Uses & Benefits of Palo Santo Essential Oil

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

There are many impressive benefits and uses of palo santo essential oil, including its known potential abilities to prevent oxidative stress, anticancer properties, strengthen the immune system, eliminate inflammation, reduce stress levels, treat chronic pain, soothe nerve disorders, heal the skin and ease feelings of depression.

Side effects of using this oil can include skin irritation and allergic reactions, as well as complications in pregnancy. This oil should never be used in an undiluted form, due to its extreme potency. Some of the best carrier oils to blend with palo santo include sandalwood, myrrh or frankincense, the last of which belong to the same taxonomic family.

Palo santo essential oil is derived from the palo santo tree, which bears the scientific name Bursera graveolens [1] and is native to Central and South American countries, such as Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, and Costa Rica. Unlike many other essential oils that come from common plants and herbs, palo santo trees are considered sacred by many different cultures and nations due to the historic importance of the tree’s wood in religious traditions. In certain countries, the only deadfall is allowed to be collected and processed for its oils or burned for ceremonies and rituals. The smoke of this burning wood has a distinct scent and is believed to ward off evil spirits. However, through a steam distillation process, the concentrated resins and oils can be extracted, which provide a wide range of health benefits.

These impressive effects on human health are largely the result of its extremely high limonene content, as well as lower levels of alpha-terpineol and carvone. These compounds have various antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, sedative, and relaxant, anti-mutagenic and immune-boosting properties that make this oil highly sought after. [2]

Benefits and Uses of Palo Santo Essential Oil

Palo santo essential oil should be used by people who are suffering from muscle aches and pains, elevated stress levels, depression, anxiety, coughs, colds, respiratory infections, sleep disorders, arthritis, chronic disease, nervous disorders, and skin conditions, as well as those people who are at high risk of cancer.

Anticancer Potential

Palo santo essential oil has been shown in numerous studies to have anti-tumor properties. [3]

Palo santo oil is found to have a high content of limonene. In a 2009 study by the Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy, it is found that limonene is able to exert anti-tumor effects on prostate cancer cells without being toxic to the healthy cells. [4]

Reduces Inflammation

Not only does this essential oil have antioxidants but also anti-inflammatory compounds that can reduce tissue inflammation and address a number of common complaints, ranging from joint disorders and muscle pain to headaches and gastrointestinal distress. Topical application of palo santo oil can be on the temples, elbows, muscles, feet, hands, and chest, and anywhere else where the aroma and/or absorbed oils will do the best. [5]

Palo santo sticks on a black plate

Palo santo is used in ritual smudging as it helps clear negative energy. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Boosts Immune System

Palo santo oil is known to stimulate the immune system and detoxify the body, either through inhalation or when topically applied. In fact, support for the immune system is the only time when consuming palo santo essential oil may be appropriate, but even then, only 1-2 drops should be combined with an entire cup of tea or hot water, which will effectively dilute the oil. [6]

Reduces Anxiety & Depression

The aromatic compounds found in palo santo essential oil can directly affect the olfactory system in the body, as well as the limbic system in our brain, helping to ease stress and induce relaxation. This can be very effective for people who suffer from chronic stress and the inherent strain on the body that occurs as a result. [7]

Soothes Chronic Pain

As a nervine substance, this essential oil can calm spasms and other disorders related to the nervous system. This can also help improve sleep and mood, as well as soothe chronic pain and other afflictions of the muscles, bones, and nerves. [8]

Skin Care

As we age, the elastin in our skin begins to break down, leading to sagging skin and wrinkles, but research has shown that the ingredients in palo santo essential oil can inhibit the elastase enzyme, which is responsible for breaking down the elastin in our skin. This can help tighten up the skin and provide a more youthful appearance, while the other antioxidants in this oil will help stimulate the growth of new skin cells and minimize the other signs of aging, like blemishes and age spots.

Improves Sleep

The sedative effects of palo santo essential oil are well known, so applying a small amount of this oil on your chest, neck or temples before bed can help the brain calm down and shut off. This can lead to uninterrupted and restful sleep, as well as a refreshed feeling in the morning. [9]

Controls Allergy

Studies have found that palo santo essential oil can optimize the immune system, and prevent unnecessary allergic reactions by the body. Regular inhalation of this oil can limit seasonal allergy reactions and inhibit the release of histamines in the body. [10]

Room Deodorizer

Burning palo santo wood has been used to cleanse homes, rooms, souls, and bodies for thousands of years, but diffusing the essential oil of this “holy wood” can be just as effective. It can eliminate bacteria and viruses, as well as foul odors while cleansing both the air and any surfaces in a given area. [11]

Effective Insect Repellent

Insects, such as mosquitoes and gnats, find the smell of palo santo essential oil particularly unpleasant and will avoid it at all costs. Diffusing this oil throughout your house, therefore, can protect you from annoying insects in the summertime, and also protect against any diseases that are commonly spread through mosquito bites. [12]

Side Effects of Palo Santo Essential Oil

The side effects of using palo santo essential oil are limited to allergic reactions and improper usage and may include skin irritation, rashes, and hives, or severe stomach upset, nausea and vomiting if consumed internally. Always consult a doctor before adding a potent essential oil to your regular health regimen.

  • Internal Consumption – You should never consume palo santo essential oil, as it is only intended for external use and in a diffused/aromatherapy form. Consuming palo santo oil can cause severe gastrointestinal side effects and is not recommended. Anecdotal evidence says that adding 1-2 drops to herbal tea is a safe practice.  But again, speak to your doctor before doing this.
  • Pregnancy – The volatile components in palo santo essential oil can have negative effects on pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding. It is always best to speak with your doctor before adding any essential oils or herbal remedies to your health regimen.
  • Allergic Reaction – Some people experience allergic reactions to palo santo essential oil, although this is quite rare. To prevent large-scale reactions, apply a small amount to a patch of skin and wait for 1-2 hours to see if there is any negative reaction.
  • Toxicity on the Skin – Palo santo oil should never be used in a completely undiluted form, as the chances of irritation or inflammation on the skin are much greater. Always mix this oil in a 1:1 combination with carrier oils, such as frankincense, myrrh or sandalwood oils. Protection Status
About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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