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Shawna Answers The Internet’s Burning Questions: SANDALWOOD

In this series, I focus on a specific ingredient or process that I use, plug it into the Google machine to find the most popular questions the internet has about them, then answer those questions! Trust me, it’s more fun than it sounds, and it’s definitely informative!

What is sandalwood?

Sandalwood refers to a class of woods from trees in the genus Santalum. These woods are known for their distinctive fragrance, fine texture, and lasting quality. The aromatic oils found in sandalwood have been highly valued for centuries, used in perfumes, cosmetics, traditional medicines, and religious rituals across lots of different cultures.

This is Santalum Spicatum, the version of sandalwood that I use in my radiance serum

Key characteristics and uses of sandalwood include:

  • Aromatic Properties: Sandalwood's most notable feature is its rich, woody aroma, which can last for decades. This scent is derived from the essential oils concentrated in the wood's heartwood and root. The fragrance is deeply soothing and is often used in aromatherapy to promote mental clarity, relaxation, and a sense of peace.

  • Essential Oil: The essential oil extracted from sandalwood is a central component in perfumery, skincare products, and aromatherapy. Sandalwood oil is believed to have anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and astringent properties, making it beneficial for skin care, including treatments for acne, dry skin, and other skin conditions.

  • Cultural and Religious Significance: Sandalwood has been revered in many cultural and religious traditions for centuries. In Hinduism, it is used in rituals and ceremonies for its purifying and calming effects. In Buddhism and other Eastern religions, sandalwood is valued for meditation and worship.

  • Medicinal Uses: In traditional medicine, particularly Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, sandalwood is used to treat various conditions, from skin disorders to digestive problems, due to its medicinal properties.

  • Types of Sandalwood: There are several species of sandalwood, each with its own unique aroma and qualities. Indian and Australian sandalwood are among the most commonly known and used.

  • Craftsmanship and Art: Apart from its aromatic and medicinal uses, sandalwood is also valued for its fine grain and durability, making it a popular choice for carving, jewelry, and ornamental items.

Due to its many benefits and uses, sandalwood is highly regarded in personal care and wellness to religious and cultural practices.

What does sandalwood smell like?

Sandalwood has a distinctive, complex scent that is often described as:

  • Woody: The most prominent characteristic of sandalwood's scent is its rich, deep, and warm woody note, which serves as a base note in many fragrances.

  • Creamy: Sandalwood often exhibits a soft, creamy, or milky quality, making its aroma smooth and luxurious.

  • Earthy: There's an earthy undertone to sandalwood that contributes to its grounding and calming effects.

  • Sweet: The scent can also have a subtle sweetness, which adds to its complexity and appeal.

  • Balsamic: Some describe the scent as having a balsamic quality, with a slight resinous, yet sweet, undertone.

The specific scent profile of sandalwood can vary depending on the species of the tree and the region where it's grown. For instance, Indian sandalwood (Santalum album) is known for its rich, sweet-woody scent, which is often considered the classic sandalwood fragrance. Australian sandalwood, on the other hand, has a somewhat different profile, being woodier and less sweet than its Indian counterpart.

Gaia, Circe, and Selene, part of our Goddess collection of natural perfumes

What goes well with sandalwood essential oil?

Sandalwood essential oil, with its rich, woody, and creamy scent, blends well with a wide range of other essential oils to create varied aromatic profiles. Its versatility makes it a favorite base note in perfumery and aromatherapy blends. Here are some essential oils that pair particularly well with sandalwood:

  • Citrus Oils: Oils like bergamot, lemon, grapefruit, and sweet orange add a bright, uplifting note to the deep warmth of sandalwood, creating a balanced and invigorating blend.

  • Floral Oils: Lavender, rose, jasmine, and geranium bring a sweet, floral softness that complements the rich base of sandalwood, making the blend sophisticated and soothing. Gaia, part of our Goddess collection of natural perfumes, uses rose alongside sandalwood. And Selene combines sandalwood with lavender as well as frankincense.

  • Spicy Oils: Ginger, clove, cinnamon, and black pepper introduce a spicy kick that contrasts nicely with the smooth, creamy notes of sandalwood, resulting in a stimulating and warm blend.

  • Woody Oils: Cedarwood, patchouli, and vetiver enhance the earthy, woody qualities of sandalwood, creating a deeply grounding and harmonious blend.

  • Herbal Oils: Rosemary, clary sage, and frankincense offer a fresh, herbal contrast to the sweetness of sandalwood, making the blend more complex and spiritually uplifting.

  • Resinous Oils: Myrrh, benzoin, and frankincense share a balsamic quality that complements the depth of sandalwood, enhancing its meditative and soothing properties.

  • Exotic Oils: Ylang-ylang and vanilla add a rich, exotic sweetness that pairs beautifully with the soft, creamy texture of sandalwood, producing a luxurious and sensual blend. Circe uses sandalwood and ylang-ylang, and has notes of mandarin + rose.

When blending sandalwood essential oil with other oils, it's important to consider the purpose of the blend (such as relaxation, focus, or emotional balance) and the individual characteristics of each oil. Start with small amounts and adjust the ratios based on your scent preferences and the intended therapeutic benefits. Sandalwood's ability to anchor lighter, more volatile scents makes it a valuable base note that can help extend the longevity of a blend.

Does sandalwood repel spiders?

The short answer is, probably not! If you’re looking to use natural methods to repel spiders in your house, peppermint oil is probably the way to go. 

Sandalwood oil was used in a 2012 study to see if it would repel a species of mite (Tetranychus urticae) that’s considered a pest to plants. The sandalwood was more successful than a control substance in discouraging reproduction in the mites. Of course, if you’re here to rid your house of spiders and looking for a quick solution, maybe a scientific study on mite reproduction isn’t all that interesting to you, but personally I think any studies looking for alternatives to DEET and other chemical pesticides is always interesting and welcome. 

The good news is, you can use essential oils in spray and diffusion applications in order to safely repel pests in your house. And if spiders are the pest in question, I'd probably go with peppermint oil over sandalwood oil.

In short, sandalwood won’t repel spiders, but it may invite compliments from strangers.

Shawna Bruch is a chartered herbalist and aromatherapist in Paris, Ontario. She makes Slow Beauty products wildcrafted from natural botanicals.

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