The Health Benefits of Sandalwood Oil

Essential oil may improve sleep and relieve anxiety

Powdered and whole sandalwood
Dinodia Photos / Getty Images
In This Article

Sandalwood is a type of essential oil commonly used in aromatherapy. Sourced from various types of sandalwood tree of the genus Santalum, sandalwood oil contains aromatic compounds thought to be beneficial to your health.

Due to its coveted fragrance, sandalwood oil is used as an ingredient in perfumes, cosmetics, and soaps. There are also food-grade oils approved for use as a food flavoring (mainly for chocolates and candies).

Sandalwood oil is also frequently incorporated into religious ceremonies or spiritual practices. Buddhists believe that the scent of sandalwood can help maintain alertness and focus during meditation.

Also Known As

  • Sacred sandalwood
  • Chandra (in Sanskrit)
  • Tan Xiang (in traditional Chinese medicine)

Health Benefits

In both Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, sandalwood oil is believed to be beneficial in treating both physical and mental disorders, including anxiety, bronchitis, diarrhea, fatigue, fever, gallbladder problems, high blood pressure, indigestion, insomnia, liver problems, low libido, sore throat, and urinary tract infections.

Few of these health claims are strongly supported by research.

In aromatherapy, inhaling the aroma of sandalwood oil or absorbing it through the skin is thought to transmit messages to parts of the brain involved in controlling emotions, known as the limbic system. These messages are believed to affect both an emotional and physiological response. (By way of example, the reduction of stress typically translates to a reduction in blood pressure.)

Although research on the health effects of sandalwood oil is fairly limited, there is some evidence of its therapeutic benefits. Here is what some of the current research says:

Anxiety

Several preliminary studies have suggested that sandalwood oil may help alleviate anxiety.

In a pilot study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, researchers found that receiving an aromatherapy massage with sandalwood oil subjectively reduced anxiety in people undergoing palliative care.

Similarly, a four-week study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that the same type of aromatherapy massage (provided twice weekly in half-hour sessions) helped relieve anxiety in women with breast cancer.

Despite the promising results, the conclusions of both studies were limited by the subjective measures used to evaluate anxiety. Moreover, it is not known whether the essential oil or massage provided greater relief since there were no study controls.

Insomnia

Sandalwood oil shows promise as a means of promoting healthier sleep, according to an animal study published in the Japanese Journal of Psychopharmacology.

According to research, beta-santalol (a compound that comprises 20 percent of sandalwood oil) had a mild sedative effect in lab rats when inhaled, decreasing waking time and increasing rapid eye movement (REM) consistent with deep sleep.

Interestingly, the effect was achieved even when the rats' olfactory senses (the ability to smell) were impaired.

Mental Alertness

Despite its calming effects, sandalwood oil appears to enhance mental alertness. As contradictory as this may seem, sandalwood oil is believed to deactivate behavioral responses (delivering a calming effect) while activating a physiological response (as measured by blood pressure, heart rate, and other factors).

According to a study published in Planta Medica, sandalwood oil, when inhaled or applied to the skin, triggers a mild increase in blood oxygen saturation, blood pressure, breathing rate, eye-blink rate, pulse rate, and skin temperature.

These stimulatory effects are believed to enhance mental functioning. The compound associated with these physiological effects is known as alpha-santalol.

Possible Side Effects

Sandalwood oil is considered safe when used for aromatherapy or occasional topical use. With that being, the oil should never be applied to the skin at full-strength. Doing so can lead to skin irritation, rash (contact dermatitis), and even chemical burns.

Even the prolonged or excessive exposure to the sandalwood fragrance can trigger increases in blood pressure and heart rate.

Sandalwood oil can also cause allergy in some people, most commonly when applied to the skin. Stop using the oil and call your doctor if you experience a rash or any other allergy symptom.

Sandalwood oil should never be taken internally. Even food-grade oils are unsafe. If ingested, sandalwood oil can cause itching, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, blood in urine, and even kidney damage.

Call 911 or the Poison Control hotline at 800-222-1222 if you or a loved one accidentally ingests sandalwood oil. Do not induce vomiting unless medical personnel tells you to do so.

Sandalwood oil should not be used in children. If you are pregnant or nursing, speak with your doctor before applying it to the skin.

It is unknown whether sandalwood oil actively interacts with other drugs or supplements, but there is little in the current medical literature to suggest that it does.

What to Look For

To meet the international standard for authenticity, essential oils must have a minimum free alcohol level of 90 percent. The free alcohols in sandalwood oil are specifically alpha-santalol and beta-santalol.

Due to the worldwide popularity of sandalwood oil, there are numerous, low-quality synthetic versions on the market. To improve your chances of getting the real deal, check the label to ensure the oil was derived from the Santalum family of sandalwood trees. These include Santalum album and Santalum spicatum.

Avoid sandalwood oils that are labeled "blended," "scented," or "perfumed." These are more likely to be synthetic or of low quality.

Sandalwood oil can be purchased online or found in natural foods stores and shops specializing in self-care products.

Other Questions

How do you dilute sandalwood oil?

When used for massage or other topical applications, essential oils need to be diluted in a neutral carrier oil such as sweet almond oil, argan oil, olive oil, or coconut oil.

For massage purposes, add between 9 and 18 drops of sandalwood oil to an ounce of carrier oil. This would give you a concentration of between one and two percent. Always start with a lower concentration if you never used a sandalwood massage oil before.

You should also test for allergy by applying a small dot on the underside of your forearm. Wait for 60 minutes to see if redness, swelling, or rash occurs. If it does, discard the oil and avoid external use.

How else can sandalwood oil be used?

Sandalwood oil can be inhaled after sprinkling a few drops onto a tissue or by using an aromatherapy diffuser. If you don't have a diffuser, you can add a few drops to a pot of simmering water. Sandalwood oil can also be added to bath water for a calming soak.

Adding a few drops to lotions or body creams can provide you with a long-lasting fragrance. (Just be sure to pre-test it before applying it to your face or covering your body with it.)

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