Sandalwood essential oil is derived from one of three sources. East Indian sandalwood (Santalum album L.), also known as white sandalwood, is a tall evergreen tree sometimes referred to as Mysore that grows wild or cultivated in India and areas of Malaysia. Because the tree is currently considered a threatened species, oil made from its wood is very expensive but is often considered the best quality. West Indian sandalwood (Amyris balsamifera) is a small tree found growing natively in the forests of Haiti and Jamaica, and Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) is a small shrub found only in areas of southern and western Australia. The wood from the trunk and roots of these trees and shrubs are steam-distilled to extract their oil.
East and West Indian sandalwood essential oils are pale-yellow to yellow in color and produce a strong, warm, earthy, woody aroma. Australian sandalwood oil differs in that it produces a somewhat harsher, more bitter and resinous top-note. However, oil made from Australian sandalwood is typically more widely available and less expensive, and it possesses many of the same properties. In fact, all types of sandalwood have numerous medicinal, emotional and cosmetic benefits.
History and Folklore
The origin of sandalwood remains unknown, but it is believed that the first sandalwood trees were introduced to India around 2,000 years ago. Before this, the trees may have been found growing in southeastern Indonesia. By the year 700 BC, sandalwood was being traded along the coastal route from India to Persia, along with peacocks, rice and a variety of other luxury goods. Throughout history, sandalwood has been used in medicine, perfumery, incense and cosmetics, as well as in religious rites and ceremonies. Sandalwood has been sacred to the people of India, who have used the wood to make canes, furniture and caskets since ancient times. Temples were also built using the wood because of its resistance to insects and fragrant scent.
Illegal felling of sandalwood trees has caused their near elimination in India. Today, the Indian government controls all the sandalwood trees grown in the country to prevent them from becoming completely extinct. Government inspectors only allow harvesting of the trees after they have aged 30 years and grown 30 feet in height. Because of this serious situation, the Australian variety of sandalwood is beginning to replace traditional Indian sandalwood to supply the world with the precious and ever-popular essential oil.
Modern Medicinal Uses
Sandalwood oil is used in modern aromatherapy for a variety of healing purposes. The oil has antiseptic, antibacterial, astringent and rejuvenatory properties. Traditional sandalwood essential oil uses include treating inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, cardiovascular disorders, coughs and fatigue. It has been used in natural remedies for external skin disorders for hundreds of years. More recently, the oil has been indicated for the treatment of skin cancer and bacterial infections such as urinary tract infections.
A study published in Phytomedicine in 1999 concluded that sandalwood essential oil was effective against herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2 in vitro, although further human studies are necessary to establish a recommended dosage and method of use. In another study, published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention in 1999, researchers found that sandalwood oil may be effective in treating chemically-induced skin cancer. However, the study was performed on laboratory mice and further research is needed.
As a cosmetic ingredient, sandalwood has moisturizing, astringent and balancing properties. Sandalwood helps balance oil production from the sebaceous glands, making it beneficial for external use in individuals with dry hair and scalp. In tropical areas of the world, women often combine sandalwood essential oil with coconut oil and rub the mixture into their hair to promote health, strength and shine. The oil is commonly used in exotic perfumes and colognes because of its earthy, pleasant aroma. In addition, sandalwood oil is used to scent shampoos, soaps, aftershaves and other toiletries and cosmetics. Sandalwood essential oil also calms skin irritations such as dry skin and chapped skin, and can often be found in natural skin lotions and creams formulated for these problems.
Sandalwood essential oil is most well-known for its ability to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. A study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice in 2006 deemed sandalwood oil effective in reducing feelings of anxiety. In many areas of the world, sandalwood oil is massaged into the forehead to help enhance meditation and mental clarity. When inhaled, the oil is believed to reduce feelings of fatigue, stress, anxiety and depression, and increase energy levels. It is also believed to improve the memory and the ability to learn and absorb knowledge. In Ayurvedic medicine, sandalwood is believed to cool and calm the entire body and mind, and open the “third eye.”
Sandalwood essential oil can be used in a variety of different ways, the simplest being inhalation therapy. Place one or two drops of the oil onto a cotton ball or tissue, and inhale deeply whenever you feel stressed, depressed, fatigued or anxious. The oil will produce immediate results and improve your mood considerably. You can also place a few drops in an aromatherapy diffuser or humidifier. Following are some other practical uses for sandalwood oil.
- For treating dry or chapped skin, add 10 to 15 drops of sandalwood essential oil to a bath tub filled with warm water. Soak for at least 20 minutes in the tub daily until symptoms subside. You can also add 1 to 2 drops of the oil to a tablespoon of your favorite unscented lotion or skin cream and use two to three times daily to treat dry skin.
- For reducing stress, combine 2 to 3 drops of sandalwood oil with 1 tbsp. carrier oil (such as sweet almond or extra virgin olive), and have someone massage the mixture into your back and neck for several minutes. This treatment relaxes the body and mind, which in turn reduces feelings of stress.
- For a fragrant sandalwood perfume, combine 8 to 10 drops sandalwood oil with 2 tsp. jojoba oil and 2 to 3 drops vegetable glycerin. Store the mixture in a dark-colored glass bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Place the bottle in a cool, dark place and shake before each use.
- For treating a urinary tract infection (UTI), add 10 to 15 drops of sandalwood essential oil to a bath tub filled with warm water. Soak for 15 to 20 minutes at a time up to three times daily until symptoms subside. Because the oil is so gentle on the skin and mucous membranes, it can be used this way frequently to relieve UTI symptoms. You can also use the oil in a sitz bath for treating a UTI, but decrease the amount used to about 5 drops.
- For treating dry or persistent cough, place a few drops of the oil onto a cotton ball and inhale deeply or add a few drops to a humidifier and run the machine in your bedroom overnight. You can also add 3 to 4 drops to a large bowl of hot water and inhale the steam to reduce inflammation of the respiratory tract.
In India, there have been reports that sandalwood essential oil can cause allergic skin reactions. However, this is most likely caused by the use of adulterated and poor quality oil. Always purchase pure sandalwood oil from a reputable retailer to prevent side effects. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use sandalwood.
- Encyclopedia of Food and Color Additives, Vol. 3
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