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Ylang ylang is a yellow, star-shaped flower that grows on the Cananga tree (Cananga odorata). This tropical species is native to countries surrounding the Indian Ocean, such as India, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and parts of Australia. Ylang ylang’s heady, aromatic scent is fruity, flowery, and rich.

The ylang ylang flower is used to make several types of essential oil, via steam distillation. The oils vary in the intensity of their scent.

Ylang ylang extra is the most potent essential oil derived from the ylang ylang flower. This oil is often used as a top note in perfumes, such as Chanel Number Five.

The less potent essential oils are used as medium-to-base notes in perfume, and to make products such as cologne, lotion, food flavoring, and soap. The subtlest form of ylang ylang is often known as Cananga oil.

Ylang ylang has been found in research to:

  • boost mood
  • reduce depression
  • alleviate anxiety
  • lower blood pressure
  • decrease heart rate
  • stimulate oil production in the skin and on the scalp
  • repel flying insects and kill bug larvae

Some people use ylang ylang as an aphrodisiac and for sexual stimulation, although its benefits in this area are primarily anecdotal.

Ylang ylang also has a history of use as a traditional, herbal treatment for conditions such as:

  • stomach distress
  • rheumatism
  • gout
  • malaria
  • headache
  • pneumonia

Ylang ylang has some proven benefits, and some uses indicated by anecdotal evidence. For example:

  • A small study found that ylang ylang reduced anxiety and boosted self-esteem when it was either applied to skin or inhaled. Ylang ylang’s beneficial effect on mood has been duplicated in other studies, and is also substantiated via anecdotal evidence.
  • Another study found that inhalation of ylang ylang had a sedative effect, by significantly reducing systolic and diastolic blood pressure rates as well as heart rate in healthy men.
  • Ylang ylang contains linalool, a compound which has antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been shown to be effective at reducing Candida albicans, a fungal infection.
  • In many parts of the world, ylang ylang flowers are pounded into paste and used as an inhalant to treat asthma.
  • When dried, ylang ylang flowers are used to treat malaria symptoms in countries throughout Asia.
  • Ylang ylang is used as a folk remedy to increase sexual desire and reduce sexual anxiety.

Ylang ylang contains several allergens, such as isoeugenol. It has been linked to contact dermatitis and can be irritating to skin when applied topically.

As with any essential oils, do not apply full-strength ylang ylang to skin. Ylang ylang should be mixed with a carrier oil and patch tested, before using on a large area of the body, face, or scalp.

Ylang ylang is poisonous to dogs and cats. Do not apply ylang ylang to your pet’s skin, paws, or coat, and make sure not to use it where your pet might lick or inhale it.

Ylang ylang is currently considered safe when used as a food additive. However, if you are allergic to its ingredients, it may be best for you to avoid it completely.

Ylang ylang can be purchased as an essential oil. In some instances, it may be labeled according to its ranking during the distillation process:

  • Ylang ylang extra produces the most powerful scent, but dissipates quickly.
  • Ylang ylang essential oils numbered 1, 2, or 3 have less potent scents, in that order, but are denser and longer lasting. Cananga oil (ylang ylang #3) has the subtlest scent.
  • Ylang ylang complete essential oil contains all four scent levels, from extra through to 3.

Ylang ylang can also be found as an ingredient in many commercial products for skin and hair, as well as in scented candles, massage oil, perfumes, and cologne.

Ylang ylang can be mixed with a carrier oil, and used for dry skin care and for massage. It can also be rubbed on the scalp to promote oil production and reduce dryness. Since ylang ylang is irritating for some people, always do a patch test first and wait 24 hours before using.

  • Always dilute it. To use topically, add one drop of essential oil for each teaspoon of carrier oil.
  • Store properly. Store in an opaque, glass container in a cool, dark place.
  • Use and monitor its quality. Ylang ylang has a long shelf life, so you can make several batches to store for a year, or longer. However, never use an oil that has expired or smells rancid.
  • Use with water in an oil diffuser. Ylang ylang can also be inhaled as an aromatherapy treatment by using in a room diffuser.

Shop for essential oil diffusers online.

Ylang ylang has a fruity, sweet scent and is a popular ingredient in many perfumes and cosmetic products.

Ylang ylang has several benefits proven by scientific research, such as alleviating anxiety and lowering blood pressure in some people. Anecdotal evidence indicates that it’s calming effect may also make it beneficial for relaxation and for conditions such as headache.

Ylang ylang contains several allergens and should be used cautiously on skin.