An essential oil obtained from steam-distilling chips and billets from the heartwood of the Santalum album tree,1 sandalwood oil is popular for use in perfumery, cosmetics and medicinal treatments.2,3 But beyond these practical uses are the time-tested calming and therapeutic properties for which it is used in aromatherapy. Learn more about the uses and benefits of sandalwood oil in this article.
What Is Sandalwood Oil?
Sandalwood essential oil is derived from the heartwood of the sandalwood,4 which is a hemiparasitic evergreen5 that grows by joining the root system of other trees.6 The tree belongs to the Santalaceae family and is also known as East Indian sandalwood.7
Sandalwood oil has been used for over 4,000 years, making it among the oldest-known materials used for its exotic scent.8 It has found its way into cosmetics and personal care products,9 fragrances and meditative/spiritual practices.10
This essential oil is extracted through steam distillation of wood pieces from sandalwood trees that must be at least 15 years old.11 The oil has a woody, exotic smell12 and a clear to yellow color.13 Although expensive,14 it has many wonderful characteristics that make it useful and beneficial for health and wellness.
For one, sandalwood oil creates a calming, harmonizing effect for the mind, helping reduce tension and confusion.15 It is also traditionally used in Ayurveda, India's holistic health system, for the potential treatment of somatic16 and mental disorders.17
Uses of Sandalwood Oil
As early as 4,000 years back, sandalwood had already been used, with caravans carrying the wood to places like Egypt,18 Greece and Rome.19 Many temples were built from it, while the Egyptians used the oil in embalming.20 Sandalwood used to be made into furniture21 and caskets,22 but as the tree has become nearly extinct,23 it now is mostly used for distilling the oil.
At present, sandalwood oil is widely utilized for its calming and relaxing effects.24 It is in demand as incense25 and is recommended in Swahra Yoga for promoting unification “of the body’s delicate energy centers” and in Tantric yoga for awakening sexual energy.26 It can be used for easing depression, daily stress27 and anxiety.28
This essential oil is well-regarded in skin care, as it tones and relieves itching, inflammation and dehydrated skin.29 Scar tissue,30 eczema,31 psoriasis32 and acne33 are some of the issues it can address.
Apart from topical application, you can also steam-inhale sandalwood oil by filling a large bowl with steaming water, adding one to two drops of diluted essential oil, covering your head with a towel and draping the towel around the bowl as you hold your face over the bowl and breathe in the vapors.34 This can be a good remedy for respiratory concerns and skin conditions that emerge on the face.
Another use for the oil is as a hair conditioner. Simply add four to six drops to your hair after a shower to help boost shine, moisture and softness.35
Remember, though, that I do not recommend using sandalwood essential oil directly on your skin. Mix it with some type of carrier oil, such as jojoba, coconut, sweet almond or olive oil. Sandalwood oil can also be used as a scent, medicinal aid or incense in:36
- Perfumery products
- Vaporizers and burners
- Religious rituals38
A study shows, too, that sandalwood oil could be an effective chemopreventive agent against chemically induced skin cancer in animal models.39
Composition of Sandalwood Oil
Sandalwood essential oil’s main components are alpha-santalol (40 to 50 percent) and beta-santalol (20 to 30 percent). These molecules are partially responsible for the oil’s fragrance.40 Other chemical components in this essential oil that give it its scent include a-santalene, (Z)-a-santalal, (Z)-b-santalal, (E)-epi-B-santalal, (E)-epi-B-santalol, a-bergamotol and spirosantalol.41
Benefits of Sandalwood Oil
Studies show that sandalwood oil may possess numerous benefits for health and wellness:42,43
Antiseptic — This oil promotes wound and cut healing,44 and targets various skin conditions.45
Anti-inflammatory — The essential oil and paste are effective as anti-inflammatory agents.46
Antispasmodic — This oil may address spasms, particularly in your digestive system.47
Deodorant — There are individuals who use sandalwood oil to help ward off body odor.48
Tonic — It is soothing on your stomach and the digestive, nervous and circulatory systems,49 and helps them to function harmoniously.50
Disinfectant or repellent — Its fragrance may keep small insects away.51
Emollient — It helps soothe the skin, relieve inflammation and irritation, and ease itchiness.52
Expectorant — It may help ease congestion, and alleviate asthma, colds, influenza, bronchitis, coughs and chest pain.53,54
Memory booster — Sandalwood oil helps improve memory and stimulates concentration.55
Nervine — It may help you keep calm, thus reducing unnecessary stress and anxiety.56
How to Make Sandalwood Oil
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), most sandalwood oil is made by taking billets of wood, and chipping and reducing them to a powder. The production process takes many hours to complete, because of the high boiling nature of the oil.
High sandalwood oil yields can be derived from the roots, while the chips, which are a mixture of heartwood and sapwood, tend to produce low quantities. The FAO adds that the oil content of the heartwood differs from tree to tree, but older trees may produce more.
Light-colored wood yields 3 to 6 percent oil, while dark brown wood yields about 2.5 percent oil. Take note that oil from younger trees has a slightly lower santalol content than the mature trees, which makes it ill-advised to harvest at a very young age.58
How Does Sandalwood Oil Work?
The benefits of sandalwood oil can be harnessed in different ways. In vapor therapy, it can be used as an aphrodisiac,59 as well as to help address coughs, bronchitis, chest infections, asthma, insomnia, nervous tension and stress. It can also be blended into a massage oil or added to bath water to aid with alleviating bladder infections, eczema and stretch marks.60
Sandalwood oil can be diluted and used as a gargle if you have a sore throat.61 You can also add it to a lotion or cream to improve chapped, dry or inflamed skin. It can moisturize and hydrate skin, serving as a wonderful addition in your antiaging skincare regimen.62
Sandalwood oil is best blended with rose, ylang ylang, jasmine,63 bergamot, black pepper, geranium, myrrh, lavender and vetiver.64
Is Sandalwood Oil Safe?
Sandalwood oil is generally safe for use but, like an essential oil, there are warnings and precautions you need to be aware of. For example, this essential oil is meant for topical use only, so refrain from ingesting sandalwood oil as much as possible. When applying it onto skin, dilute it in a carrier oil.
Breastfeeding mothers and young children should avoid using sandalwood oil. Additionally, the oil may cause an allergic skin reaction in certain individuals, so you should undergo an allergen patch test to check for possible adverse effects. People with medical conditions such as liver disorder and cancer should also take extra precautions and get preapproval from your doctor when using the oil for aromatherapy.65
Make sure you get high-quality sandalwood oil from a reputable source, since some may be adulterated with castor, linseed and palm oils, which can decrease the product’s quality and effectivity.66
Side Effects of Sandalwood Oil
While there are very few reports of sandalwood side effects, there have been a few cases of side effects, so you must use sandalwood oil with utmost caution. Individuals with allergies or hypersensitivity to sandalwood or its components should avoid using this oil, as instances of dermatitis (sandalwood itself) and photosensitivity (from the oil) have been reported.67
Sandalwood can be used to boost alertness for some pets,68 but because certain oils can be very toxic, especially when consumed in high amounts, I believe it is necessary to consult your veterinarian before using it around pets.