Ylang Ylang essential oil is an enchanting floral, aromatic oil extracted from the droopy, star shaped, brilliant yellow flowers of the Ylang Ylang tree. The flowers themselves are very fragrant and so pleasing that they have been used as an aphrodisiac in wedding rituals in the islands of the South Pacific. Gradually, as European colonisers set foot on these islands, they discovered this majestic flower. The process of steam distillation was employed to extract its volatiles, the essence of its aroma. It became popular in Europe way back in the 1700s because it was an ingredient in the infamous Macassar oil.

Ylang Ylang Flowers

Ylang Ylang essential oil is advocated to provide a plethora of health benefits. We shall see that some of these marketed health benefits of ylang ylang essential oil have been well established by modern scientific studies. It is quite helpful in hypertension, anxiety, nervousness and depression. In skin care, it is helpful in acne and certain skin infections. Ylang Ylang essential oil is a regularly used ingredient in skin creams, hair care products and scented candles. However, it is most notably used for making perfumes.


The essential oil is extracted via steam distillation from the flowers of a sturdy tree of the rainforests known biologically as Cananga odorata. It grows naturally in Malaysia, Philippines and in some of the Pacific Islands. It can even be found in places like India, Comoros and Hawaii. The tree is unmistakable with its bloom of aromatic yellowish green flowers. These flowers are harvested and used to extract essential oil.

Color and Aroma

Pure and uncut ylang ylang essential oil has a dull ochre yellow color. Its aroma is predominantly floral and most resembles that of the jasmine. However, it also has a mild fruity aroma because of the presence of geranyl acetate. Minor hints of lavender can also be discerned. It is incredibly pleasing, refreshing and somewhat reminiscent of the tropical. Patient extractions may also contain a banana like scent.


There is shortage of ample research on the therapeutic effects of essential oils, and that translates to a lack of complete information about the benefits that essential oils can provide. But we do know about certain specific therapeutic effects exerted by ylang ylang essential oil.

  • Relaxant – It has been proven to lower blood pressure and heart rate to induce a sense of calm. Thus, it helps to reduce stress. This effect has been demonstrated when ylang ylang oil is applied on the skin [1] and also when it is inhaled. [2]
  • Harmonization – Experts suggest, based on medical research, that ylang ylang essential oil’s relaxation effects are not exactly similar to sedatives. It does not lower the activity of the brain and induce sleep. On the contrary, it improves levels of alertness. It could thus be quite useful in performing mental tasks where a certain degree of calmness, yet attentiveness is required. [2]
  • Antidepressant – It has been used to uplift mood and to shed depressive thoughts.
  • Antioxidant – It is effective at scavenging free radicals, which makes it quite useful in skin care and hair care formulations. [3]
  • Antibacterial – Essential oil is potent at killing S. aureus. It is also a mild inhibitor of the P. acnes bacteria, making it useful in reducing acne. [3]
  • Insecticidal – It kills the mosquito species responsible for dengue fever, the Aedes aegypti. It also kills two other species of mosquito, quinquefasciatus and An. Dirus[3]
  • Anti-melanogenesis – Ylang Ylang essential oil can lead to whitening of skin upon topical application because of the melanin inhibiting effect exerted by a uniquely identified compound in the oil, known as canagaterpene I[3]
  • Anti-inflammatory – It is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent but is not comparable to natural pain killers like the willow bark or wintergreen oil. This effect is believed to be exerted by linalool present in it. [3]
  • Aphrodisiac – Its traditional usage suggests that the essential oil is beneficial for boosting libido and enhancing the romantic mood.

Health Benefits


Ylang Ylang essential oil is a staple in aromatherapy. It is used alone, as well in blends to chart out a tropical, floral, sweet, pleasing and calming aroma. Based on medical research, it should also be useful in work environments to improve attentiveness without raising stress levels. It brings about harmonization of the body and mind. For diffusing its aroma, ylang ylang scented candles and incense are very popular. But essential oil would be more effective as it would contain a much wider spectrum of natural volatile compounds, from the top notes of monoterpenes to the base notes of sesquiterpenes. Diffusion of essential oil using a diffuser would release ylang ylang aroma for a longer period of time and it would be much richer in feel. One can pour anywhere between 2 to 6 drops in the diffuser and let its aroma seep the room.

It blends most perfectly with lavender essential oil which adds to its capability as an anti-microbial agent. One can also blend it with essential oil of lemon, orange or bergamot. Citrus aromas add a wonderful dimension to the floral, jasmine like aroma of ylang ylang. It can also be blended with relaxing essential oils, like that of chamomile. For longer lasting blends, one can add essential oils that act as base notes. These can be any out of the following – ginger, rosewood, sandalwood and patchouli.


Ylang Ylang essential oil can help with clearing acne. It kills bacteria that are widely believed to play a role in infecting pores and thereby causing acne. Ylang Ylang is very effective against S. aureus and mildly active against P. acnes. We know that P. acnes is the bacteria that is primarily responsible. Ylang Ylang also aids in reducing excess sebum production by the glands beneath hair follicles. Sebum is our body’s natural oily secretion, which acts as a protective shield. However, excess of sebum production, usually fueled by hormonal fluctuations during adolescence, plays a role in aggravating acne. So, we find that ylang ylang helps with acne by two different mechanisms.

A suitable base oil for anyone suffering from acne is jojoba. It has a zero comedogenicity rating, which means that it has minimal probability of clogging the pores on our skin. Organic and cold pressed jojoba oil should pe poured in a glass bottle. To 100 ml of jojoba oil, one should add 5 to 10 drops of ylang ylang essential oil. This is to be mixed thoroughly. Now, one can use this formulation as a topical agent. Dip a cotton ball with a few drops of this mixture and apply it all over the place where active acne pimples are. It should be gently rubbed all over, and not just as a spot treatment over the pimples. This is because it would then be able to better normalize sebum production from all the oily pores on our skin.

Boils and Carbuncles

Ylang ylang essential oil, in combination with lavender essential oil, is a capable antibacterial agent against S. aureus bacterium. This is the pathogen responsible for boils and carbuncles. It also causes a host of other painful skin conditions like pimples, folliculitis and cellulitis. Research suggests that a volatile compound known as geraniol could be responsible for the oil’s activity against S. aureus bacteria.

However, we have better essential oil combinations for these skin conditions. One of them is the good old tea tree essential oil. It can single handedly take care of boils and carbuncles due to its powerful antimicrobial and antiseptic properties. One can mix about 5 drops of tea tree essential oil in about 100 ml of a base oil, mix it well, and apply it over and around the boil. Tea tree oil stings and pains a bit. If it pains too much, then one should reduce its concentration. [4]

Another potent essential oil-based blend against boils, carbuncles and folliculitis is that of coriander and cumin. [5]

General Skin Care

Ylang ylang essential oil acts as a natural toner. It can be incorporated into the daily facial care routine which should include the process of cleansing, toning and moisturization, in that order. For toning purposes, it should be diluted in a base oil, and used at low concentrations (5 to 10 drops per 100 ml of base oil). However, there is a minor issue. We have mentioned above that ylang ylang essential oil has an anti-melanogenesis activity. It reduces production of melanin, which leads to skin whitening. Ylang Ylang essential oil can reduce the effectiveness of tanning. Some people also report that ylang ylang essential oil helps with eczema spots, however these have not been verified or evaluated.

An Aromatic Lomilomi Massage

Ylang Ylang flowers have been used for centuries to flavor oils for massage. In the Polynesian islands, a truly distinct art of massage developed, the Lomilomi massage. It is unique for its continuous sweeping motions across the entire length of the body and the dexterous use of not just the fingers and palms, but also the wrists and both the forearms at the same time! Ylang Ylang essential oil is mixed into coconut oil to form the massage oil. [6] Incorporation of the essential oil significantly improves the effects that the message has on mental serenity. Such massage sessions on a regular basis can help to significantly lower stress, improve skin texture, uplift mood and restore natural libido.

Floral Perfume

Many perfume manufacturers would not use complete essential oils in their signature perfumes. It is cheaper to make them using synthesized chemicals that resemble the ingredient the most. However, a single chemical compound can never fully capture the enthralling, complex aroma of an essential oil.

It is easy to create an oil-based perfume at home. Developing personal perfume formulations requires knowledge of the notes that an essential oil contains. Essential oils that are made up of smaller molecules evaporate faster, and they form “top” notes. Those that contain many long chain compounds, like sesquiterpenes, form “base” notes as they evaporate slowly. A single drop of such essential oil keeps releasing aroma for many hours. In between are the “middle” note essential oils, whose aroma lasts for a few hours. However, this classification is not very strict, and therefore, an essential oil may lie in two classes. A fine example is that of Ylang Ylang, which is mostly comprising of middle notes, but also has some base notes if it is a higher grade. Ylang Ylang makes wonderful floral perfumes. A good choice of a base note is vetiver, or patchouli essential oil. For top notes, citrus essential oils, like that of bergamot, would add to the rich aroma. To make the perfume, take a tinted glass bottle, the one in which essential oils are usually kept. Into it, pour 5 ml of jojoba oil. This is to dissolve the essential oils. Pour 1 drop of base note essential oil, 4 drops of ylang Ylang essential oil and 2 drops of the top note essential oil. Place the stopper and roll the bottle around the forearm. This can be applied directly onto the skin to create a pleasing, floral perfume with numerous rich notes. Before applying essential oil onto skin, make sure to do a patch test so that you know that you are not sensitive or allergic to the product.

Chemical Composition

Ylang Ylang essential oil varies a lot in its chemical composition depending on where it comes from, whether it is from the Polynesian islands, Malaysia, or western Indian Ocean islands, like the Comoros and Madagascar. It contains a bewildering complexity of volatile natural compounds, from monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, aliphatic compounds to phenylpropanoids. And all that from the fragrant flowers.

Here is a list of the major chemical constituents of ylang ylang essential oil made from flowers harvested in Madagascar.

Constituent Type Aroma
p-methylanisole Phenylpropanoid Ylang like
Methyl Benzoate Phenylpropanoid Phenolic, wintergreen like
Benzyl Acetate Phenylpropanoid Jasmine like
(E)-Cinnamyl Acetate Phenylpropanoid Tutti-frutti like sweet
Geranyl Acetate Monoterpene Sweet fruit with citrusy hints
Linalool Monoterpene Like bois de rose
Geraniol Monoterpene Rose like
(E,E)-Farnesyl Acetate Sesquiterpene
(E,E)-Farnesal Sesquiterpene
Germacrene (D) Sesquiterpene
Beta-Caryophyllene Sesquiterpene Spicy like clove and black pepper

Source: 3

It also contains many more constituents in minor concentrations, like 1,8-cineole, camphene, limonene, nerol, alpha-pinene and beta-pinene.

Linalool is one of the most renowned medicinal volatile compounds. We find it in high concentrations in lavender and rosewood essential oils. It induces better sleep and reduces anxiety. It reduces pain by exerting its anti-inflammatory action. Linalool has demonstrated blood pressure lowering effects, which could be the reason why ylang ylang essential oil is also used in aromatherapy to bring about a reduction in high blood pressure. [7] Geraniol, another monoterpene, exhibits neuroprotective and antioxidant effects. It has been shown to act as an antidepressant and is also used extensively as a flavoring agent in processed foods. It has been shown to protect from stomach and duodenal ulcers by boosting levels of glutathione, a prominent antioxidant. [8], [9]

Phenylpropanoids are a class of natural aromatic compounds produced by plants as safeguard mechanisms. They have demonstrated not just antioxidant potential, but have also shown promise as antiviral, chemo- preventive and UV preventive substances. [10]

Side Effects and Toxicity Issues

One must be careful when using ylang ylang essential oil because it is a known sensitizer. There are multiple cases of contact dermatitis arising from using it directly on the skin. Not surprisingly, many people had been using undiluted oil on the forehead to try to relieve a headache. [11] Due to its known sensitizing nature, it is advised to use low concentrations when applying it topically. The concentration should not exceed 0.8% v/v (by volume fraction). We have recommended a max of 10 drops per 100ml of base oil, which turns out to be 0.5% v/v. [12]

Although ylang ylang is used as a flavoring in food products, this does not mean that the essential oil is edible. It should not be used on or in the vicinity of infants, pregnant women and lactating mothers.

Buying and Storage

Buying Ylang Ylang essential oil can be quite a perplexing task. The prices quoted by sellers vary a lot even though almost all of the sellers list their oil as certified pure therapeutic grade. The real reason why renowned essential oil makers may be pricing their product so costly is because ylang ylang essential oil is difficult to extract. Industrial classification contains 4 grades of oil – the Extra, 1st, 2nd and 3rd. These vary on account of the parameters set during distillation. Extra grade has highest concentration of aromatic compounds and is used selectively in high end perfumes. A complete essential oil contains the widest possible spectrum of volatile compounds, but it takes longer to distil such a product. It is difficult to get the information about exact grade of essential oil.

The oil should be stored in amber tinted glass bottle, kept away from sunlight and preferably refrigerated at around 4 degrees Celsius. Its shelf life is variable depending on the grade of the oil.


  1. Relaxing effect of ylang ylang oil on humans after transdermal absorption. Hongratanaworakit T, Buchbauer G. Phytother Res. 2006 Sep;20(9):758-63.
  2. Evaluation of the harmonizing effect of ylang-ylang oil on humans after inhalation. Hongratanaworakit T1, Buchbauer G. Planta Med. 2004 Jul;70(7):632-6.
  3. Traditional Uses, Phytochemistry, and Bioactivities of Cananga odorata (Ylang-Ylang). Loh Teng Hern Tan et al, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015; 2015: 896314.
  4. Commercial Essential Oils as Potential Antimicrobials to Treat Skin Diseases. Ane’ Orchard and Sandy van Vuuren, Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
  5. Coriander Essential Oil – OilHealthBenefits.com
  6. Traditional Medicinal Plants of Rarotonga, Cook Islands Part I. David K. Holdsworth, International Journal of Crude Drug Research.
  7. Linalool – OilHealthBenefits.com
  8. Pharmacological Properties of Geraniol – A Review. Lei Y. et al, Planta Medica 2019 Jan;85(1):48-55. doi: 10.1055/a-0750-6907. Epub 2018 Oct 11.
  9. Geraniol-a flavoring agent with multifunctional effects in protecting the gastric and duodenal mucosa. De Carvalho KL et al, Naunyn Schmiedebergs Arch Pharmacol. 2014 Apr;387(4):355-65. doi: 10.1007/s00210-013-0947-z. Epub 2013 Dec 17.
  10. Phenylpropanoids as antioxidants with health effect. L.G. Korkina, Cellular and Molecular Biology
  11. Ylang-ylang oil Not an Uncommon Sensitizer in India. P.K. Srivastava and A.K. Bajaj, Indian Journal of Dermatology.
  12. Essential Oil Safety, Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young.
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