A Cosmetics Brand Called Thanaka?
At first glance, one would think that these ladies are either acting in a stage play or modeling a brand of cosmetics…
But, traveling to a number of urban and rural places in Myanmar, I can’t help but notice the same masks, some sort of make-up that many people from all walks of life — men and women, young and old alike — were wearing on their faces. And I initially wondered: Are all these people acting in a play or I just have gone totally out of fashion that I have not heard of the latest trend in facial care?
The answer lies in a mysterious milky natural cream called “thanaka”. Distinct to the culture of Myanmar, the thanaka has been traditionally used by Burmese women reportedly for over 2000 years now. The yellowish-white cosmetic paste is made from ground bark and commonly applied to the face and sometimes the arms of women and girls, and, to a lesser extent, also by men and boys. *
Exuding a mild aroma similar to sandalwood , the creamy paste is applied on the face and nose either randomly or in creative designs such as a circular patch, stripey with the fingers, or patterned in the shape of a leaf. Believed to enhance beauty and help remove acne and promote smooth skin; the thanaka also gives a cooling sensation, serving as organic sunblock providing protection from Myanmar’s burning tropic sun.
The wood of several trees that are abundant in Myanmar may be used to produce thanaka cream. They include principally Murraya spp. (thanaka), Limonia acidissima (theethee or wood apple), Shwebo thanaka, and Shinmadaung thanaka. A more recent contender sold as a paste is Taunggyi Maukme thanaka from southern Shan State. Thanaka trees are perennials, and a tree must be at least 35 years old before it is considered mature enough to yield good-quality cuttings. In most rural markets, thanaka is traditionally sold as small logs individually or in bundles. Nowadays, thanaka is also available as a paste or in powder form.
Perhaps getting tired of my endless questions, a local friend got samples from his house and demonstrated how the thanaka paste is extracted from the bark (photos on the left). In a circular motion, the thanaka log is rubbed with a small amount of water on a circular stone slab called kyauk pyin. The rubbing motion leaves a yellowish paste on the kyauk pyin — it’s the thanaka cream.
Encouraged by my friend, I awkwardly applied some of his samples on my cheeks. Sure enough, I gradually felt the soothing coolness but I was also quick to loudly wonder how soon the thanaka cream could boost the attractiveness of my face. To that my friend laughed dryly, short of saying it’s hopeless.
Indeed, belief in the thanaka‘s efficacy as beauty enhancer remains strong even among Myanmar’s younger generations. As we drove through villages where thanaka-enhanced faces roamed, a young local band sang a song about thanaka from the car’s CD player. The message of the song was something like:
“You are so beautiful because of the thanaka on your cheeks; Other people may not notice but you are the moon of my life; To me, you are the most beautiful in the world; Because of your beauty, love for you flows out from my heart forever…”
*Reference Credits: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia