What is Sandalwood Incense Used For?

Sandalwood incense has been used for thousands of years in spiritual practices, religious ceremonies, and healing therapies across many cultures. Known for its sweet, woody aroma and numerous health benefits, sandalwood incense continues to be a popular choice for meditation, relaxation, and creating a sacred ambiance.

In this guide, we will explore the history, traditional uses, scientific research, and modern applications of sandalwood incense to gain a holistic understanding of this treasured fragrant wood.

A Brief History of Sandalwood Use

Sandalwood has a long history of use dating back over 4000 years to ancient India, Egypt, China, and Japan. The aromatic wood is mentioned in the oldest Hindu text Rig Veda and was used for temple construction and incense in ancient Egypt.

In India, sandalwood has played an important spiritual role in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism for millennia and is known as “chandana” in Sanskrit. It is seen as divine, used in worship, and thought to connect people with the gods.

In Chinese medicine, sandalwood is credited in ancient texts with healing properties and was integral in religious ceremonies. The wood’s cooling energy is said to calm the mind and relieve anxiety.

In Japan, sandalwood has been used in temples, shrines, and tea ceremonies since the Heian period (794-1185). The wood is admired for its ability to focus the mind and create tranquil settings.

So from Asia to the Middle East, sandalwood incense has been revered worldwide in spiritual traditions for its sacred aroma and purported healing powers.

Traditional Uses of Sandalwood Incense

Sandalwood has traditionally been used in many ways, with burning incense made from the wood being perhaps the most common. Some of the traditional uses of sandalwood incense include:

  • Religious ceremonies – Sandalwood incense is burned in Hindu temples, Buddhist monasteries, and during important Jain rituals. The aroma is thought to sanctify spaces and facilitate connection with the divine.
  • Meditation and reflection – The grounding scent promotes calm, focus, and inner awareness during meditation, prayer, and contemplation.
  • Healing – In Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, sandalwood incense is used to treat ailments like anxiety, digestive issues, headaches, and skin irritation.
  • Protection – The smoke is believed to ward off evil spirits, cleanse energy, and create positive vibrations. Burning sandalwood during childbirth was thought to ease pain and bring good fortune.
  • Romance – Sandalwood has aphrodisiac properties and was traditionally used to enhance intimacy and sensuality between lovers.
  • Death rituals – Sandalwood incense is often burned beside corpses prior to cremations and burials in Asia to bless the departed soul.
  • Aromatherapy – Inhaling sandalwood aroma is said to promote healing, uplift mood, reduce stress, and improve sleep.

So for thousands of years across many cultures, sandalwood has been a treasured incense used ceremonially, therapeutically, and for spiritual nourishment.

Modern Research on Benefits of Sandalwood

While sandalwood incense has a long traditional history, modern research has also uncovered a number of beneficial effects of this aromatic wood:

  • Anxiety – Studies show sandalwood oil reduces anxiety, blood pressure, and cortisol levels thanks to its sedative properties. The incense may have similar calming effects.
  • Depression – Research found sandalwood oil uplifts mood and motivation levels, believed to be from stimulation of serotonin. This suggests the incense could also help relieve depression.
  • Memory – Inhaling sandalwood oil appears to improve memory performance and cognitive functioning, especially in seniors. Burning sticks may also provide a cognitive boost.
  • Antiseptic – Sandalwood oil demonstrates broad-spectrum anti-bacterial effects, validating its traditional use to treat infections and skin irritation. Lighting incense may help purify air.
  • Anticancer – Early cell studies reveal sandalwood oil induces cancer cell death and reduces tumor growth, indicating potential anti-carcinogenic effects.
  • Circadian rhythms – The traditional use of sandalwood to promote sleep seems supported by studies showing the oil influences circadian rhythms and melatonin secretion.

So modern research provides tangible evidence for many of the traditional medicinal uses of sandalwood. While more human studies are needed, the emerging research is encouraging.

Key Takeaway: Modern scientific studies validate many of the traditional healing benefits of sandalwood incense, from reducing anxiety to supporting sleep, memory, and more.

Common Uses of Sandalwood Incense Today

Given its ancient heritage and broad therapeutic potential, sandalwood retains great cultural value and popularity around the world today. Some current uses include:

Spirituality and Cleansing

Sandalwood remains indispensable in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain rituals as well as Chinese temples. Burning the incense is believed to sanctify spaces, cleanse energy, invoke divine presence, open chakras, and promote spiritual insight.

Meditation and Yoga

The sweet, woody scent enhances concentration during meditation, prayer, and yoga. It is thought to deepen awareness, calm the mind, reduce stress, and facilitate states of higher consciousness.

Relaxation and Sleep

Many burn sandalwood incense sticks or cones to create a relaxing vibe at home and to unwind in the evenings. Its sedative effect helps calm nerves, ease anxiety, and promote sound sleep.


Essential oils and incenses made from sandalwood are commonly used in aromatherapy and natural medicine for their therapeutic effects on both body and mind.


Sandalwood oil and extracts are popular ingredients in skin and hair care products for their supposed anti-aging effects and ability to soothe irritated skin.


The beloved fragrance has been used for centuries in perfumes, soaps, cosmetics and still provides an earthy, creamy, lingering base note in modern perfumery.

So thanks to its sacred aroma and diverse benefits, sandalwood incense remains a treasured way to nourish the soul and enhance well-being in today’s fast-paced world.

Choosing Quality Sandalwood Incense

With the popularity of sandalwood incense, quality can vary. Here are tips for choosing pure, therapeutic products:

  • 100% natural – Avoid products with synthetic additives and fragrances. Select wood-based incense for best aroma.
  • Sustainably sourced – Seek ethically harvested incense to protect rare sandalwood trees and forests. Indian sandalwood is at risk of being unsustainably harvested.
  • Reputable brand – Research brands and read reviews to find high quality incense known for authentic sandalwood scent.
  • No extenders – Some incense contains sawdust or extenders to dilute the pricey sandalwood. Check ingredient lists and origin.
  • Price – Pure sandalwood is expensive, so be wary of very cheap products. But also watch for overpricing.

With rising demand, sandalwood incense is prone to adulteration. But selecting natural, ethical products from reputable sellers helps ensure purity and therapeutic benefits.

How To Use Sandalwood Incense

Using sandalwood incense properly optimizes the relaxation, focus, and cleansing effects. Here are some tips:

  • Burn in a well-ventilated area and avoid breathing smoke directly for extended periods. Open windows to allow circulation.
  • Light the tip and let it self-burn down the stick or cone. Don’t blow out the flame as it will produce more smoke.
  • Place on a heat-safe surface and use an incense burner to catch falling ash. Never leave burning incense unattended.
  • Try burning sandalwood 20-60 minutes before meditation, yoga, or sleep to allow its calming properties to take effect.
  • Add a few drops of sandalwood essential oil to an oil burner or diffuser for a more intense aroma around the home.
  • For skin care, add several drops of sandalwood oil to unscented lotions or creams and apply topically after patch testing.
  • Combine sandalwood with other complementary incense scents like lavender, vanilla, cinnamon, or lemongrass to create custom aromatic blends.

Following basic safety tips and experimenting with different applications allows you to safely harness the many uplifting benefits of sandalwood incense.

Potential Side Effects

When used correctly, sandalwood incense is very safe for most people. However, potential side effects to be aware of include:

  • Rare allergic reactions – Discontinue use if signs of respiratory distress, skin reaction, or severe headache occur.
  • Throat irritation – Heavy exposure to smoke may cause sore throat or coughing in sensitive people.
  • Headaches – The strong fragrance can occasionally trigger headaches, especially in those prone to migraines.
  • Lethargy – The sedative effect may cause drowsiness or impaired alertness when inhaling large amounts. Exercise caution when driving or operating machinery.
  • Interactions – Effects may be enhanced when combined with other depressants like alcohol, benzodiazepines, or sleep medication.

While quite rare, it’s prudent to start with short exposure times and discontinue use if any concerning side effects develop when using sandalwood incense or oils. Consulting an aromatherapist or doctor can also help identify any risks related to your health status.

Unique Benefits, Endless Possibilities

Sandalwood incense offers profound relaxation and spiritual nourishment – benefits still treasured today after thousands of years of use across many cultures.

Yet our understanding of this ancient aromatic wood continues to evolve as modern research uncovers new therapeutic applications from skin care to memory support and beyond.

Steeped in sacred wisdom yet still revealing fresh possibilities, sandalwood elegantly crosses the boundaries of time and culture to uplift and heal humanity through the universal language of scent.

Approached mindfully and with respect for its long heritage, the sweet woody aroma can transport us to a dimension beyond words that gently whispers: breathe deeply and remember who you are.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is sandalwood incense made of?

Sandalwood incense is made from the aromatic heartwood of sandalwood trees, primarily the species Santalum album and Santalum spicatum. Sandalwood powder or oil is blended with binders like gum arabic, makko powder, or saltpeter to make incense sticks, cones, or coils.

What religion uses sandalwood incense?

Sandalwood incense has been used for centuries in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and traditional Chinese religion. The fragrant wood is considered divine and also used in religious ceremonies of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.

How is sandalwood incense used?

Sandalwood incense is commonly burned to scent the air, enhance meditation, cleanse energy, improve mood and sleep, and to honor the divine in sacred ceremonies and private rituals. It is also used in aromatherapy, skin care, and perfumes.

What does sandalwood incense smell like?

Sandalwood incense has a sweet, rich, balsamic, creamy and woody aroma. The relaxing, meditative fragrance is subtle, not overpowering, and largely appealing to both men and women.

What are the benefits of sandalwood incense?

Research shows benefits like reducing anxiety, enhancing memory, supporting sleep, calming mind and body, decreasing inflammation, fighting infections, and potentially inhibiting cancer cell growth. It has many spiritual uses too.

Is sandalwood incense good for anxiety?

Yes, studies demonstrate sandalwood’s sedating compounds provides anxiety relief, making it a popular incense choice for helping calm nerves, ease stress, and promote mindfulness.

Does sandalwood incense help you sleep?

Its traditional use as a sleep aid seems supported by its relaxing properties. The incense can help initiate sleepiness, improve sleep quality, and balance circadian rhythms that regulate sleep according to research.

So in summary, sandalwood incense has a rich history, numerous proven and potential benefits, and remains a popular natural therapy for uplifting both body and spirit today. This revered aromatic wood is certainly an intriguing and versatile natural remedy worth exploring.