidents when she was a young girl — one of which resulted in a broken spine. She relied on over-the-counter pain relievers for years, says Mitnick, “way more than a human should ingest.” When they lived in Connecticut, Baldwin suffered from a bleeding ulcer. 

“But that was life before essential oils,” says Mitnick. Now, through use of turmeric capsules (“I feel compelled to tell anyone my turmeric story,” says Baldwin), she is pain-free — even after a day of hitting 250 golf balls at the driving range. 

The stakes were personal for Mitnick, too. “My daughter won’t mind me telling you,” she says. “She’s got focus issues.” Molly, 30, had tried everything but wanted off, and tried an oil called In Tune. “It was a game-changer for her. Molly has been using it for three years. She’s a different woman.” 

The couple moved from Provincetown to live and work together in St. Pete.

As the couple got closer and closer to leaving their Provincetown inn-keeping days behind, says Baldwin, “we knew doTERRA would be more a part of our life.” They went all in — learning all they could (“every oil has a resume”) through doTERRA trainings, both online and in-person.

But they realize that not everybody can get immediately on board. 

“There are people that are open to natural solutions,” says Baldwin, “and people that are not yet open to them” — even though, she points out, pharmaceutical companies have long taken plants and synthesized them for mass production. “A bottle of Vicks or Bengay? You’re smelling wintergreen.” 

They’re careful not to portray their oils as medicine, however, and include this disclaimer on the Zest website: “Statements contained in this site have not been evaluated by the FDA. The products highlighted are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent disease.”

But they emphasize that doTERRA oils undergo rigorous third-party testing to ensure that every bottle is pure. “No additives. No fillers. No chemical processes to distill,” say their marketing materials. “Pure plant.” They’re also proud of the company’s “co-impact sourcing®” initiative that’s meant to ensure ethical treatment of the small-scale farmers and harvesters who grow plants used in the oils. 

doTERRA’s national profile is growing. BlueCross BlueShield of Western NY now offers a Wellness Card to its participants that offers access to wellness-related products and services, including doTERRA essential oils. The company is opening clinics around the country called Prime Meridian with physicians and nurse practitioners who might offer up lemon peppermint and lavender oil before prescribing something more serious. 

DoTERRA oils on the couple’s kitchen counter.

The COVID-19 crisis has had a big impact on The Zest Zone’s business. 

“Everybody’s talking about immunity,” says Mitnick. “And we have a beautiful line of products that support and strengthen immunity.” While Wellness Advocates can’t say that these products are a guarantee against catching something, they can employ the same language one might hear about, say, orange juice. 

“People are so used to hearing, ‘Take Vitamin C because it will boost your immunity,’” says Baldwin, “but they may not be as familiar with the effect of cinnamon or other ingredients.” 

Recommending an essential oil, says Mitnick, is “no different than saying eat your spinach.” 

To fortify their own immunity, the couple make capsules for themselves in their kitchen every morning containing lemon balm, grapefruit, tangerine, copaiba, On Guard (a blend of five oils) and black pepper. 

They have a case of such oils in their kitchen, with bottles for culinary use lined up on “a specially crafted piece of wood,” says Mitnick. There are oils in their bathroom and bedroom and medicine cabinet as well. 

And, of course, their home smells nice (they use diffusers). 

An oil diffuser in the couple’s home.

“The problem of talking essential oils when it comes to wellness is, people say ‘Really?’” says Mitnick. “But I don’t think anyone argues that essential oils don’t smell good. If you look at the chemistry of the plant — lemon, orange, citrus — the oils are uplifting. When you inhale them, they go behind your nose into your limbic system and release happy chemicals.” The perfume industry has been employing these happy chemicals “forever,” she adds. 

And, of course, the use of aromatic oils, emollients, balms and the like is nothing new — it goes back thousands and thousands of years, most likely to the ancient Egyptians. 

With doTERRA boasting 9 million users, and with advocates as zesty as Ilene and Alli, it seems like these oils will remain essential (in all senses of the word) for a long time to come. 

Read more stories from duPont REGISTRY Tampa Bay’s Health & Happiness Issue, Summer 2020.

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