With its unique fragrance, wide variety of uses, and benefits for both wellbeing and skincare, Sandalwood has a rich history and popularity around the world. However, it’s thought that up to 90% of sandalwood on the global market is illegally harvested. We believe it’s important to understand the controversies associated with Sandalwood production and distribution, as part of being a responsible consumer.
Sandalwood's Popularity, Uses and Benefits
Sandalwood has a beautifully warm, sweet, rich and woody scent. It has been used for centuries in its various forms, and its uses are wide-ranging. As well has having religious significance within Buddhism, Jainism, Sufism and other East Asian religions, Sandalwood is perhaps most well-known in the Western world for its uses in skincare, aromatherapy and perfumery.
Sandalwood has a long history of use in meditation, worship and yoga for its ability to clear the mind. In aromatherapy, it is used to decrease anxiety, ease bodily tension, calm the nervous system, help manage emotional eating, and promote better quality sleep. Interestingly, while Sandalwood oil has been observed to act as a relaxant physically, it’s believed to be a stimulant behaviorally; increasing the rate of alertness.
Within skincare, Indian Sandalwood oil is believed to help soothe skin inflammation – such as for cases of eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis and acne – as well as helping to reduce signs of ageing by way of preventing hyperpigmentation, repairing the damage to skin caused by UV and blue light, and smoothing and evening skin tone due to its moisturising and astringent properties.
A History of Over-Harvesting and Deforestation
Historically, India was the main global supplier of Sandalwood oil, while Indonesia was the largest supplier of raw Sandalwood until 1970, when the Indonesian government banned its Sandalwood export. As a result, India subsequently exported raw sandalwood, which led to widespread deforestation and exploitation of natural tree reserves.
It takes approximately 20 years for a tree to mature. Once mature, the entire tree must be felled to produce essential oil, shavings and powders. In addition, the trees are partially parasitic, meaning they require host trees to receive nutrients from and to provide protection from intense sunlight. Therefore, if new trees and host plants are not promptly re-planted and if harvesting is not conducted in a sustainable manner, intense deforestation is a sad but inevitable consequence.
To stop illegal activities, the Indian government passed regulations and regulated the trade of Sandalwood, placing an export ban on Sandalwood timber. However, similar problems with over-harvesting and the illicit trade of Sandalwood have also been evident in East Africa and, sadly, up to 90% of Sandalwood on the global market is thought to be illegally harvested.
Over-harvesting and deforestation can have devasting impacts not only environmentally, but socially and economically as well.
A More Sustainable Alternative
At Songbird Naturals, we choose to use Australian Sandalwood oil in our selected Massage Waxes. We are proud to use high quality, sustainably-sourced Sandalwood oil from sustainable Sandalwood forests in Australia, where the trees are grown organically from seeds, and are certified by Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®), Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and Responsible Wood (AU).
Our decision to use Australian Sandalwood over Indian Sandalwood is not just an ethical choice; we also found that the Australian Sandalwood creates a much more pleasant and harmonious scent in our blends, compared to the Indian Sandalwood. Whilst retaining the classic woody base note associated with Indian Sandalwood, Australian Sandalwood has a greener, fresher top note, which blends beautifully in our Massage Waxes.