Sandalwood: What It Smells Like, Key Benefits, Substitutes, & Where To Buy

If there was one scent that is the cornerstone of the men’s grooming world, it’s undoubtedly going to be sandalwood.

Found in countless shave creams, beard oils, shaving oils, and other products that make you look and feel great, sandalwood is everywhere.

However, if you have been on the fence about upgrading a few grooming products and are trying to hammer down the scents offered, sandalwood can be a difficult one to explain as its incredibly distinct.

But here’s the consensus:

Most men agree that sandalwood smells like a delicate balance between both a sweet and woody scents. 

The moment you smell sandalwood, you will likely recognize it immediately.

Not be confused with bay rum (which is another incredible scent), sandalwood is often the base scent for many shave creams that are found in barbershops everywhere.

But why?

behind the head view of a man shaving with razor

Sandalwood Oil Uses That You Should Care About

The benefits of sandalwood reach far and wide.

While we won’t expand too much on the therapeutic aspects of this highly coveted fragrance, we do want to hammer home a few key elements when it comes to your grooming routine.

Sandalwood has many key medicinal properties including the following:

Antiseptic: This is incredibly important, especially if you are using a shaving cream that relies on real sandalwood oil.  You can verify this by simply looking at the ingredients and see if it says sandalwood essential oil or fragrance (a chemical compound).

Why should you care though?

Well, being that you are dragging a razor along the surface of your skin, if it wasn’t prepped properly, you may experience a nick or two.

The antiseptic properties of sandalwood will help to fully flush any bacteria so you don’t develop an infection.

Astringent:  While not nearly as effective as witch hazel, a key ingredient found in aftershave balms, sandalwood oil does have mild astringent properties.

While pores don’t open and close (despite the old wives’ tale), astringents do help to tighten the skin mildly.

This can help to give you a slightly more even-toned complexion.

Anti-inflammatoryAnyone that has gone against the grain when using their beloved razor will likely be in pain long after the shave is over.

Sandalwood is a natural anti-inflammatory agent found in many aftershave balms for this very reason.  It provides soothing relief to razor burn without any sort of stinging sensation.

Anti-aging & anti-oxidant: Men in their 30s take note – sandalwood oil can be terrific in combating free radicals.  This means that regular application of sandalwood via a shaving cream or beard oil can help ward off fine lines and wrinkles.  While we still strongly suggest you adopt a regular skincare routine and moisturize daily, this additional property found in sandalwood is a welcomed one.

Men’s Products That Rely Heavily On Sandalwood

Here are a few sandalwood based products that men often find themselves applying/using on a daily basis:

Sandalwood Shave Cream

eshave sandalwood save cream

eShave Sandalwood Shave Cream

If you are looking to get that classic barbershop scent through essential oils, then you will want to get a shaving cream like this one offered by eShave.  Unlike many shave creams that state they are ‘sandalwood’ only a rare few actually contain real sandalwood.

Seriously, if you just do a search on Amazon for ‘sandalwood shave cream’ you have to look long and hard before you can actually find a product that relies on NATURAL ingredients in order to develop a scent (nearly all others are a chemical derivative ‘fargrance/parfum’).

Here’s why you should care:

REAL sandalwood is great at nourishing and keeping your skin healthy while you shave.  While synthetic scented shave creams may deliver good performance, you still are missing out on all the secondary benefits that natural sandalwood can deliver (i.e. anti-inflammatory, astringent, antiseptic, etc.).

A word of note if you are coming from a traditional gel or canned shave cream:

Store-bought shave creams can be used straight from the can.  However, artisanal creams like the one offered here by eShave will need to be used in tandem with a shave brush.  If it’s your first time using a quality shave cream, a ~$20 shave brush should be more than enough to get you started.

Sandalwood Aftershave For Men

lather and wood aftershave balm

Lather & Wood Aftershave Balm

One of the best aftershave balms that we recently reviewed was this offering by Lather & Wood.

Relying on a plethora of natural ingredients to make for some effective results including aloe leaf oil, coconut oil, witch hazel, several other ingredients, and yes, real sandalwood oil.

If you used an aftershave splash or lotion in the past and hated the stinging sensation that the alcohol in them gives, then you will LOVE aftershave balm.

In fact, if you have an aftershave splash or lotion, throw it out now.  It’s doing you a huge disservice for your skin (stinging pain aside).

Aftershave balms are absent of any alcohol, therefore when it’s applied to your skin it will work with your skin and provide all the great antiseptic properties in a natural way (sandalwood oil anyone?!).

But beyond just helping to clear out your pores post-shave, sandalwood based aftershave balm’s like this one from Lather & Wood will help to keep your face nourished.  If you live in a dry climate or it’s in the middle of winter, you will really see the benefits of aftershave balm as you will no longer have terribly ashy cheeks.

amber bottle with dropper

Sandalwood Substitutes

If you are thinking about trying out the whole DIY thing and creating your very own shaving oil, shaving cream, or beard oil, then sandalwood would make an excellent base.

However, given that sandalwood essential oil is one of the priciest oils that you can purchase given its popularity coupled with its rarity in recent years create an environment where many men often resort to substitutes (and also the reason why it’s really hard to find natural sandalwood in shave cream and shave soaps).

But alas, if you are in a pinch, one of the closest cousins to sandalwood will be cedarwood.

While somewhat absent of the sweet notes found in sandalwood, cedarwood still has a very similar woody base that somewhat resembles a sandalwood oil.

One other essential oil that has a lot of the same benefits as sandalwood is tea tree oil.  While this oil can be found in many beard oils, it evokes a natural outdoorsy scent that so many men tend to love.

Whatever you decide on a substitute for sandalwood, we would recommend strongly on avoiding a chemically derived sandalwood fragrance.  Per the highly respected Environmental Working Group (EWG), fragrance (or often referred to as parfum) is rated an 8 out of 10 on their hazard scale.

The fragrance when it comes to cosmetics is an umbrella term that can contain over 2,000 different chemicals.  Therefore, companies aren’t required to disclose the ingredients under the fragrance umbrella.

Where To Buy Sandalwood Oil

Sandalwood can be pretty tough to find at a brick-and-mortar shop.

Its rarity coupled with the lack of many natural stores (with exception of Whole Foods and Fairway) that stock it on a regular basis forces folks to turn to online retailers like Amazon (which of course owns Whole Foods).

When browsing the different types of sandalwoods, the best sandalwood oil you can buy will be sourced from India.

However, a good secondary, and often cheaper oil, will be sandalwood that is sourced from Australia.

While the United States does have some sandalwood farms (particularly on the west coast), importing from overseas farms will offer a far superior quality.

Adam Williams

As the lead editor of Tools of Men, Adam loves men's grooming products. Particularly of interest is managing facial hair and perfecting the art of the modern man's skincare routine. His work has been featured or quoted in several publications, including New York Magazine, Vice, Sharpologist, MIC, Elite Daily, and more. When Adam isn't working, he enjoys spending time with his two little kids who keep him both on his toes and young at heart.

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