What is Sandalwood?

The Health Potential of Sandalwood



  1. Sandalwood oil, commonly found in perfumes and air fresheners, may help promote alertness, relieve anxiety, and prevent skin cancer.
  2. For centuries, East Indian sandalwood oil has been a popular ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine, the folk medicine of India. It’s also been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
  3. Some studies have supported the idea that sandalwood has health perks.

Sandalwood oil is found in many perfumes and air fresheners. It’s a classic scent from a valuable tree. But the value of sandalwood oil may go beyond smell. Sandalwood may offer some health benefits as well.

Sandalwood oil comes from the wood and roots of Santalum album, or the East Indian sandalwood tree. This is one of the most valuable trees in the world. Its products are used across the globe. West Indian and African sandalwood oils have also been produced in the past, but they’re no longer widely available.

Sandalwood and its oil are prized in the field of alternative medicine. It’s traditionally used to treat a variety of conditions. Most of its traditional uses haven’t been scientifically tested, but some research suggests sandalwood may help treat certain health problems.

Picture of sandalwood


How is sandalwood used traditionally?

Sandalwood oil has many traditional uses. For centuries, East Indian sandalwood oil has been a popular ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine, the folk medicine of India. It’s also been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

Did you know?
The ancient Egyptians used sandalwood for embalming and ritual burning. Sandalwood is one of the most valuable trees in the world.

In these traditions, sandalwood oil has been used with other therapies to manage:

  • the common cold
  • urinary tract infections
  • liver and gallbladder problems
  • digestive problems
  • muscle problems
  • mental disorders
  • hemorrhoids
  • scabies

Sandalwood’s scent also makes it a popular choice for perfumes and aromatherapy. In aromatherapy, aromatic oils are used to promote mental and physical health outcomes. Many ancient cultures practiced aromatherapy. It remains popular among some people today.

Few of the traditional uses of sandalwood oil have been tested with modern science. There is a lack of studies evaluating the health benefits of sandalwood. This is why scientific research on its health benefits is limited.

What does the research say?

Some studies have supported the idea that sandalwood has health perks. For example, research suggests that sandalwood may help:

  • increase alertness
  • manage anxiety
  • support wound healing
  • guard against skin cancer
  • fight bacteria


A study reported in Planta Medica found that aromatherapy with sandalwood oil increased participants’ pulse, blood pressure, and perspiration. These are markers of alertness.


Research reported in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice suggests that aromatherapy massage with sandalwood oil may help reduce anxiety. The sample size was too small to draw conclusive findings, but the results were promising.

Wound healing

Researchers from Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany found that skin cells contain olfactory receptors for sandalwood. When they activated those receptors, it appeared to promote skin cell growth. 

Skin cancer

A study reported in the Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics suggests a compound found in sandalwood oil may help fight skin cancer. That compound is called α-santalol. Some studies have shown that this component can help promote cell death of cancerous cells.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Scientists in the Journal of Crano-Maxillofacial Surgery suggest that essential oils may provide some disease-fighting properties against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). This is a staph infection that is resistant to certain antibiotics. However, if you have a MRSA infection, it’s important to seek medical attention right away in order to receive timely treatment.

What type of sandalwood oil should you look for?

The free alcohols found in sandalwood oil are known as santalol. They’re responsible for its scent and effects. To meet the international standard for authentic sandalwood oil, a product must have a minimum free alcohol level of 90 percent, reports the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Because sandalwood oil is in high demand, there are synthetic products on the market. The United States is one of the largest importers of sandalwood oil, so there’s a chance you may find lesser quality oils on your local shelves. To improve your chance of finding authentic sandalwood oil, check the label for signs that it’s derived from Santalum album. Words like “scented oil” or “perfumed oil” might indicate a synthetic product.

How can sandalwood be used at home?

There are many ways to use sandalwood oil in aromatherapy at home. You can:

  • apply it directly to your skin
  • put a few drops in your lotion
  • heat it in a small kettle of water to scent your home
  • evaporate it using an essential oil infuser
  • add it to your bath water

Some people have allergic reactions to essential oils. These reactions are rare. They most often occur when people apply essential oils directly to their skin. If you’re concerned about an allergic reaction, test a small amount of sandalwood oil mixed with a carrier oil or lotion on a small patch of your skin. Wait to see if you react before using larger amounts.

The takeaway

Although concrete medical proof is lacking, sandalwood oil may have many health benefits. More research is needed to confirm the health benefits of sandalwood oil. In the meantime, the scent alone may be comforting and enjoyable. That may be reason enough to give aromatherapy with sandalwood oil a shot.

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