What is ylang ylang and how does it work?

Essential oils such as ylang ylang are proven to have natural healing properties. We take a closer look at the tropical plant's powers

A series of bottles filled with essential oil laid out on a pink background
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Essential oils such as ylang ylang have a variety of traditional uses, which may be of interest if you're looking to try natural remedies instead of, or to supplement, medication. 

From reducing stress and boosting your mood to relieving head- and stomach aches, incorporating ylang ylang and other essential oils in your health or skincare routine can prevent or treat several types of conditions. It is, however, important to be sure to use this oil correctly in order to optimize its natural benefits.

What is ylang ylang?

Ylang ylang is a type of essential oil that comes from the flower of the same name. The yellow ylang ylang flower can be found on the tropical Cananga tree, which grows in parts of Asia and Australia that are near the Indian Ocean. 

Several varieties of essential oils are created using this flower, with variations—such as ylang ylang extra—containing different levels of fragrance and properties, depending on how the oil is distilled. The oil from this star-shaped tropical flower it can also be used to add scent to high-quality soaps, lotions, perfumes, and other products. 

Benefits of ylang ylang

As well as often being a prominent ingredient in cosmetics, ylang ylang essential oil has been scientifically proven to offer a wide variety of health benefits. When used correctly, sometimes in combination with other products or treatments, ylang ylang can have an impact on various mental and physical conditions. 

While the use of stronger (think: pure) essential oils is generally more powerful, other skin care products—such as lotions—that contain smaller amounts of ylang ylang can also provide some of the benefits associated with the flower's fresh, calming scent.

Mental health benefits of ylang ylang

The unique combination of fruity and floral scents makes ylang ylang an attractive aromatherapy option when it comes to treating issues relating to mental health. The oil's calming nature makes it a go-to for therapies that aim to decrease anxiety, depression, and other mood-related challenges. Evidence shows it can also boost mood, decrease stress, and lower blood pressure and heart rate—especially if these two symptoms are directly associated with anxiety or depression.

Physical health benefits of ylang ylang

Ylang ylang's powers aren't solely reserved for calming the mind, though—it can also have several benefits for our physical health. Traditionally, in regions where native Cananga trees can be found, the essential oil has been used as a herbal remedy for a variety of conditions, including malaria, headaches, pneumonia, asthma, gout, rheumatism, and several types of stomach problems.  

It's also worth noting that, in addition to its most common cosmetic and health-related uses, ylang ylang can be used to repel insects, kill lice and certain other types of insect larvae, and is traditionally touted as a remedy for certain sex-related issues.

Potential side effects of ylang ylang

Like many plants, ylang ylang contains several common allergens. Isoeugenol, geraniol, and linalool, which can cause contact dermatitis, can be found in ylang ylang. For this reason, before using it liberally, it is important to test ylang ylang on a small patch of skin to make sure it doesn't cause an itchy rash, especially if you frequently struggle with allergic reactions, have sensitive skin, or have sensitivity to cosmetic products. Be sure to always dilute essential oils such as this with a carrier oil (see instructions on how to use, below). Ylang ylang can be eaten in certain circumstances, but this should be avoided if you are prone to dermatitis or otherwise allergic to its ingredients. It's also poisonous to pets.

When to consider using ylang ylang

This particular essential oil can be a helpful option to try first for minor issues, such as stress relief and occasional headaches. However, it's worth noting that for more serious health conditions, essential oils often work better when combined with other treatment options. For example, using ylang ylang alone to try to treat severe depression is likely to be less effective and could potentially be dangerous. Additionally, people who are allergic to any of the allergens found in ylang ylang should also consider other options.

How to use ylang ylang

As pure ylang ylang oil is much too strong to be applied directly to the skin, it should never be used on its own. Instead, for each drop of the essential oil that you use, mix with one teaspoon of carrier oil. This blend can then be applied to the skin, or the oil can be mixed with water and used with an essential oil diffuser. 

Like other essential oils, ylang ylang should be stored in a cool, dark place in an opaque container. Properly stored in this way, it can last for more than a year. 

When used correctly, ylang ylang and other essential oils can be effective natural treatment options for a variety of mental and physical health concerns. Even if you aren't currently experiencing these conditions, incorporating this versatile oil into your skincare routine can be a simple and relaxing self-care strategy that can boost your overall health and happiness.

Eunice Lucero-Lee is the Beauty Channel Editor for woman&home. A lifelong creative writer and beautyphile, she graduated from De La Salle University in 2002 and was hired a year later to front all beauty coverage for Pink Magazine, a teen lifestyle publication, after submitting a page-long thesis on why Stila was the best brand to come out of the Aughts. She was hired an hour later. 

Her writing—which has since then expanded to cover pop culture and astrology, both equal passions—led her to spearheading columns in Chalk Magazine, K-Mag, Metro Working Mom, and SugarSugar Magazine. Upon receiving her stripes at New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute in 2008 she was immediately headhunted to work as the Beauty Editor, thereafter Managing Editor of Stylebible.ph, the digital home of Preview, the Philippines’ best-selling fashion magazine, where she also did double-duty as Associate Editor of the print edition.

It was during this stint that the hallyu wave started taking hold and when she was tapped to co-found Sparkling, Asia’s first-ever English K-Pop print magazine. Originally planned as a one-off, the project became a runaway hit and saw her taking Korean classes on the weekends for three years, as she found herself frustrated by the lack of breadth translators provided for celebrity profile coverage. She was Editor-in-Chief until her move to New York in 2013. The now-iconic magazine has remained in publication since 2009 due to massive fan support.

A beauty, astrology, and pop culture obsessive and insider for over 18 years, Eunice is an internationally published editor (and now certified astrologer) whose work has been featured in publications such as Cosmopolitan, Esquire, and The Numinous, among many others. The former Editor-in-Chief of All Things Hair and a (very) proud cat mom, she spends her time in Manhattan figuring out the correct Pilates-to-sushi ratio, obsessing over celebrity natal charts, luxury skincare, and Scandi-noir crime procedurals, as well as finding the perfect K-Pop vid to save the day. She can still order drinks perfectly in Korean. Find her on Instagram @eunichiban.