The oil of the sweet-smelling sandalwood tree has a long history of use as a perfume and incense fragrance. Sandalwood oil also has a medicinal tradition in various countries, having been used for digestive distress, liver problems, acne and other skin problems, gonorrhea, anxiety, and insomnia. Additionally, it has played a role in some Hindu religious ceremonies, and has been used as a meditation aid.
Sandalwood oil has been approved by German’s Commission E for treatment of bladder infections.1 It is not recommended as sole treatment, but rather as an accompaniment to conventional care. However, there is no meaningful evidence that it is effective for this purpose. Only double-blind, placebo-controlled studies can prove that a treatment really works, and no studies of this type have been performed with sandalwood. (For information on why such studies are essential, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies?)
Weak evidence, far too preliminary to rely upon at all, hints that sandalwood may have antiviral,2 anti– Helicobacterpylori ( Helicobacter pylori is the underlying cause of most stomach ulcers),3 sedative,4,5 and cancer-preventive6-8 properties.
According to Germany’s Commission E, sandalwood oil should be taken at a dose of 1–1.5 grams daily in enteric-coated form for supportive treatment of urinary tract infections. (“Enteric-coated” products are designed so they do not open up and release their contents until they reach the small intestine.) However, this is a relatively high dose for an essential oil, and should only be used under the supervion of a physician. Non–enteric-coated products may cause stomach distress. For external use in skin conditions, a few drops of the oil are added to a cup of water.
Sandalwood oil appears to be relatively safe, but it has not undergone comprehensive safety testing; in general, essential oil can have toxic and even fatal effects when taken in sufficient doses, especially by children. Allergic reactions caused by direct contact with sandalwood oil occur relatively frequently.9-11 Sandalwood oil should not be used by young children, pregnant or nursing women, or people with severe liver or kidney disease.
1. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: TherapeuticGuide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998:199.
2. Benencia F, Courreges MC. Antiviral activity of sandalwood oil against herpes simplex viruses-1 and -2. Phytomedicine. 1999;6:119–23.
3. Ochi T, Shibata H, Higuti T, et al. Anti- Helicobacter pylori compounds from Santalum album. J Nat Prod. 2005;68:819–24.
4. Okugawa H, Ueda R, Matsumoto K, et al. Effect of alpha-santalol and beta-santalol from sandalwood on the central nervous system in mice. Phytomedicine. 1995;2:119–126.
5. Hongratanaworakit T, Heuberger E, Buchbauer G, et al. Evaluation of the effects of East Indian sandalwood oil and alpha-santalol on humans after transdermal absorption. Planta Med. 2004;70:3–7.
6. Dwivedi C, Guan X, Harmsen WL, et al. Chemopreventive effects of alpha-santalol on skin tumor development in CD-1 and SENCAR mice. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2003;12:151–6.
7. Dwivedi C, Zhang Y. Sandalwood oil prevent skin tumour development in CD1 mice. Eur J Cancer Prev. 1999;8:449–55.
8. Dwivedi C, Abu-Ghazaleh A. Chemopreventive effects of sandalwood oil on skin papillomas in mice. Eur JCancer Prev. 1998;6:399–401.
9. Frosch PJ, Johansen JD, Menne T, et al. Further important sensitizers in patients sensitive to fragrances. Contact Dermatitis. 2003;47:279–87.
10. Sandra A, Shenoi D, Srinivas CR. Allergic contact dermatitis from red sandalwood ( Pterocarpus santalinus). Contact Dermatitis. 1996;34:69.
11. Sharma R, Bajaj AK, Singh KG. Sandalwood dermatitis. Int J Dermatol. 1987;26:597.
Last reviewed September 2014 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Last Updated: 9/18/2014