If you’ve ever visited Myanmar then you will have certainly noticed a white paste covering a lot of people’s faces and even arms. This paste is called Thanaka. But what is it, and why do both women and men wear it? Thahara investigates.
What is Thanaka?
Thanaka has been used in Myanmar, and across other parts of Southeast Asia, for centuries. It is not only the name of the white paste, but also the name given to trees from which the paste come from. These trees grow abundantly in central Myanmar and are harvested into short logs, which are then sold at local markets.
To make the paste, the log, or stump of the Thanaka tree is grinded on a wet circular stone slab. This slab has a channel around the outside where the paste is collected, and then used. The paste itself is a yellowish white colour and is a little bit silky in texture while also having a mild bark like smell.
Why Use Thanaka?
The word Thanaka in Burmese has two meanings. The first is “Cosmetic for beauty” while the second is “cleansing”. Both of these sum up quite nicely why Thanaka is used. The paste has cooling and also cleansing property to it, which is why many Burmese men and women apply it to their face.
Thanaka is used to protect the skin from sunlight and also cool the skin in hot weather. This is particularly the case for villagers working long hours in the fields, or for young children going about their daily activities.
On top of this, Thanaka is used by women as a natural cosmetic, to keep their skin looking youthful. The paste is used to prevent oiliness and spots, and keeps the skin smooth, similar to face creams used in other parts of the world. This practise has been used for centuries and it has become a way to express traditional national pride.
Such is the case, that though the main reason for applying the paste is for cosmetic reasons, many women also apply it in the modern day aesthetically, creating artistic swirls, decorative leaves and other attractive patterns.
How is Thanaka Applied?
The creamy paste can be applied to your face and body with a simple finger, or with a brush. As already mentioned, the seasoned Thanaka user will sometimes create impressive designs of their cheaks, such as a leaf which highlights the bridge of your nose, while others will simply go with a circular patch. Across the rest of your body, a brush is often used, simply because it is easier to then spread the paste evenly.
If you’re using Thanaka for the first time then you’ll need to get used to a slight bit of discomfort, similar to applying face paint to your face. This will go away quickly however and you’ll soon forget you’ve even got it on.
So there you have it, Thanaka is a widely used cosmetic product throughout Myanmar. When you next come on holiday here, we’d highly recommend you trying it out on your skin, even using it for sun cream in the hot plains in Bagan, and getting involved with the local Burmese culture.