Skip to content


Your cart is empty

Article: The History and Benefits of Hawaiian Sandalwood

The History and Benefits of Hawaiian Sandalwood

The History and Benefits of Hawaiian Sandalwood

One of the most healing ingredients we work with here at Ua Body is ‘Iliahi (Hawaiian Sandalwood) Oil. This intoxicating, luscious oil has been revered as a stress-reducing, nourishing agent for centuries. 

But before we get into all of its curative properties, we want to share its history with you. Being made in Hawaiʻi, all of our products are strongly tied to a sense of place. As such, we believe it is just as important for our customers to understand the benefits of our products as it is to understand the history of our local ingredients. 

As with most precious resources, ‘Iliahi has had a bit of a tumultuous history. To start at the beginning, we take you back to pre-Western contact Hawai’i... 

When the first Polynesian voyagers set foot on the shores of Hawai‘i around 450 A.D., the islands were abundant with ‘Iliahi trees. Native Hawaiians would use the sweet scented plant in a variety of ways: the nuts were used as food; its oil as medicinal treatments, waterproofing, scent for clothing and bedding; and its wood for musical instruments and tools. For over a thousand years, Hawaiians viewed ‘Iliahi as they viewed any other native plant: as a precious natural being to be used only as needed and with reverence. 

In the 1700’s, sandalwood demand skyrocketed around the world, especially in China where it was used for incense and furniture. 

Ship captains and travelers from around the world became aware of the presence of sandalwood in Hawaiʻi. China’s existing supply of White Sandalwood (native to and imported from India) was becoming insufficient to meet demand. Large business interests eyed Hawai’i as a new source of sandalwood supply, and Hawaiʻi complied. King Kamehameha (the founder and first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi) began orchestrating ‘Iliahi sales to foreign interests.

By the early 1800s, Sandalwood became Hawai’i’s first “cash crop.” In fact, Hawai‘i was dubbed “Tahn Heung Sahn” in Chinese, which translates to  “the sandalwood mountains.” At its peak, American ships were selling 1,400 tons of sandalwood per year to China - all sourced from the Hawaiian islands.

In order to procure enough ‘Iliahi to satisfy demand, King Kamehameha ordered chiefs and commoners to harvest ‘Iliahi. To harvest the precious sandalwood, laborers would traverse up long cliffs, tools in hand, chop down trees, tie large bundles together (approximately 70 pounds each), and strap them to their backs. Over time, the toll of these labors produced calluses and cuts on their shoulders which stained the wood, giving rise to the Hawaiian name for native sandalwood still used to this day, “‘Iliahi”. (“‘Ili” means “skin”, and “ahi” means fire or to burn in a fire”). 

Eventually, the supply of ‘Iliahi became decimated, with incessant harvest taking place over 50 years with little thought to long-term preservation. In 1840, the Hawaiian sandalwood trade came to a complete halt due to low supply. For many years the trade fell dormant, and sandalwood was assumed to be extinct. 

In, 1903 the first modern forest reserve system was established, providing new life to Hawaiian sandalwood for the first time in half a century.Fast forward to today, and ‘Iliahi is facing a steady renaissance thanks to a handful of public and private landowners. One such entity is Hāloa Āina, Ua Body’s supplier of Royal Hawaiian Sandalwood, who is responsible for having planted and fostered over 500,000 ‘Iliahi trees - and counting! Their single 1200 acre parcel of land on the Big Island of Hawai’i lies at an elevation of 5000 feet, a pristine environment for ‘Iliahi. 

They restore our native Hawaiian forests by blending modern technology and traditional Hawaiian cultivation methods. Key to their sustainable process is in harvesting fallen or dying trees (“dying” is defined as a tree with less than 50% of its canopy remaining). They do not traumatize, stress, or damage the trees in any way (a common practice in plantation sandalwood oil production); instead the tree is allowed to create oil on its own and harvested at the end of its natural lifecycle.

A work of multiple generations, the Lee family has stewarded ‘Iliahi with great care and foresight over the past century. Their ultimate goal is to return the native forest to its pre-contact condition and they are determined to prevent another extinction. We are extremely proud to partner with  Hāloa Āina to produce high-quality, natural skincare, made right here in Hawai’i, while perpetuating the preservation of the precious, the one, the only ‘Iliahi. 

Now that you know its rich history, it’s time to explore ’Iliahi’s numerous benefits: 
    • Anti-aging: Rich in antioxidants, preserves the structure of your skin cells and reduces dryness. This in turn, increases the elasticity of the skin, giving you plump, youthful skin. (When your skin loses elasticity, it begins to sag and wrinkle). 
    • Anti-inflammatory: Say goodbye to eczema and psoriasis breakouts, as well as dark spots and age spots
    • Easily Absorbed: Its chemical structure enables it to be absorbed immediately into your skin: Say hello to hydration and nourishment without any uncomfortable residue or clogged pores. 
    • Addictingly Aromatic: It smells incredibly good. Equally sweet and woody, and described as honey-like by some, one whiff of the rich aroma will instill a sense of calmness and well-being within. 
The bottom line: ‘Iliahi invigorates, enriches and strengthens your skin, making it look and feel healthy.

Can’t wait to try it! Where do I start? 
  • Luscious Bliss: If you’re looking to experience the purest usable form of ‘Iliahi, we recommend our ‘Iliahi Dry Oil. One pump will immerse you into a world of pure relaxation. Lauded as the perfect massage oil or daily moisturizer, this oil boasts a therapeutic texture that is sure to calm both your skin and your soul. We pair 100% Royal Hawaiian Sandalwood with Kukui Oil, Jasmine, Dark-aged patchouli, Neroli and Frankincense. One of our bestsellers, loved equally by both women and men.
  • Nourishment On-The-Go: Imagine having a drop of ‘Iliahi magic with you whenever, wherever. Now stop imagining...Customers often call ‘Iliahi the best fragrance they’ve ever come across, so we thought it was only fair to offer a more portable, pocket-friendly version. Our ‘Iliahi Oil Perfume Roller makes it seamless to have healthy and radiant skin on the go. 
  • Buttery Healing: Take the same exceptional ingredients, but add in dashes of Aloe, Almond Oil, Coconut Oil, Mango Butter, and Vitamin E. The end result is a multipurpose face and body savior. Our ‘Iliahi Sandalwood Lotion is Ua Body’s take on everyone’s favorite classic skincare product. Hydrating, anti-inflammatory, and silky smooth, this lotion will soothe both your skin issues and your anxieties.


Read more

3 Things You Didn't Know About Kukui Oil

3 Things You Didn't Know About Kukui Oil

Whether you’ve heard of Kukui Oil in passing, stumbled upon it yourself, or were recommended it by a friend, we share 3 things most people don't know about this magical ingredient. Come learn the 7...

Read more
Is Botanical Skincare the Future of Skincare?

Is Botanical Skincare the Future of Skincare?

From luxurious oils to powerful plant extracts, botanical skincare is taking the beauty industry by storm. If you’re looking for a fresh and natural way to keep your skin looking its best, then bot...

Read more