What Does Sandalwood Smell Like? 8 Perfumes To Smell Like Sandalwood

Sandalwood smells like woods and calm.

So, what does sandalwood smell like?

Sandalwood smells beautiful and rich. It’s an amazingly complex scent.  It’s a woody, creamy fragrance that reminds you of vanilla with hints of musk.

Unfortunately, words are not good enough to describe it. It’s one of nature’s best fragrances, if not the best.

Sandalwood’s 5,000-year history is fascinating. It is an ancient tree whose origins are deeply rooted in Hindu traditions.

A scent with enough stories to fill hundreds of pages.

Let’s explore this extraordinary tree and its smelly history.

What is Sandalwood?

Santalum Album is a mythical tree revered by many cultures.

The heartwood of the tree hides one of the best smells from nature. Almost like a magical smelly gift hidden inside a tree.

From the beginning of time, its scent has been used to better people’s lives. Its history resembles Indian culture. Beautiful and tragic. [1]

The Egyptians utilized sandalwood’s heartwood to embalm the dead. In India, centuries before aromatherapy, its scent was used to promote inner peace.

For over 5000 years, sandalwood oil has been used in perfumes and pharmaceuticals.  Its impact goes beyond that of an ingredient. It’s a cultural phenomenon.

Only its origins can compare with the richness of its scent. Muslims, Buddhists, and Hinduism burn sandalwood in their rituals.

Throughout history, sandalwood oil has been traded all over the world. Its smell, almost too good to be close to feel magical, delights all.

This could be a beautiful story, like sandalwood’s smell, but it is not. Sandalwood is one of the most expensive woods in the world today.

Mysore sandalwood is endangered because of excessive harvesting. Its trade is restricted, and for almost 40 years, sandalwood has been replaced by synthetic clones.

Where Does Sandalwood Come From?

Indian sandalwood is of the highest quality, but its trade is almost impossible. It’s cultivated in the Southern region of India by monopolies that have depleted the land.

There are no sandalwood plantations. It has been exploited for monetary reasons. India has taken some measures in the last few years, but much damage has been done.

Hawaiian sandalwood is used as a substitute, but it lacks depth in aroma. Australian sandalwood is also quite popular, but it cannot compete with Indian sandalwood. 

The perfume industry has dealt with this issue by trying to find synthetic alternatives.

For nearly 100 years, man has been trying to recreate the smell of nature. Especially sandalwood’s scent, present in almost every fragrance.

Perfumery attempts to replace the natural world with technology. The smell show must go on.

Modern Uses of Sandalwood

Sandalwood essential oil is one of the best-selling oils out there.

Its benefits escape the scope of our perfume blog, but sandalwood’s scent calms you. 

It’s relaxing by nature, and it creates a mood of peace.  Aromatherapy is a vast business, and sandalwood oil contributes to it.

Sandalwood soap is another lovely application of this sacred wood.  Or how about a candle with a sweet woody scent? The perfect gift for your mom.

The heartwood is not wasted. It’s a costly material for carving beautiful designs. Especially figures of gods and mythological creatures. 

This also increases sandalwood’s demand, making it so expensive.

What Does Sandalwood Smell Like?

I love sandalwood’s smell. 

Sandalwood candles, sandalwood shaving cream, sandalwood essential oil. I have smelled them all. They are amazing.

But they’re not real sandalwood. Javanol is a synthetic alternative to sandalwood.

One of my favorite fragrances, Molecule 04 by Escentric Molecules, is pure Javanol. It’s a creamy fragrance, with a vanilla scent and traces of something woody. Maybe tonka beans. And cedar. Ridiculously potent.

True sandalwood smells luxurious. Not clean or fresh. Rich and complex like the beauty of nature.

To my nose, real sandalwood resembles musk, woody vanilla, and something else. Combined by the best perfumer. Nature.

If you can find natural sandalwood, you won’t forget its smell.

Sandalwood’s tree takes its time to grow—around 15 years. Hopefully, someday it will be easy to buy natural sandalwood.

However, we are dependent on nature and human greed.

Sandalwood and the Fragrance World

Sandalwood isn’t just another ingredient.  Sandalwood’s fragrance oil is at the heart of almost every fragrance out there.

Not only because it is a captivating scent. It’s also a practical matter. It’s a brilliant base. It plays great with other ingredients, making them shine.

Even if you can’t smell it, sandalwood tends to be in the background, making things work.

At this very moment, a perfumer is attempting to replicate the scent of sandalwood.  Perfumers need sandalwood, almost like most of us need coffee to function. If you interview one of them, they will complain about the lack of natural sandalwood.

It’s a complicated world out there for everyone.

Modern life is a world of smells. When that smell is sandalwood, it’s a good day.

What To Do Next

So, what does sandalwood smell like? It smells like history and the human spirit.

If you don’t crave the smell of sandalwood, I have failed.

Buy sandalwood fragrance or order sandalwood essential oil.

You need a little bit of the sandalwood tree in your life.

Recommendations

I could write a whole article about my favorite sandalwood fragrances. But I won’t.

Here are a few that I love and would encourage you to try.

I’m sure you will find a new sandalwood scent to love.

Chanel Bois des Iles 

Probably the best sandalwood fragrance.  Smells like being happy.

A classic often discontinued and missed by many. For men, women, and everyone with a nose.

Molecule 04 by Escentric Molecules

I am in love with this fragrance. One spray lasts like 50 hours.

I detect musk, cedar, and something sweet I love but can’t describe

Signature scent worthy, in my opinion. Synthetic fragrance for the modern cyborg.

100% unisex. 

Le Labo Santal 33

This is a woody fragrance but so much more. A sweet eau de parfum that reminds me of natural sandalwood.

Cedar steals the show, in my opinion. Men and women could love it. As usual, it depends.

Guerlain Santal Royal

This is not a pure sandalwood perfume. Oud is there. But they get along.

Super expensive, but hey, you can always buy a decant. Recommended for everyone. 

Shalimar Perfume

OK, this is cheating, and I admit it. Shalimar perfume is one of the best smells known to humans. Its sandalwood note is beautiful.

I have a bottle from the ’60s that smells so good is ridiculous. This one leans more toward the feminine, but in reality, it doesn’t.

Perfect and beautiful.

Creed Original Santal

A perfect scent for a banker or some corporate type of man. I used to be that type of guy. Not anymore. Thankfully.

A very refined fragrance that makes you look classy. Expensive and nice.

Don’t buy it, though. Buy the next one. It smells the same, and it’s cheaper.

Mont Blanc Individuel

I think Creed Original Santal is a copy of this scent. I have no proof, and I don’t care.

This one is more affordable and smells nicer, I would say. For a busy man who is always on a spreadsheet. 

Sacred Wood By Kilian

Ugh, another super expensive fragrance By Kilian that smells great.

A lovely woody fragrance that will make you feel glamorous. Even while laying in bed eating Cheetos.

100 unisex, in my opinion. I don’t believe in fragrance gender. You don’t need a whole bottle. A decant will suffice.

Serg V

I've been obsessed with fragrances for over a decade. I have sold fragrances for a living and written about them in places like Fragrantica and Scentbird. Here I recommend my favorites to make the world a better-smelling place.