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uncompromising purity in essential oils

Sandalwood essential oils: How to choose between the different types

Sandalwood (Santalum album) has been in use for thousands of years in perfumes, cosmetics and toiletries. Its calming, cooling effect makes it an excellent choice for skincare. It is also used during meditation.

Santalum album (also known as Indian Sandalwood) was originally harvested from wild growing trees in India. Whilst more recently the cultivation of Sandalwood has been under the control of the Indian government, illegal harvesting and over-exploitation have endangered this species.

More recently other sources of Sandalwood have become available. These include Santalum album cultivated in Australia and Pacific Sandalwood (Santalum austrocaledonicum). Australia’s native Sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) is also sustainably wild-harvested for essential oil production. But are they a good substitute?

In terms of scent, Pacific Sandalwood is the most similar to Indian Sandalwood, demonstrating the same warm, buttery scent. The aroma is slightly less immediate than that of the Indian Sandalwood (it doesn’t jump out of the bottle in the same way) but after a few minutes the scent of both oils ends up in roughly the same place. The chemical profile of these oils bears this out; both have a high content of alpha and beta santalol. Historically Pacific Sandalwood cost substantially less than the Indian variety however Australian-grown Santalum album is actually less costly than the Pacific oil.

In contrast the Australian Sandalwood has a lower santalol content which has implications for the therapeutic value of the oil. The differing chemical profile means that this oil has a much more ‘woody scent’ than the Pacific and Indian variants. Less is known about the therapeutic use of this type of Sandalwood however in general it can be used in the same way as the other types. This oil is substantially less costly than the other types.

Note that Amyris (Amyris balsamifera), also known as ‘West Indian Sandalwood’ is not a true Sandalwood. Whilst this oil is popular in its own right it is substantially less costly than true Sandalwood and therefore can sometimes be found as an adulterant in true Sandalwood oils.

In summary, if you like Indian Sandalwood but want to choose another option for either ethical or price reasons, then Australian Santalum album or the Pacific Sandalwood are the best alternatives. If you a prefer a ‘woody’ rather than ‘buttery’ scent for perfumery then Santalum spicatum is the best choice. And if you prefer organic then go for the organic Australian Sandalwood.

And finally – did you know that the Sandalwood tree is a parasite? It obtains its nutrients by attaching suckers to the roots of other trees. It would be interesting to know to what extent the chemical make-up of Sandalwood oil is influenced by the other plants from which it obtains its life force.

Click the link to read our full article all about Sandalwood essential oils, including blending ideas and recipes.