Not only is ylang-ylang used in the perfume industry but also in aromatherapy. For the perfume industry, it’s a highly sought after ingredient. It’s used in countless perfumes, flavouring agents, and cosmetics to add a sensual and floral note.

In aromatherapy, it’s used as an antidepressant. It’s said to relieve stress, promote relaxation both for the body and mind.

So what is it doing in skin care? Read on to find out what ylang ylang can do for your skin.

What do we know about ylang-ylang?

Ylang-ylang is an essential oil sourced from the ylang-ylang tree. It grows in the rain forests of Asian and South Pacific islands like the Philippines, Indonesia, Sumatra, Malaysia, and the Polynesian Islands. You can also find it growing in parts of Thailand, Vietnam, and Queensland (Australia).

Ylang-ylang flowers, photo by Damien Boilley

The name ylang-ylang is how the Spanish wrote the Tagalog (a language spoken in the Philippines) word “ilang”. It means wild or wilderness which is where the tree naturally grows. Its scientific name is Cananga odorata. You’ll see it listed as Cananga Odorata Flower Oil on the product ingredient list.

Its other names are Cananga or Perfume Tree, alluding to how it’s used. But different regions had different uses.

In the Philippines, ylang-ylang flowers were strung into a necklace, adorn religious objects, and healers use the oil to treat minor cuts, wounds, or burns. In Indonesia, the fragrance of the flowers is considered an aphrodisiac. On the Hawaiian Islands, it’s mixed with coconut oil for its protective abilities.

Words that are often associated with it are

  • Calming
  • Relaxing
  • Uplifting
  • Euphoric
  • Aphrodisiac

It’s often used as a substitute for Jasmine and so often called the poor man’s Jasmine. Jasmine is one of the most expensive essential oils that you can find.

How is it made?

Ylang-ylang is made from the flowers of the Cananga Tree. Hanging from the branches are yellow, star-shaped flowers. Typically, the essential oils is made by extracting the flowers through steam distillation in fractions and repeated up to four times. You can think of it like making several mugs of tea with the same tea leaves.

Even though ylang-ylang is often used as a substitute for the more expensive Jasmine, you still need about 100 kilos of the flowers to make at most 1.5 litres of the essential oil.

You can only harvest about 5 kilos of flower per tree in a year. The flowers are handpicked in the early hours of the morning before sunrise when their aromatic compounds are most abundant in the petals.


Depending on the extraction process, the intensity of its fragrance varies. You can find 5 types of this essential oil.

What you get after the first 1-2 hours of distillation is called Extra. This is fractioned off from the whole. The next I, II, III grades are extracted in the following hours by specifically determined times. The final grade is called Complete. You get this distillate after 6-20 hours.

Extra has the highest concentration of aromatic molecules. It’s what perfumers usually use and you can expect it to come with the according to price tag. Grades I to III have gradually declining content of fragrance molecules but still provide therapeutic benefits.

The grade Complete means that it’s the result of continuous, undisturbed distillation of the flowers. It has a rich, sweet, flowery scent. But compared to the other grades, it has a more herbaceous undertone. Especially compared to Extra, its general scent is lighter.

Every additional fraction produces a declining activity of essential oils. But contrary to expectations, it’s not only Extra that’s expensive but also Complete.

Characteristics and properties

The essential oil has a pale yellowish colour. Its texture is runny to medium consistency.

People describe its fragrance as rich and deep. You’ll also hear heavy, sweet, pungent, fruity, and floral.

The different types have different levels of aromatic molecules and can contain up to 161 different compounds. Its main components are

  • Linalool
  • Geraniol
  • Salicylates
  • Benzyl acetate
  • Farnese

Its complex composition gives it antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, but also the famed anxiety-reducing and mood-lifting properties.

As stated, the major component is linalool. This compound on the one hand is what makes ylang-ylang anti-inflammatory, antibacterial as well as anti-anxiety, and soothing. On the other hand, it’s known to be a be a potential irritant to the skin.

Still, if you use it safely, its benefits outweigh its risks.

What’s it used for in skin care?

There are actually quite a few uses for ylang-ylang in skin care when used in small dilutions. It’s probably best known for being balancing and regulating oil production in your skin (and hair).

Soothe and calm

What ylang-ylang can do in aromatherapy to reduce anxiety and boost self-esteem, it can do the same for your skin and soothe skin irritation and redness.

Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, it can help itchiness, puffiness, redness, and swelling – all signs of damaged or irritated skin.


As mentioned, ylang-ylang is known to balance and regulate oil production in your skin and scalp. This is also why it’s often recommended to help acne-prone skin, similar to tea tree oil.

It doesn’t matter if your skin is shinier than a mirror or you got dry skin, it helps correct the amount of oil your sebaceous glands produce, helping to clarify it and ensuring it has just the right amount of moisture.


The essential oil is both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, making it a very effective skin cleanser. It stimulates the regenerative process of the epidermis and eases congestion. Both together help to fight and reduce breakouts.

Defend against environmental damage

By now you most likely know that antioxidants are a must-have for healthy and youthful skin. The essential oil has antioxidant properties that defend against free radicals that are caused by UV rays or air pollution.

These free radicals can cause damage to healthy skin cells. This may lead to skin that looks older through fine lines, wrinkles, and changes in texture and colour.

How to use it?

As with all essential oils, it’s crucial to dilute ylang-ylang. The classical method is to dilute it with a carrier oil such as jojoba, coconut or macadamia nut oil. Mix 1 drop of it with a tea spoon of your preferred carrier oil.

You can also mix it with your regular moisturiser, body lotion, or hair conditioner.

As an essential oil, it’s best to store it in a dark, opaque bottle in a cool and dark place.

Remember to do a patch test first to make sure your skin doesn’t react to it.

Who should use it?

Ylang-ylang is suited for most skin types, but it’s particularly beneficial for ageing skin, people with wide pores, and acne-prone skin types.

Who shouldn’t use it?

This question probably should be worded differently: Who should or should not be using essential oils? Some people love them and their skin responds well. And others find them aggravating and their skin doesn’t tolerate them.

To stay on the safe side, avoid it if you know you got sensitive skin. As already mentioned, the main component of ylang-ylang is linalool. This is known to be a potential irritant.

Closing words

Besides the known uses in the perfume industry, aromatherapy, and skin care, you can use ylang-ylang as an insect repellant. And the good thing is that it’s safe for humans and the environment.

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