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For thousands of years, Indian sandalwood has been coveted by kings, ancient cultures and religions. It’s particularly revered in Buddhism and Indian Ayurveda for its ability to calm and focus the mind.
For a scent that’s so well known, sandalwood is still quite a mystery to the modern world.
While Indian sandalwood (different to Australian, Hawaiian and other sandalwood species) is a key ingredient in many traditional medicines and perfumes, it’s only recently that scientists have started exploring how its properties can benefit contemporary wellbeing.
In this article we break down the many benefits and uses of sandalwood. Drawing on ancient wisdom and modern science, we’ll help you understand how to work this miracle of nature into your own wellbeing and beauty ritual.
Practitioners of Ayurveda have long prized Indian sandalwood for its beautifying properties. And we’re starting to see some of that ancient wisdom make its way into our modern beauty products.
Today, sandalwood is most commonly used as a mild astringent i.e. an ingredient that can help tighten your skin.
Beauty products that include sandalwood like toners, cleansers, and moisturisers can help reduce the appearance of oily skin and minimise your pores. You can also use diluted sandalwood oil in small amounts to achieve the same effect.
Sandalwood oil has also been shown to be effective against acne and other related skin conditions. Indian sandalwood oil in particular has been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
In Ayurveda, sandalwood oil and powder has traditionally been used to prevent and treat acne, as well as improve the appearance of dark spots. Treatments include masks of sandalwood powder mixed with milk or coconut oil, or small amounts of diluted sandalwood oil applied directly to the skin.
With its distinctive combination of spicy, sweet, warm and velvety tones, it’s no wonder sandalwood has excited generations of lovers - mythical and real.
The secret behind sandalwood’s sex appeal is not fully understood. Some say it smells similar to the pheromone androsterone, which is why sandalwood can awaken your sexual desires.
Another possibility is its long association with sex and sensuality.
A 2000 year old poem by the Indian poet Kalidasa describes a scene where lovers entwined grow wild with passion, intoxicated by the scent of sandalwood.
If you’d like to test out the power of sandalwood for yourself, add a few drops of sandalwood oil to your bath before slipping into bed. This will leave a subtle yet lingering scent of sandalwood on your skin.
If you have a diffuser, sandalwood oil is perfect to spice the air and create a sensual atmosphere.
Sandalwood oil blended with a carrier oil such as jojoba or sweet almond makes for a beautiful massage oil or perfume. Because Indian sandalwood oil has the slowest evaporation rate of all essential oils, it will linger on the skin.
The combination of the exotic scent of sandalwood and the stimulating massage will have sparks flying before you can say… well, anything.
Sandalwood oil is used in Aromatherapy to relieve anxiety and tension, and promote a sense of calm.
Relaxation methods include using sandalwood oil in a diffuser or in massage. The warm and woody scent helps to relax the mind and body, as well as improve mental clarity. Sandalwood oil is used in Ayurvedic massage and fomentation therapy for the same reason.
But what exactly is it about sandalwood oil that’s so calming?
If you’re having trouble sleeping, particularly if you find it difficult staying asleep, a pilot study from 2007 found that sandalwood oil can help lengthen the duration of non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep is the lighter stage of your sleep that helps restore your body.
While the study was conducted on rats (which is not cool), it did reveal that sandalwood oil has the potential to help a lot of people that struggle with sleep. It’s opened the gateway for other researchers to investigate the properties of sandalwood and unravel its many secrets.
Research into the effectiveness of sandalwood oil for sleep is still in the early stages. Everyone reacts differently, but what studies consistently show is that sandalwood oil is safe.
Find out if sandalwood oil will help you sleep by adding a few drops to your diffuser before bed and let its luxurious scent transport you to dreamland.
In Buddhist meditation, filling the room with the scent of burning sandalwood incense is thought to promote focus and alertness.
So, how does something calming also promote focus? Great question- A 2006 study showed inhaling sandalwood oil in high concentration can increase focus and alertness.
In the study, people who found the scent of sandalwood strong and overwhelming reported and physically showed an increase in focus, while those who found the scent pleasant and soothing said it had a calming effect, and their bodies told the same story.
Research into the benefits of sandalwood is still a new area for modern science. Sandalwood’s beautiful, sensual scent works differently for everybody, so the best thing to do is to try it out for yourself.
Try burning Indian sandalwood incense while you work. For a sense of alertness throughout the day, sandalwood perfume might just do the trick.
In Ayurveda it’s believed that applying a drop of sandalwood oil on the space between your eyebrows (known as the ‘third eye’, or the point of concentration) helps boost your memory.
Of all our senses, smell is the only one that has a direct connection to the memory and emotion centres. The rest of our senses take a detour through the thalamus, the relay station of our brain.
That’s why smell has a unique power over us, stimulating our emotions and memories in an almost primal way.
We think the ancients were on to something with sandalwood, and modern science is slowly catching up.