Introduction to Sandalwood

Sandalwood is a tree which is widely cultivated for its fragrant essential oil. More than the pleasing scent it gives, sandalwood oil is also said to bring benefits not just to our body but to our general well-being as well.

Sandalwood oil is one of the most important essential oils in the world. It offers multiple uses including perfumes and cologne, medicine, soaps, skin care products, and incense. Sandalwood oil is also popular in aromatherapy where it is reputed to bring relaxation and alertness in the mind.

Sandalwood belongs to a class of woods in the Santalum genus of trees and shrubs.

The wood of Santalum trees is typically fine-grained and heavy. These trees tend to germinate slowly, and their barks have a yellowish tint. Santalum trees and shrubs are widely distributed in Southern Asia, Australasia, and Oceania.

Sandalwood is actually a parasite plant

To be exact, sandalwood is a hemiparasitic plant. It means that sandalwood depends on the host plant for its water and nutrition, but it can be also photosynthetic to some extent.

What is sandalwood mainly used for?

Sandalwood is not used as much for timber as the other prized woods. Rather, it is valued mainly for its scent and essential oil, which are used and prepared in a variety of ways.

What is sandalwood mainly used for?

Sandalwood is one of the most expensive woods in the world

It is the second most expensive wood in the world, next to African Blackwood. It can fetch as much as $20,000 per kilogram!

Sandalwood’s scent goes on forever…

The pleasant scent of the sandalwood comes from its heartwood. But unlike other aromatic trees, sandalwood’s scent lasts for many years, even decades.

What are the types of sandalwood?

There are about 25 species of sandalwood, but the list below shows only some of the existing species:

  1. Indian sandalwood (Santalum album)
  2. New Caledonia sandalwood (Santalum austrocaledonicum)
  3. Santalum boninense
  4. Coast sandalwood or ʻiliahialoʻe (Santalum ellipticum)
  5. Forest sandalwood or ‘iliahi (Santalum freycinetianum)
  6. Haleakala sandalwood or ‘iliahi (Santalum haleakalae)
  7. Desert quandong or northern sandalwood (Santalum lanceolatum)
  8. Santalum macgregorii
  9. Bitter quandong (Santalum murrayanum)
  10. Blunt sandalwood (Santalum obtusifolium)
  11. Hawaiian sandalwood or mountain sandalwood or ‘iliahi (Santalum paniculatum)
  12. Willowleaf sandalwood (Santalum salicifolium)
  13. Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum)
  14. Santalum yasi

A few species of sandalwood are now extinct, such as Santalum fernandezianum which was last seen during the early 20th century.

Indian sandalwood

  • Indian sandalwood (Santalum album) is still the most prized and most commercially harvested sandalwood species. Originally used for woodworking, Indian sandalwood is now extensively harvested for its fragrant essential oil.
  • Indian sandalwood is not just a tree of economic significance, especially in India. In fact, it is even considered a sacred tree and it is a staple of several religious rituals.

Sandalwood – a threatened species

  • Because of the high demand and price that Indian sandalwood usually commands, it has led to over-harvesting. As a result, its numbers are now under threat – and without rigid conservation efforts, Indian sandalwood may no longer be around very soon.
  • The slow growth rate of sandalwood (particularly Indian sandalwood) and the lack of sizable trees further compound the problem. In fact, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists Indian sandalwood as a “vulnerable” species.

Sandalwood – a threatened species

Relation to religion

  • Due to its distinctive aroma, sandalwood is considered a holy item. Followers of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam in particular value the scent of sandalwood, and its oil.
  • The ancient Sanskrit text Vamana Purana suggests the use of sandalwood for worshipping Shiva, one of the three major gods in Hinduism.
  • Certain Hindu communities would place a piece of sandalwood in the funeral pyre.
  • Sandalwood paste is applied on the forehead of Hindu devotees as a symbol of religious belief. The paste is also used in the ceremonial bathing of Hindu gods.
  • A prospective Muslim bride undergoes a series of rituals to enhance her physical attractiveness and desirability before her wedding day. These include bathing herself with essential oils and sandalwood.
  • Sandalwood is also highly esteemed among devotees of Buddhism. In fact, the first known sculpture of Buddha was made out of sandalwood.
  • Burning sandalwood incense is also common in modern-day Buddhist rituals, as it is believed to calm the mind while keeping it alert at the same time.
  • Buddhist prayer beads, called malas, are also usually made of sandalwood (apart from many other materials like elm and lotus seed).

Ancient uses

  • In ancient Egypt, people imported sandalwood which they used as a medicine and as an embalming agent. They also burned sandalwood in their rituals for worshipping their gods.
  • Sandalwood is considered a sacred tree in many Asian cultures and its use dates back to thousands of years, especially all over India. Sandalwood was once acknowledged as a divine wood and had been extensively used in carving temples, religious statues, idols, tools used for spiritual rites and ornaments.


  • To date, there are about six sandalwood species that are endemic only to the US island state of Hawaii. Hawaiians usually call sandalwood as ‘iliahi.
  • Sandalwood trees used to be abundant in all major Hawaiian islands, until the “Sandalwood Trade” during the 19th century led to the large-scale pillaging of the sandalwood forests.


  • In ancient Hindu and Buddhist ceremonies, people burned sandalwood because they believed it could help drive away anxiety and depression and bring in calmness and peace of mind.
  • A massage and aromatherapy using sandalwood essential oil is proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression more effectively than any other essential oils.
  • Apart from sandalwood aromatherapy oils, there are also sandalwood diffusers available on the market.

Anti-bacterial/anti-viral agent and antiseptic

  • Sandalwood oil is also effective as an antiseptic and anti-bacterial/anti-viral agent. Studies have shown that sandalwood oil has been proven to hamper the reproduction of common viruses (like herpes simplex)
  • Sandalwood oil can also be applied to reduce skin inflammations brought by wounds, pimples and acne, warts, and boils.
  • Sandalwood oil is also effective in treating sore throat. Mix a few drops of sandalwood oil in a cup of water, and then gargle.

Colognes and perfumes

  • Sandalwood oil is also a popular ingredient in colognes and perfumes. It imparts a distinctive and mesmerizingly warm, soft, smooth and woody base for many high-end perfumes and fragrances made for both men and women.
  • Among the best perfumes that use sandalwood oil as a base include Chanel Bois des Iles, Byredo Ghost eau de parfum, Lutens Santal Majsucle Eau de Parfum, Etro Sandalo, and Estee Lauder Sensuous.

Sleeping aid

  • Sandalwood oil has long been used as sedative and treatment against insomnia in Oriental medicine, owing to the scent’s relaxing effects.
  • Being a natural soporific, sandalwood oil doesn’t cause side effects like several over-the-counter sleeping pills. To get a good night’s sleep, have a few drops of sandalwood oil and apply it on your nape.


  • Sandalwood oil is also a common ingredient of some of the best soaps on the market. Soaps that are enriched with sandalwood oil are reputed to moisturize the skin, prevent body odor, ease down itchiness and inflammation, and even out the skin tone.
  • Beauty buffs, in particular, love French-milled sandalwood soaps because of their woodsy aroma and dense lather. This leaves their skin firm, smooth and velvety to the touch.
  • Many of the popular French-milled sandalwood soaps come from Provence. But there are other triple-milled sandalwood soaps of fine quality are also made from other places such as India.

Sandalwood oil for the skin

Your skin can benefit from the wonders that sandalwood oil can bring:

  1. It cures several types of skin problems (including pimples and acne) and infections.
  2. It slows down skin aging.
  3. It helps in getting you a clear and bright skin.
  4. It evens out your skin tone, making it a good option of preventing the tanning effects on your skin.
  5. It moisturizes and softens your skin.
  6. Owing to its cooling sensation, sandalwood oil can help in preventing sunburns and prickly heat.
  7. It helps in preventing skin inflammation.
  • There are also topical creams, lotions, and moisturizers that are incorporated with sandalwood oil, among other top-quality raw ingredients.


  • Sandalwood is also commonly used as an incense. These days, sandalwood incense sticks are used not just for the purposes of religious rituals, but for health and wellness purposes too.
  • Burning sandalwood sticks are thought to relieve anxiety, promote good sleep quality, regulate blood pressure, and improve indoor air quality.
  • Inhaling the fragrant smoke from burned sandalwood incense even helps in healing wounds. By activating olfactory receptors, the scent of burned sandalwood can stimulate keratinocytes to increase the production of keratin. The more keratin produced, the faster the healing action of wounds.

Beard oil

  • Sandalwood oil can also be a part of a man’s grooming and styling routine. For instance, there’s sandalwood beard oil that gives a man’s beard a luxurious look and feel.
  • Sandalwood beard oil hydrates a man’s skin and facial hair, leaving them fully moisturized. Result? A smooth and supple skin, and a softer and glossier beard.
  • Since sandalwood oil has anti-bacterial properties, it helps in relieving inflammation and itchiness especially if you’ve just trimmed your beard much shorter.
  • Applying sandalwood beard oil is best just after washing and cleansing your face. Rub the oil into your hand, and then massage it on and around your beard. If your beard is longer, comb it along to make that your beard hair and skin are thoroughly coated with sandalwood beard oil, moisturizing them along the way.

Sandalwood powder

  • Apart from the essential oil, sandalwood powder is another common product obtained from the tree.
  • There is a number of amazing benefits of using sandalwood powder. It can treat certain illnesses and conditions such as common cold, urinary tract infections, digestive problems, problems in the liver and gallbladder, hemorrhoids, muscles problems, and even mental disorders.

Sandalwood powder

  • However, sandalwood powder is most popularly used as a skincare product. Many beauty buffs swear by sandalwood’s ability to make their skin looking clear, clean, healthy and free from blemishes.
  • Sandalwood powder helps in removing blemishes, soothes and moisturizes the skin, reduces pimples and acne, diminishes scars and dark spots, reduces wrinkles and fine lines, and makes the complexion fairer.
  • Sandalwood powder also helps in treating various skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, sunburn, prickly heat, insect bites, oily skin, dry and patchy skin, or a combination of oily/dry skin.
  • Sandalwood powder, as a natural skin care product, can be used as is. Or it can be mixed to form a paste along with other raw ingredients such as milk, other essential oils, lemon juice, aloe gel, etc.
  • You can make a homemade lip balm using sandalwood powder, with a mixture of other natural ingredients. It acts as an emollient for your dry, chapped lips. It can even lighten dark or black lips; with regular uses of sandalwood lip balm,

Sandalwood candles

  • Adding to your list of your sandalwood aromatherapy items are sandalwood-scented candles. Many sandalwood-scented candles are made with soy wax, which is biodegradable and environmentally-friendly, and not toxic, unlike paraffin wax.
  • Lighting sandalwood candles and inhaling their aroma helps in soothing irritation, lifting depression, and promoting calmness and peace of mind.
  • Those who suffer digestive problems, skin problems, pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), joint pains and even cancer can benefit from inhaling sandalwood-scented candles, like many aromatic candles.

No other wood is most closely tied to religion and spirituality than sandalwood. Apart from its spiritual and historical significance, sandalwood is also known for its extreme usefulness. Whether you use it for aromatherapy, for perfumery, for skin care, for treating illnesses or for incense to lift one’s spirits, you cannot deny sandalwood’s versatility!