When you arrive in Myanmar, one of the first things you notice about the Burmese people is their painted face. It’s “Thanaka” (pronounced Te-naw-Ká), a yellowish paste made from ground tree bark of the Thanaka tree (Limonia acidissima). Burmese people (mostly women and children but also some men) use it for cosmetic and medicinal purposes. They state that Thanaka is a natural sun blocker that prevents sun damage, cools the skin and keeps it dry, heal blemishes and scars and clears up acne. It’s even believed that it reduces fever and headache when ingested.
The use of Thanaka is common in the whole country and serves as a mark of Burmese cultural pride. Even some elementary schools require their students to wear Thanaka as part of their uniform and to show that they have bathed. It’s their favourite cosmetic and you see it on (almost) everyone’s cheeks, nose, neck and even arms. It’s fascinating to see the many different ways people apply the paste on their body, personalizing it and, in some way, showing their attitude.

We wanted to know more about this unique tradition and try it ourselves! For that, Naw Soe, a Burmese girl from Nyaungshewe (Inle Lake), gave us a demonstration of how the Thanaka paste is prepared and applied.

You need the bark of the Thanaka tree, a kyauk pvin – a flat, circular stone specially designed for creating the paste and water.

Firstly, add a bit of water on kyauk pvin suface and grind the bark of the Thanaka tree against it until you get a yellow paste.

After about ten seconds of grinding, the Thanaka is ready to apply! Naw Soe applied it on our cheeks and nose, using a small brush to spread it evenly. It was an interesting experience and enjoyed very much trying it!

Would you like to know more about this Burmese tradition? In Nyaung U (Bagan) there is a dedicated museum for the Thanaka located at Yarkinnthar Hotel Rd & Main Rd, opened from 9 am to 9 pm.

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