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Sandalwood is a much-loved fragrance across the world, often evoking soft breezes, restful spaces, and a sense of peace and calm. It’s commonly used in aromatherapy and meditation practice around the world.

The wood and oil is prized in many religious faiths, including Hinduism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, and many East Asian traditions. It’s used in sacred ceremonies, as rosary beads, as incense, and as a decorative, cleansing paste.

Sandalwood’s soft, woody aroma works well in soaps and body scrubs, and it’s been used in Indian skin care for centuries.

Ancient Ayurvedic texts and Traditional Chinese Medicine praise sandalwood for its many medicinal uses, and there’s plenty of scientific evidence to support this.

Sandalwood album oil (SAO) has multiple beneficial qualities for the skin. It’s said to be:

  • anti-inflammatory
  • antimicrobial
  • antiproliferative, or inhibits undesirable cell growth
  • antiviral
  • antiseptic
  • fever-reducing
  • scabies inhibiting

“Its key active ingredient is alpha-santalol, and it’s been used for a number of ailments,” says Monisha Bhanote, MD. She notes that sandalwood oil may inhibit bacteria and yeast.

Sandalwood oil may help with:

  • scarring
  • wrinkles
  • inflammation
  • eczema
  • psoriasis
  • wound healing
  • acne
  • even skin tone or skin whitening

Scarring

Sandalwood oil helps nourish the skin, improve the elasticity of skin cells, even out skin tone. Because of these qualities, it can be beneficial in reducing the appearance of scars.

According to a 2018 study, sandalwood and honey were shown to prevent or minimize hypertrophic or thick, raised scarring.

Wrinkles

Sandalwood oil contains antioxidants that help maintain the buoyancy and structure of the skin cells. It also reduces dryness and replenishes the moisture in skin, increasing elasticity.

“Due to the rich antioxidant component, sandalwood can help prevent wrinkles by fighting free radical formation,” Bhanote says.

Inflammation, eczema, psoriasis, and wounds

Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, sandalwood oil has shown promise in clinical trials for the treatment of acne, psoriasis, eczema, common warts, and molluscum contagiosum, a type of skin infection.

In a 2017 study, sandalwood oil paired with turmeric cream reduced rash and discoloration following chemotherapy radiation.

Sandalwood’s antiseptic properties can help in wound care and healing. In India, sandalwood powder is often combined with rose water to create a calming, curative paste.

Acne

A 2011 study that documented the home remedies of Indian grandmothers noted that sandalwood was recommended for acne and fungal infections.

A 2012 study showed that sandalwood was tolerated well and reduced lesion counts in 90 percent of acne patients.

“Sandalwood is time-tested in Ayurveda for its pitta-reducing quality, cooling the skin in cases of tanning and sunburn and soothing the skin with its anti-inflammatory properties — especially in cases of acne, rashes, and insect bites,” says Ainsley Mayben of Kama Ayurveda.

Mayben notes that sandalwood also balances excess sebum with its astringent properties and nourishes and moisturizes the skin.

Even skin tone or skin whitening

According to Ayurveda, or traditional Indian medicine, excessive skin discoloration may indicate an excess of heat in the body.

“From an Ayurvedic perspective, sandalwood appears to have a calming and cooling effect on the skin, which can benefit the pitta [fire] dosha,” Bhanote says.

There’s further scientific explanation for sandalwood’s skin-lightening effect.

“The alpha-santalol component of sandalwood is an inhibitor of tyrosinase, a key enzyme in the synthesis of the skin pigment melanin,” Bhanote says. It “may potentially act as an inhibitor of abnormal pigmentation associated with aging and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light.”

There are several kinds of sandalwood trees used for different purposes. The main genus is Santalum and belongs to the same family as mistletoe.

There are two main kinds of “true” sandalwood, as well as other important varieties, including:

  • white sandalwood
  • Indian sandalwood
  • Australian sandalwood
  • Hawaiian sandalwood
  • Fiji sandalwood
  • red sandalwood

True, white, or Indian sandalwood

Santalum album, called “chandan” in many Indian languages, is the most popular and commonly used sandalwood tree. This tree is native to India and yields some of the most prized sandalwood products. White sandalwood is also grown in Australia.

Due to the excessive demand and overharvesting, sandalwood is listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Australian sandalwood

Australian sandalwood, or Santalam spicatum, is a preferred ingredient in many aromatherapy products. It’s an important part of the local Australian economy and the culture of Australia’s aboriginal people.

Hawaiian sandalwood

S. ellipticum, S. freycinetianum, and S. paniculatum are known as “iliahi” by Hawaiians. These native Hawaiian species have been overharvested and are listed as endangered by the Hawaii State Legislature.

Fiji sandalwood

Santalum yasi is a lesser-known species of sandalwood from the islands of Fiji, Niue, and Tonga. Locals call it “yasi” or “yasi din.” It’s used for cosmetics, perfumes, incense, and religious ceremonies.

Red sandalwood

Red sandalwood, or Pterocarpus santalinus, is endemic to smaller forests across India. Though it’s unrelated to the genus Santalum, or true sandalwood, this tree is also threatened because of its wide applications in the cosmetic industry.

It’s called “rakta chandan” in many Indian languages. The word “rakta” refers to its application in the treatment of blood disorders as well as the color of the wood itself.

There are many sandalwood-based products used in cosmetics to target specific skin care needs. It can be used as:

  • powder
  • oil
  • soap
  • hydrosol or floral water

Powder

White sandalwood powder is readily available in a ready-to-use powdered form. It’s believed to combat excess body heat.

Red sandalwood powder is less common. It’s used as an anti-inflammatory and a blood purifier for many skin conditions, including acne.

Try Pam Herbals Special Sandal Powder Face Pack or Herbs Botanica Sandalwood Powder.

Oil

Sandalwood oil is also readily available and very popular. It’s often promoted as a way to help calm the mind and induce sleep.

“Using aromatherapy with sandalwood oil can promote calmness, lower stress, and improve sleep quality,” Bhanote says. “You may even consider rubbing it into your wrists as a natural alternative to perfumes. Research has also shown sandalwood can improve mood and attentiveness.”

Sandalwood oil is often used in mineral bath soaks and roll-ons for easy application to pressure points.

Sandalwood oil can be added to base oils, like jojoba, almond, or argan oil, for a calming scalp and body massage. This also serves as a hair oil to condition and moisturize dry hair.

Try Soothing Touch Balancing Soak Bath Salts or pureSCRUBS Body Oil Organic Oil Blend – Sandalwood.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate essential oils. This means that essential oil products can vary in purity, strength, and quality across manufacturers. Be sure to only purchase essential oils from reputable brands.

Soap

Sandalwood essential oil is often added to soaps and lotions to enhance its aroma. Sandalwood soap is very popular in India for its potential to reduce sunburn.

Try Plantlife Sandalwood Aromatherapy Herbal Soap or Kerala Ayurveda Sandalwood & Turmeric Soap.

For a luxurious soap made of red sandalwood, try Kama Ayurveda Red Sandalwood Ayurvedic Soap.

Hydrosol or floral water

Extracted from the wood via steam distillation, sandalwood hydrosol spray is a wonderful way to refresh linens and small rooms. It can also make a soothing face and hair mist.

Try Trapp Home Fragrance Mist – No. 7 Patchouli Sandalwood or Indigo Wild Zum Mist Aromatherapy Room & Body Spray – Sandalwood Citrus.

Try these simple DIY recipes to take advantage of the relaxing benefits of sandalwood at home.

For oily skin

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. sandalwood powder
  • 1 tbsp. rose water
  • jar with lid

Directions

  1. Mix the sandalwood powder with rose water in a jar.
  2. Apply the paste onto your clean, dry face.
  3. Leave on for 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Rinse with lukewarm water.
  5. Store remaining paste in jar.

For dry skin

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. sandalwood powder
  • 1 tbsp. yogurt or cow’s milk
  • small bowl

Directions

  1. Make a paste with the sandalwood powder and yogurt or milk.
  2. Apply the paste onto your clean, dry face.
  3. Leave on for 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Rinse with lukewarm water.

For acne

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp. sandalwood powder
  • 1 drop tea tree oil
  • 2 tsp. rose or lavender water

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients together in a small jar.
  2. Clean and dry your face.
  3. Apply paste to pimples as a spot treatment.
  4. Wash off after 10 minutes with lukewarm water, or leave on overnight.

For the bath

Ingredients

  • 1 cup epsom salts
  • 10 drops sandalwood essential oil
  • 10 drops lavender essential oil
  • 2 tbsp. carrier oil of your choice, like argan, jojoba, or almond oil
  • jar

Directions

  1. Add essential oils to carrier oil in the jar.
  2. Add epsom salts.
  3. Shake until mixed.
  4. Pour mixture directly under running bath water.
  5. Soak for up to 45 minutes.

Sandalwood is generally considered safe for most users.

Still, always check for an allergic reaction before using a new product on the skin.

If you have sensitive skin, a 2017 study notes that Indian sandalwood oil may be more mild than Australian sandalwood because it doesn’t contain farnesol, a skin irritant found in Australian sandalwood.

Always do a patch test before applying sandalwood to your skin. Never swallow essential oils or apply undiluted essential oils directly to the skin.

Several species of sandalwood are overharvested and listed as vulnerable by the IUCN.

A sandalwood tree must be 15 years or older to yield the most potent aromatic oils and fragrant wood. This makes farming sandalwood difficult. Illegal harvesting is a growing problem in many countries, like India.

Do your research to make sure you’re purchasing sandalwood from reputable, socially and environmentally responsible companies.

Sandalwood has been found in the medicine kits of Indian grandmothers and on family altars in India for centuries. It’s now widely available in many easy-to-use forms, like oils, creams, soaps, and ointments.

The multiple benefits for the skin are thanks to sandalwood’s anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and cooling properties.

It’s important to research sources and buy responsibly, because sandalwood is often overharvested.

With some education and experimentation, sandalwood can be a wonderful addition to your skin care routine for an even, glowing complexion.


Nandita Godbole is an Atlanta-based, Indian-origin food writer and author of several cookbooks, including her latest, “Seven Pots of Tea: An Ayurvedic Approach to Sips & Nosh.” Find her books at venues where fine cookbooks are showcased, and follow her at @currycravings on any social media platform of your choice.