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7 Must Knows about REAL Indian Sandalwood

sandalwood incense

East Indian Sandalwood (otherwise known as Mysore Sandalwood, Chandan, White Sandalwood) is only grown in the south of India.  Sandalwood has been used for thousands of years for its healing properties and fragrance and it is inextricably woven richly into the religious and cultural history of India. Adored the world over for its uses in holistic medicine, skin care and natural perfumes, there is more to this precious ingredient than you may at first assume.  Around 75% of contemporary perfumes contain sandalwood.

1. Why is sandalwood so popular in natural perfumery?

Sandalwood oil is an invaluable base note in perfumery.  It’s aroma is not as strong as many other base notes but its subtle, warm, wonderfully sexy and slightly spicy aroma blends easily with a broad range of other essential oils.

It compliments, other woody oils (a simple cedarwood/sandalwood combination is nothing short of delicious to me) , and supports florals with the ability to gently temper overpowering sweetness if necessary.  The slight spiciness fits perfectly in oriental perfumes and may soften the edges of balsamic notes such as frankincense or elemi. You will find sandalwood often paired with other spicy oils or complimenting citrus tones. Sandalwood is often found alongside resinous and vanillic oils in amber accords of various descriptions.

2. Where does sandalwood oil come from?

Mysore Sandalwood comes from the tree Santalum album.This species of sandalwood is now on the red list of threatened species as per The International Union for Conservation of Nature. For the best quality oil the tree needs to be at least 30 years old.

Sandalwood essential oil maybe steam distilled, or extracted using CO2 or a solvent.

 3. How is sandalwood harvested?

The essential oil is obtained from the roots and the heartwood of the tree which means the entire tree needs to be uprooted.  This has created enormous problems around sustainability….

4. Why is sandalwood oil so expensive?

Sandalwood oil has always been expensive, but due to dwindling resources the price is now extremely high and continuing to rise. The endangered species status of Santalum album is due to illegal cutting of trees to harvest the valuable oil, before the tree is properly mature. There is no longer enough sandalwood supply to meet the demand.  The price of sandalwood currently increases by about 25% per year.

5. What are we doing to meet the demand for sandalwood?

Sandalwood plantations are springing up across parts of Asia, Australia, Vanuatu, Costa Rica.  These are different species of sandalwood (santalum spicata and santalum astrocaledonicum.  They have different properties and a slightly different aroma to the East Indian Sandalwood tree, but are worthy substitutes, for those dedicated to best practice aromatherapy and perfumery.

The East Indian Sandalwood (Santalum Album) essential oil is still considered to be the creme de la creme with an aroma that has a particular depth about it that the other species lack.

Products that claim to be sustainable and using ethical ingredients will always be using varieties such as santalum spicata or santalum astrocaledonicum or even amyris balsmifera.  These are the ones that environmentally conscious consumers will be looking for to replace East Indian Sandalwood in their formulations. Currently Australia is the worlds largest producer of sandalwood oil (santalum spicata) exporting around the world, including to India.

6. Don’t be duped into buying fake Sandalwood

Because East Indian Sandalwood oil has become so rare and expensive, but the demand is still there, sadly it is an oil that is often adulterated, ‘stretched’ or simply not what it claims to be.  Or the oil is from young trees (and therefore inferior), cut before their time. So if you MUST buy this precious oil, make sure you are shopping at reputable suppliers to get what you are paying for.  And if its cheap, it ain’t proper Indian Sandalwood…

7. Are there any viable alternatives to Sandalwood that I can use?

If you are looking for products and businesses that are eco friendly and sustainable make sure they contain a sandalwood that is from Australia or New Caledonia or Amyris (amyris balsamifera) sometimes knows as West Indian Sandalwood.  Some of our natural perfumes you will find sandalwood (santalum spicata) from New Caledonia, Vanuatu or Australia and others use Amyris. (Balance, Me, Myself and I, Love and Light,  Our mission statement states that we ‘will not contribute to the eradication of medicinal plants world wide’  As such we are committed to always looking for sustainable alternatives. Yay for Us!!

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