Sandalwood fragrances should be a staple of every dapper gentleman’s fragrance wardrobe.
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You’d never know from its ubiquity that this precious wood from the Santalum tree family, with its warm, creamy and milky characteristics, is one of the most expensive ingredients in perfumery.
For thousands of years, sandalwood has been valued for its sacred properties in religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism and has been a mainstay of Arabic perfumery.
The essential oil is extracted from the wood and root chippings through a process of steam distillation.
Due to overharvesting, the best variety (Santalum album) from Mysore, India, is now a protected species. Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) and New Caledonian sandalwood (Santalum austrocaledonicum) have become popular natural alternatives in recent years.
There’s also been a proliferation of synthetic substitutes such as Javanol, Santaliff, Sandalore, Sanderol, Matsunol and Sandaxol.
We’ve rounded up a variety of best sandalwood fragrances here – from budget-friendly to deluxe – to reflect their versatility and wide-ranging appeal.
Where known, the name of perfumer is included in brackets after the name of the fragrance.
Our Top Recommendations For Sandalwood Fragrances
Creed Original Santal EDP (Olivier Creed & Erwin Creed)
Not as hyped as the other fragrances from the Paris-based niche house (Aventus, Green Irish Tweed, Silver Mountain Water et al), this 2005 release is well worth checking out for its sophistication.
Inspired by India’s royal and spiritual splendour, it declares its oriental profile from the beginning with a fresh and spicy mix of Jamaican ginger, Sicilian lemon and orange tree absolute. Notes of lavender and rosemary add an aromatic facet.
Creed claims to use the best type of Sandalwood, Mysore, from India. Warm and creamy, it’s supported by notes of vanilla and benzoin, with Virginia cedar accentuating the woodiness.
Clean and classy – the way we like it.
Le Labo Santal 33 EDP (Frank Voelkl)
One of the most prominent niche fragrances of the last decade, this 2011 release from the NYC-based niche brand is still fantastic stuff. Don’t let the “it’s too popular” naysayers tell you otherwise.
Inspired by the iconic Marlboro ads with their free ’n wild west imagery, it presents the ruggedness of Australian sandalwood bolstered by an accord of lived-in leather, smoky papyrus, resinous cedar and spicy cardamom. A liberal dose of Ambrox gives it musky oomph.
Notes of iris and violet soften the edges with their sensual floral powderiness.
This decade-defining creation celebrates its first decade in production this year. We salute the perfumer behind it, Frank Voelkl!
A 2012 release from the Paris-based niche house that’s undoubtedly one of the best in the genre.
The brand’s eponymous founder doesn’t believe in obsessing about notes; it’s about the experience. We agree when something is this special, but here goes anyway…
A softly sweet powdery rose meets the warm bitterish spice of cacao in the intro. The contrasts are perfectly balanced.
They are enfolded by warm sandalwood, its woodiness front and centre.
Treat yourself to the house’s more expensive Santal de Mysore if you have extra cash to spare.
Many renditions of sandalwood go the smooth and sensual route. Trust the Japanese brand to present something refreshingly different with this 2013 release from the Blue Invasion Series, which also features Blue Cedrat and Blue Encens EDPs.
It doesn’t try to hide the sometimes harsher and rougher qualities of Australian sandalwood and gives it a cool, almost iced interpretation.
Notes of Mediterranean parasol pine and juniper berry essence include an aromatic angle, while black pepper brings a flash of spicy warmth.
If you’re used to a more conventional style of sandalwood, you might find this challenging at first. Persevere and you’ll be well rewarded.
Diptyque Tam Dao EDT (Daniel Moliere)
There’s no shortage of Diptyque classics and this 2003 release is one of the French niche brand’s best.
While there’s a brief herbal hint, thanks to the myrtle note, we can’t detect the rose note in the opening.
But who cares about that when one experiences the superb blend of woods that follows in the form of sandalwood, cedar and Brazilian rosewood notes. It’s a warm, rich and complex treatment.
Spices and amber add to the warmth and create an appealing contrast.
No woody fragrance collection is complete without the addition of Tam Dao.
Guerlain Les Absolus D’Orient Santal Royal EDP (Thierry Wasser)
When the revered French brand is not concentrating on crowd-pleasers such as Mon Guerlain and L’Homme Idéal, it produces top-shelf achievements such as this 2014 release from the Les Absolus d’Orient Collection.
The light and bright florals of jasmine and neroli quickly give way to a gloriously fruity Bulgarian rose spiced with the warmth of cinnamon.
And then onto the pièce de resistance that’s the drydown: the magnificence of dense sandalwood partnered with oud, leather, amber and musks.
Multi-layered, dark and deeper than Barry White’s voice, it’s on the pricey side but worth every scent.
DS & Durga Radio Bombay EDP (David Seth Moltz)
Another standout from the NYC-based niche company’s self-taught perfumer, David Seth Moltz.
Launched in 2016, it’s inspired by the sounds and smells emanating from a transistor radio made from sandalwood. DS & Durga fragrances are always accompanied by such good (and believable) stories.
The woody opening sets the scene for the sandalwood, while notes of peach and boronia add fruity flourishes.
Coconut accentuates the milkiness of the sandalwood in the drydown, with warm wafts of musk completing the evocative encounter.
Narciso Rodriguez Santal Musc EDP Intense (Caroline Sabas & Sonia Constant)
One of the less-known Narciso Rodriguez releases, from the Oriental Musc Editions Collection produced for the Middle East market, this 2017 creation has quality written all over it.
The signature Narciso Rodriguez musk is there, of course. But it’s the sandalwood – creamy and rich – that shines in this EDP.
Its sensual warmth is developed with the resinous spice of cardamom and woody-floral hues of ylang-ylang.
Officially aimed at woman, it’s 100% unisex, so don’t let that hold you back from trying it.
Escentric Molecules Escentric 04 EDP (Geza Schoen)
Modern perfumery is all about chemistry and the use of man-made odour-molecules. Contrary to popular belief, these are often more eco-friendly (and cheaper) than using the real thing.
Founded by perfumer Geza Schoen in 2006, Escentric Molecules showcases these molecules in imaginative and informative ways.
It opens with a huge fresh burst of sharply bitter grapefruit and aromatic juniper berry. The listed marijuana and floral notes are elusive, but that’s not what this 2017 composition is about.
If you’re patient, there’s Javanol in the drydown. Discovered by Jerzy Bajgrowicz, this Givaudan molecule produces a clean and crisp sandalwood effect, which makes for a fascinating contrast to the slightly overpowering opening.
Who knew something so seemingly simple could be so sexy?
The warm spice of cinnamon and black pepper notes will be the first to seduce you in the 2017 release that should come with an age restriction.
The sensual smoke of incense leads the way to the sandalwood drydown. Its uncompromisingly oriental and elegantly enigmatic.
The studded black and gold bottle is seriously sexy, too.
It looks like it’s been recently reformulated without the sandalwood, so make sure you’re getting your hands on the original version.
Chanel Bleu De Chanel Parfum (Olivier Polge)
This 2018 release is not a reinvention of the modern aromatic-woody classic, but it certainly offers a new dimension.
The opening pulls you in immediately, with fresh notes of artemisia, bergamot, lemon zest and mint. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself doing more re-sprays than usual, as it’s dangerously addictive stuff.
It’s followed by the elegant greenery of lavender and geranium notes.
However, it’s the base of sandalwood (sustainably sourced from New Caledonia, we are told) that really sets this fragrance apart from its EDT and EDP predecessors.
It’s a grown-up, big boy treatment of sandalwood that gets the balance between smooth and slinky exactly right. Cedar further enhances the woody profile of this beauty.
Inspired by the travels of gem hunters, Boucheron La Collection is one of the best private fragrance ranges on the market (also check out Iris Syracuse, Tubéreuse de Madras and Rose d’Isparta).
The opening of the 2018 release is warm and inviting, with spicy notes of black pepper and cardamom, followed by gentle floral touches of fresh jasmine and powdery violet.
Sandalwood can often be given a heavy treatment, but in Santal de Kandy it’s softly luxurious. It’s a sandalwood fragrance for those who appreciate understated refinement.
Smoother than an Italian pick-up line and ultra-wearable, the 2019 release from the brand’s Signatures of the Sun Collection is an attractive proposition, whether you’re a sandalwood aficionado or not.
Citrus notes of bergamot, lemon, orange and petitgrain create an appropriately radiant Mediterranean ambience.
A heart of lavender keeps the scent clean, relaxing and aromatic, with a hint of cardamom in the background providing light spiciness.
This EDP is all about its chief ingredient, sandalwood, and it maximises its inherent creaminess with alluring results. Sandalwood experts will be pleased to know that the best variety, Mysore, has been sourced from India.
It’s skilfully partnered with vanilla-ish tonka bean and an amber accord in the base for a gratifying soupçon of sweetness.
Dunhill Indian Sandalwood EDP (Carlos Benaïm)
A 2019 release that’s one of our favourites from the British company’s Signature Collection.
It was created by Carlos Benaïm, the award-winning perfume legend behind Antonio Puig Quorum, Calvin Klein Eternity For Men, Frédéric Malle Music For A While and Dunhill Icon. His expertise is clear in this EDP.
Opening with the fresh and sunny citrus hues of bergamot, it continues to warm up, in an earthy way, with the addition of green tree moss and patchouli notes.
Sandalwood comes through seamlessly in the drydown. Rich, without being overpowering, it has a creamy, almost coconut-y vibe.
We love how this scent conjures an Indian summer in semi-tropical style.
Zadig & Voltaire This is Love! For Him EDT (Nathalie Lorson)
We’ve had a soft spot for Zadig & Voltaire releases for quite some time and can’t recommend them enough for their terrific value. This 2020 release affirms why the French rock-chic fashion label gets it right.
The intro features crisply fresh bergamot. It’s followed by a note of sunshine-kissed orange blossom.
It’s then the turn of a big dose of warm and creamy sandalwood in the drydown to wrap up it up rather nicely.
It’s as deceptively simple as 1, 2 , 3, but oh so effective and sensual.
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Richard Goller is a fragrance and grooming blogger. His blog is called Fragroom. A senior editor with 20 years' experience, his blog allows him to combine two of his passions: engaging content and the always-intriguing world of fragrances. When he isn't blogging, you'll find Richard indulging in his newly found passion for balcony gardening.