Thanaka (Burmese Language) is a yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from the bark and roots of trees. A distinctive feature of the culture and tradition of Myanmar, the paste is commonly applied to the face, and sometimes the arms and calf of women and girls. It is used to a lesser extent by men and boys as well, especially, in sparsely rural areas.
Most school children have colorful shapes drawn on their faces with thanakha. It is very useful for medical supplies and precious products in the country. Thanakha is mostly produced in the central, east, and dry region in Myanmar. The paste has earned a reputation for being a heritage product passed down from one generation to the next in the country. Nowadays, it is promoted as a ready-made cosmetic and is exported to various countries, especially Thailand.
The use of thanaka has existed since ancient times in Myanmar. The earliest literary reference to this paste dates back to a 14th century poem written by King Razadarit's Mon-speaking consort. Thanaka has also been mentioned in the 15th century literary works of the Burmese monk-poet, Shin Maharatthasara (1486-1529).
Certain trees are usually used to produce thanaka cream. These tress (botanical name - Lamonia accidisima) formally grow naturally in the forest. However, in recent times, these trees can be grown in many lands within a shorter period than normal ones. The two most popular are Shwebo thanaka from Sagaing Region and Shinmadaung thanaka from Magway Region. Thanaka trees are perennials and grow up to 30 feet in length. The cream derived from these trees is made by grinding the bark, wood, or roots with a small amount of water on a circular stone slab called kyauk pyin.
Thanaka cream has a fragrant smell, and is somewhat similar to sandalwood. The paste is applied to the face in attractive designs, the most common form being a circular patch and leaf shapes on each cheek, nose, and neck. As a cosmetic beauty product, thanaka also gives a cooling sensation and provides protection from sunburn. It is believed to help remove spots on the face and promote smooth skin. In some cases, it can also be used in medical purposes for children, like skin inflammation. It also helps in relieving some symptoms of menstruation in women.
Whenever you visit Myanmar, do remember to buy this unique natural cream!