Ylang Ylang Benefits, How to Use and Side Effects - Dr. Axe

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Ylang Ylang Boosts Heart Health, Moods and Energy


Ylang ylang - Dr. Axe

What is ylang ylang essential oil good for? It’s considered an effective antidepressant, antiseptic, antispasmodic and sedative.

It’s also been highly sought after for centuries for its ability to thicken hair and its skin-healing properties.

In addition to its beauty-boosting and health-promoting effects, throughout history in places such as Indonesia, and still even today, ylang ylang has been commonly been used to decorate the bed of newlyweds on their wedding night due to its energizing, aphrodisiac qualities.

What Is Ylang Ylang?

Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) essential oil comes from flower petals of the large, tropical ylang ylang tree. Today, ylang ylang trees are widely grown in tropical areas throughout Asia, including Indonesia, the Philippines and the Polynesian islands.

What does ylang ylang smell like? Ylang ylang actually means “flower of flowers” and was given this name because of its sweet, floral scent. In fact, you can recognize ylang ylang’s smell as one of the key ingredients used in the legendary perfume Chanel No. 5.

Research shows that this oil has positive effects on immune health, blood flow and emotions, making it a natural remedy for the endocrine, cardiovascular, reproductive and digestive systems.

The pleasant fragrance of this oil is mainly due to volatile organic compounds produced by the flowers, including some 75 new compounds that were only recently identified in 2013. According to a 2014 report published in the Journal of Experimental Botany, the floral scents of ylang ylang are a key factor in plant-insect interactions and are vital for successful pollination since they repel pests and bugs. They are also responsible for its anti-anxiety effects.

As detailed more below, studies suggest that some of the most important ylang ylang essential oil benefits include:

  • Increasing blood flow
  • Relieving inflammation
  • Fighting parasites
  • Regulating heartbeat
  • Healing cardiac problems
  • Lifting someone’s mood and lowering anxiety
  • Promoting healthy intestinal function

Additionally, in foods and beverages, it’s used as a flavoring and preservative agent. And in product manufacturing, it’s added as a fragrance for cosmetics, household cleansers, hair products and soaps.


1. Immune and Heart Health Booster

Research has shown that active compounds in ylang ylang oil include: several types of flavonoids, terpenes, o-methylmoschatoline, liriodenine and dihydroxybenzoic acid.

Researchers from the Phytochemistry Research Department at the University of Rajshahi in Bangladesh found that phytochemicals present in this oil posses antibacterial, antifungal and cytotoxic activities when used topically or internally by humans. They can help improve immune function and lower inflammation, which is a leading contributor to most diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, autoimmune and cognitive-related disorders.

Known to improve blood flow and fight inflammation, ylang ylang supports a healthy circulatory system. It’s considered one of the most helpful essential oils (along with lavender, clary sage and frankincense) for controlling blood pressure and preventing heart arrhythmia. Massage a single drop daily over the heart combined with a carrier oil.

High blood pressure remedy: You can take it as a dietary supplement, too, (only when using a therapeutic-grade oil) by adding one to two drops to water or warm tea.

2. Mood Enhancer and Anxiety Fighter

Because of its ability to act directly on the olfactory system of the brain, inhaling some can have immediate, positive effects on your mood and act like a mild, natural anxiety or depression remedy. It’s said to “expand the heart,” and research shows it may help release negative emotions, including anger, low self-esteem and jealousy.

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that evidence that it has positive anti-anxiety effects due to influencing processes in the hippocampus region of the brain and serotonin system.

It’s also beneficial for fighting insomnia and chronic fatigue syndrome since it has mild sedative effects and can lower stress responses, like a fast heartbeat and high blood pressure. This is why researchers have concluded this oil has a general “harmonizing effect.”

Anti-anxiety uses: Try diffusing the oil in your home or massaging it into your skin to bring on stronger feelings of awareness, confidence, peace and self-love.

3. Skin Health Preserver

One of the most popular uses for this oil is applying it to the skin in order to preserve a “youthful glow” and help prevent signs of aging or irritation. It is even powerful at fighting the development of skin cancer cells and melanoma.

Why is ylang ylang essential oil good for skin? Studies indicate that high-quality ylang ylang oil holds a high percentage of active constituents called terpenoids. Isolated terpenoid derivatives (including canangaterpenes IV-VI) show promising results as natural therapeutic agents for the treatment of several skin disorders.

When tested on cancerous melanoma skin cells, terpenoid compounds exhibit a potent inhibitory effect on cell melanogenesis and immune-system cytotoxicity. In other words, antioxidants in this oil help protect skin cells from oxidative stress and DNA damage that can lead to cancer cell formation.

Skin health uses: Combine one to two drops with coconut or jojoba oil and massage it into the face once or twice daily for protection.

4. Natural Energizer

If you feel like you’re always tired, drained or frustrated, trying aromatherapy treatment with ylang ylang can help. Many people find the scent to be energizing and useful for fighting fatigue or body aches.

Energy boosting uses: Add several drops to a clean cotton ball and apply it to your wrists, neck or chest.

5. Natural Hair Care Product

There are a few good reasons to use ylang ylang oil for hair health, such as because it can help prevent tangles and dandruff, while also working as a hair loss remedy.

Healthy hair uses: Try massaging it into your scalp along with using coconut oil or jojoba oil (or your regular condition) to increase the appearance of healthy, shiny hair.

6. Aphrodisiac and Social Enhancer

This oil has been shown to act like a natural impotence remedy since it can help increase the libido of both men and women.

To feel more connected with those around you (including your spouse or family members), diffuse it in your room, inhale it from the bottle, add a drop to your body lotion, or even apply a small amount to your bed sheets or shirt collar.

7. Digestive Aid

To prevent poor blood flow or feelings of stress and anxiety that can interfere with healthy digestion, try inhaling some, massaging it over the digestive organs or consuming several drops daily.

Guide to using ylang ylang - Dr. Axe

How to Use

  • Aromatically: The oil can be diffused throughout your home using a diffuser or inhaled directly from the bottle.
  • Topically: It should be diluted with a carrier oil like coconut oil in a 1:1 ratio before applying it to your skin. Always test for skin sensitivity before using it on large or sensitive areas of the skin. You can perform a skin patch test on your arm or feet to make sure you don’t experience skin sensitization. Also keep the oil out of your eyes, ears or nose and away from pets that might react to it badly.
  • Internally: ONLY recommended for very high-quality oil brands. Check ingredients carefully, and look for only Cananga odorata  flower oil. Only use 100 percent pure, therapeutic-grade essential oil if you plan to make ylang ylang tea, add a drop to water, or take it as dietary supplement (it can be mixed with honey or a smoothie). It’s recognized as safe by the FDA (21CFR182.20) when using small amounts internally in this way, but a therapeutic-grade oil might be hard to find due to labeling and marketing constraints if you’re not careful. Purchasing oil labeled complete or extra is your safest best.

This oil works well with other essential oils like rose oil, lavender oil, frankincense oil, jasmine oil and bergamot oil. Depending on your condition and what you want to use it for, it can double as both a relaxant and a stimulant. Use several drops of mixed essential oils, and dilute them with a few drops of a carrier oil.

Here are several combinations to try:

  • For building confidence: 2 drops ylang ylang and 2 drops bergamot.
  • For a natural home freshener that smells tropical: 2 drops ylang ylang and 2 drops jasmine.
  • To release tension: 2 drops ylang ylang and 2 drops frankincense.
  • To give you an energy boost: 2 drops ylang ylang and 2 drops of citrus oil like lemon oil, grapefruit essential oil or orange oil.
  • For an aphrodisiac massage rub: 2 drops ylang ylang and 2 drops sandalwood essential oil.

How to Purchase

An interesting fact is that the quality of ylang ylang oil depends a lot on the cultivation of the flowers that are used — specifically the time of day/year that the flowers were picked, according to studies. It’s believed that flowers picked early in the morning yield the most beneficial oil, since the flowers are pollinated by night moths.

The drop in temperature and dewiness that can occur overnight might also have positive effects on the oil’s chemical structure. The most intensive smell is released from dusk until dawn so when sunrise comes, the flowers’ natural aroma fills the air.

The 14-hour-long distillation process used to extract this oil also impacts its potency and abilities. Steam distillation is the preferred method since this preserves the oil’s volatile compounds best. And during the long distillation process, the proportion of oil that is extracted first is believed to be the highest quality of the whole batch — often called “ylang ylang complete” or “extra.”

As the distillation process is repeated, lower-grade oil is produced. This is the type usually just called “ylang ylang oil” or “cananga oil” that’s used in most fragrant soaps and cleaning product manufacturing.

Side Effects

Use this oil sparingly, whether internally or topically. High levels might cause side effects, so be sure to do a skin patch check first before using on your face, skin or ingesting.

You also want to use caution if you deal with low blood pressure. If you take blood pressure medications or have an existing heart condition, talk to your doctor before beginning treatment with any new herbal remedies.

Ylang ylang oil seems safe for children, women who are breastfeeding and pregnant women in small amounts, when a high-quality oil is used. It also appears to be safe when applied to the skin, mouth and scalp in combination with other herbal essential oils.

When consumed in small amounts, this oil generally poses no health risk. There isn’t enough information to know if the oil taken by mouth in amounts higher than what is typically advised causes serious side effects, so for now always stick to a small dose.

Final Thoughts

  • Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) essential oil comes from the tropical ylang ylang tree which is grown in Indonesia, the Philippines and the Polynesian islands.
  • What is the smell of ylang ylang? Most describe ylang ylang’s scent as sweet, floral and romantic, which is why it’s added to some perfumes, lotions, cleansers, etc.
  • Benefits and uses for this oil include: supporting immunity, metabolic and heart health; enhancing your mood; aiding in skin and hair health; energizing you and beating stress; and helping to manage PMS symptoms.

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