Made from ground tree bark, Thanaka paste is commonly used as sunscreen in Myanmar. It helps to regulate sebum production, tighten pores, and brighten the skin. Asian cosmetics manufacturers are promoting thanaka's antibacterial, antifungal, anti-aging, and antioxidant benefits to the rest of the world.
The pale yellow paste that women, children, and even adults wear is the first thing you notice when you arrive in Myanmar (formerly Burma). For decades, Myanmarese people have shielded themselves from the sun with this thick and silky paste produced from powdered tree bark. Additionally, to create and feel a sense of serenity, many people apply it to their cheeks or over the face with artistic designs such as stripes or swirly leaves.
A Deep Look Into Thanaka’s Roots
Thanaka, like the longyi, the national sarong-like skirt, crosses ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic lines. This organic cosmetic is manufactured from the bark of tropical plants and can be found throughout Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, although it is only being used in Myanmar. Despite its 2,000-year existence in India, the first recorded evidence comes from poetry composed in the 14th century.
While thanaka can be purchased in a number of forms (pastes, creams, and powders), the majority of Myanmar citizens choose to make their own by grinding wood on a stone slab known as kyauk pyin and blending it with water. The material is practically translucent while wet and turns into a yellow crust when dry.
Thanaka’s Protective Properties
Not all sunscreens are created in a laboratory. In this case, the Thanaka paste is a natural substance that proves that in Southeast Asian culture, nomadic Sama-Bajau people survive on a variety of water weeds, rice, and spices.
Many Asian communities also have a centuries-old habit of making their own sunscreen through organic solutions. For sun protection, individuals in Vietnam, for example, wear wide-brimmed conical hats. Sandalwood paste has been used for millennia in India to treat sunburns and cool the skin since its purifying properties can promote healthier skin conditions. When applied, it can clear acne and reduce oil production.
The Production of Thanaka
The most commonly used trees in the production of thanaka paste are Naringi crenulata (toothed-leaf limonia) and Limonia acidissima (wood apple), which must be at least 35 years old. The highly regarded paste comes from Mandalay and Bagan in Myanmar's parched central provinces.
Thanaka wood is typically sold in small logs or bundles for pulverization by the buyer. Its regenerative nature makes it suitable for long-term cultivation. The fragrant thanaka with a trace of gold powder is used by the country's royalty; farmers use it in the fields; school-aged youngsters spread the paste on their faces; and males wear only a trace of thanaka on their cheekbones and eyelids.
More than its aforementioned balancing benefits, it also enhances the skin's olive tones and gives it a lovely glow. With its blend of Coumarin (antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, and anti-aging) and Marmesin (sun protection), Thanaka demonstrates strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, UV-absorption, tyrosinase inhibition, and antibacterial effects.
Thanaka in Modern Times
Modern aesthetic trends and foreign cosmetics corporations, on the other hand, are threatening Thanaka's survival. Myanmar’s young women now believe that wearing thanaka gives the impression of being a villager.
To stay current with trends, many manufacturers now sell thanaka as a pre-made powder. Cosmetics makers in Myanmar, Malaysia, and Thailand incorporate thanaka into their products, which they export.
With the growing trend of organic and ethically-made cosmetics worldwide, the world is poised to learn Myanmar's best-kept beauty secret: Thanaka. Now that we’re learning more about this century-old beautifying paste, it’s difficult to look elsewhere for natural and competitively effective skincare products. To achieve timeless beauty, simply look into reaping the benefits of consistent use of Thanaka paste and see the difference for yourself.
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