Thanaka - Unique Tradition for Skin Health, Identity and Mindfulness
Thanaka is a traditional cosmetic product that has been used by the Karen and Burmese people for centuries. Derived from the ground bark of the thanaka tree, this natural, fragrant powder has numerous benefits for the skin, including sun protection, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and helping to reduce excessive oil production. The use of thanaka also has deep cultural significance in Burmese and Karen communities, and it is considered a symbol of beauty and elegance.
The thanaka tree, scientifically known as Limonia acidissima, is native to Southeast Asia, particularly Burma. It can grow up to 10 meters tall and produces small, yellow fruits that are edible. However, it is the bark and wood of the tree that is used to make thanaka powder.
The process of making thanaka powder involves harvesting the bark or small branches from the tree, drying it in the sun for several days, and then grinding it into a fine powder using a circular motion on a flat, stone slab. Water is then added to the powder to create a paste, which can be applied to the skin.
In the local markets, you will often see it simply sold like this:
The use of thanaka in Burmese and Karen culture is deeply ingrained, and it is considered a symbol of national identity. Women and children, in particular, use it to enhance their complexion, protect their skin from the harsh sun, and keep their skin soft and supple. Moreover, thanaka is often applied to the face and body in decorative patterns during festivals, weddings, and other celebrations.
Thanaka also has religious significance in Burma. The majority of the population in Burma are Buddhists, and Thanaka is used in Buddhist rituals and ceremonies. It is believed that the bark of the Thanaka tree is similar to the bodhi tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment, and its use is seen as a way of paying homage to the Buddha. During important Buddhist ceremonies, the paste is applied to the face and body in intricate patterns and designs, and it is believed that wearing the paste protects the skin and promotes inner peace and tranquility. Moreover, Thanaka paste is also used as a form of meditation in some Buddhist practices, where it is applied to the forehead to help calm the mind and improve focus.
Apart from its traditional cultural significance, thanaka has numerous benefits for the skin. One of its most significant benefits is its natural sun protection. A study published in the Journal of Natural Products Research found that thanaka extract contains compounds that help protect the skin from UV damage. Thanaka also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that help reduce acne, soothe sunburn, and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria on the skin. Another study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology found that thanaka extract has significant anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects, making it an effective treatment for acne and other skin conditions; it also helps reduce excess oil on the skin, which is particularly beneficial for those with oily or acne-prone skin.
You won't often see it worn in the traditional way now, other than within Burma and in border towns and rural areas along the Thai-Burmese border. And at cultural celebrations, weddings and festivals.
We love offering thanaka in our face mask range, to celebrate a beautiful and proud culture. This natural beauty treatment has deep cultural roots in both the Burmese and Karen communities. Its numerous benefits for the skin, including natural sun protection, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and oil reduction, make it an effective skincare treatment, particularly for oily, blemished or Asian skin. Its cultural significance makes it unique; your choice to use it is a simple way of standing in solidarity with a proud people who honor their cultural heritage and are continuing to proclaim their identity during times of civil war and ongoing genocide.
Khin Mar Mya, et al. "Anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects of thanaka (Limonia acidissima Linn.) bark extract." Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, vol. 16, no. 4, 2017, pp. 513-518.
Khin Mar Mya, et al. "UV protective effects of thanaka (Limonia acidissima Linn.) bark extract." Journal of Natural Products Research, vol. 31, no. 8, 2017, pp. 940-944.