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Sandalwood industry has been experiencing its greatest peak in the last 10 years. Sandalwood tree has been praised for its timber and essential oil made from softwood and roots for centuries. The best quality plants are known to come from India. But sadly East Indian sandalwood has been on the verge of extinction since aromatherapy started to gain its popularity in the West in late 20th century.

East Indian Sandalwood (S. album) is one of those unique species which is very difficult to cultivate. This is because the germination process is complex, as it is hemiparasitic, which means it requires association with other plants for nutrients. The sandalwood feeds itself partly through root binding to host trees and is protected from aggressive sunshine through the host canopy. A kilogram of Indian sandalwood oil now sells for about $3,000, or about five times as much as silver, and prices are rising by at least 20 to 25 percent a year, according to the South India Sandalwood Products Dealers & Exporters Association. India has historically been the dominant supplier but sales from government auctions plunged in recent years due to over exploitation and smuggling. Sales of sandalwood sourced illegally from natural forests in India are estimated to dwarf official production, which was mostly state-controlled until the middle of last decade. Supply from India remains variable and fell to just 250 tons of wood a year in 2016 from almost 4,000 tons a year in 1970. But fear not, there’s always a solution for aromatherapy practitioners and users. Australian sandalwood plantations have been growing Inidian sandalwood trees successfully over last 2 decades.

(Indian sandalwood seedling planted with its host plant)

Australia is also home to another species of sandalwood tree – Santalum spicatum, a native sandalwood. Producing a lighter and less intense essential oil than Santalum album, Santalum spicatum is fast becoming the preferred option for herbalists and for use in aromatherapy. With a long history of sustainable harvest, Australian sandalwood has been regulated since the 1920s, with management of wild harvesting and stringent guidelines for replanting and the establishment of sandalwood plantations. Considered to be very similar in constituents and actions to Indian sandalwood, Australian sandalwood has a history of use for its topical antiseptic and antibacterial qualities. The woody fragrance of Australian sandalwood is calming and soothing and suitable for massage, essential oil diffusers and also for a range of natural skin care applications.

The main difference between Australian and Indian sandalwood essential oils is that Australian variety (S. spicatum) contains nearly twice as little of the main constituent (15-25% of alpha- santalol) as its Indian counterpart (about 45-50%).

Some of the most-often quoted qualities of Sandalwood essential oils are: relaxing and calming, helps with memory, astrigent (causing the contraction of skin cells -helpful in natural cosmetics), anti-viral and antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, anti-ageing, aphrodisiac.

Here’s a good “BUT” from me – but aren’t we supposed to work towards sustainability and choose essential oils which would be suitable for a particular condition taking into account their price, sustainability in their farming practices, as well as availability?

For instance, in this study, it says that sandalwood essential oil exhibited anti-viral action against herpes virus. And a lot of companies (retailers, producers) jumped at it and now use anti-viral action of sandalwood as a selling pitch. But if you read the study, thyme, ginger and hyssop were trialed and performed just as well as sandalwood. The cost to my client would be considerably smaller if I prescribe thyme, for instance!

Sandalwood’s protective action against sun-damage associated skin cancer has been documented and this is one of the cases, where I’d use it in skincare.

My take on using Sandalwood essential oil is this: use it for its unique properties – APHRODISIAC (you can’t go cheap in this area!) – skin products and perfumery, ANTI-AGEING and ASTRIGENT – skin products, ANXIOLYTIC / ANTIDEPRESSANTツ – inhalation, massage, topical application of diluted oil. That’s it. There’re much better and cheaper expectorants, anti-virals and anti-inflammatories in the world of essential oils!

Use luxury oils, such as Sandalwood, appropriately and help nature as it helps you.