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Aroma Science

Perfumery & Fragrance of Sandalwood

Sandalwood’s sweet, warm, and woody fragrance is known for its ability to retain its rich scent for many years and is thus an invaluable product in the perfume and fragrance industry.  This oil has been revered as a fragrance since around 700 B.C., when it was used in Indian and Chinese joss (incense) sticks. Sandalwood oil was also used as the crucial base for the Indian attar, absorbing the other essential oils added from flowers and herbs.

Sandalwood oil emerged in European and American perfumery during the 1900s. Today in perfumery, this oil is known to provide fragrances with a striking, woody base note. It helps blend other oils and adds an elegance without overpowering other aromas. It is an essential part of some of the world’s most popular perfumes, including “Obsession” by Calvin Klein and “Opium” by Yves St. Laurent. Its rich fragrance also lends itself well as an ingredient in soaps, shampoos, lotions, and bath oils (WA Sandalwood Plantations, source). Sandalwood exports to the United States are primarily for use in the perfume industry (Ted Case Studies, source, 1997).

Sandalwood’s dominant presence in European and American perfumery adds to the high demand for sandalwood products, possibly contributing to sandalwood’s exploitation around the world. Alexandre Choueiri, president of International Designer Collections—which includes Armani, Ralph Lauren, L’Oréal and others—spoke at the 2008 Sandalwood Conference in Western Australia, noting that “of 7,000 classified fragrances since the year 1750, 3,212 contain sandalwood notes.” Choueiri, drawing on data from Fragrances of the World by Michael Edwards, pointed out that “Of 106 current fragrances now listing sandalwood, 36 detail Indian sandalwood, and of those, only detail Mysore sandalwood.” Indian sandalwood, especially sourced from the city of Mysore, is one of the rarest and most highly-prized types of S. album, considered a “vulnerable species” by the IUCN.  Despite this fact, many major fragrance companies continue to use this resource (Burfield, source, 2009).

In addition to the United States and Europe, the fragrance of sandalwood is also popular throughout the Middle East. Historically, the fragrance of sandalwood was highly sought after by the Islamic community, as well as by other spiritual communities, and today in the Middle East the aroma of sandalwood still permeates coffee shops and bazaars.  A blend of sandalwood and patchouli are used in the tobacco paste called “Jurok” smoked by men (and rarely by women) in a water-pipe (or hookah) (Leffingwell, source, 2006).