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What Sandalwood Smells Like + Origins and Benefits

Sandalwood is the story of how the fragrant bark from India’s Santalum trees enchanted the world. It’s been used for thousands of years in both Hindu and Buddist religious rituals. Now that we know a little more about it, we’re going to process the question ‘What does sandalwood smell like?’.

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In the West, sandalwood is frequently used as a home fragrance or as a base in perfumes. It has a warm relaxing quality that explains its immense popularity, but what exactly is the scent of the enchanted?


What Does Sandalwood Smell Like?

While sandalwood is obviously a wood, it’s often put in a category of its own due to its unique characteristics. It smells distinctly exotic, sweet, creamy, smooth, and warm all at once. It’s a precious-wood scent that is instantly recognizable once you know what sandalwood smells like.

Sandalwood adds nuance, warmth, and complexity and is often paired with woody fragrances like rosewood, or cedar or other essential oils like patchouli, vetiver, and vanilla.

It is a key ingredient in the so-called floriental or floral-amber fragrance families when combined with white florals like orange blossom, jasmine, ylang-ylang, magnolia, gardenia or tuberose.

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But the reason sandalwood has become a mainstay in many men’s (and an increasing number of women’s) fragrances is that it works as an excellent base for many other scents.

Its scent has often been described as woody, soft, milky, warm, creamy and smooth. Its long-lasting, woody notes are popular among a variety of fragrance families, including oriental, woody, chypre, fougere and floriental. It is also commonly used as a fixative and enhancer for citrus and floral fragrances.

Unlike many other fragrance types, sandalwood colognes can easily transition between the seasons, making it the perfect choice as a year-round, signature fragrance.

Sandalwood tree, popular ayurvedic plant, taken in Kerala, India
Sandalwood tree, popular ayurvedic plant, taken in Kerala, India

Where Does Sandalwood Come From?

Sandalwood originated from the Santalum album tree of Southern India. It’s an extremely slow-growing tree that has to be at least 15 years old before it’s considered eligible to harvest.

Sandalwood is the second most expensive wood in the world (after African blackwood). Because of this, the trees are not cut at the ground like most woods but pulled down to their roots and processed to maximize profit.

Sandalwood has been so heavily harvested in India, it is currently considered a threatened species. Unfortunately, even though sandalwood harvests are now largely controlled by the government, there are still problems with illegal harvesting.

While Indian sandalwood is still considered the highest quality and best smelling, most of the sandalwood you see on the market now comes from Indonesia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Hawaii, and Australia.

More recently a synthetic chemical fragrance Isobornyl cyclohexanol is used as an alternative to the natural product.

what does sandalwood smell like

What Are the Benefits of Sandalwood?

Sandalwood has long been seen as having unique benefits both to mental and physical health. Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine both use sandalwood oil to treat a wide range of ailments.

Beyond sandalwood’s use in perfumes, it has astringent, antiseptic, and skin-softening properties making it popular in many bathroom toiletries. Recent studies also indicate it may increase mental alertness and decrease anxiety.


Born and raised in Austin, David is a dedicated writer and avid fragrance lover. When he's not trying out perfumes, he enjoys traveling and exploring new restaurants.