Thanaka, a powerful yellowish paste with excellent rejuvenating properties, is a yellowish paste that Burmese people have applied onto their faces for centuries. According to a government plan, it will soon be proposed for UNESCO Cultural Heritage listing, signifying the paste as a distinctive part of Myanmar culture.

It is created by grinding tree bark and has a fragrance reminiscent of sandalwood. It is used to cool the skin and protect it from the skin, making it crucial for weathering the harsh year-round sun in Myanmar. Everyone, from the young to the elderly, loves smearing thanaka on their cheeks, making it the cosmetic of choice despite the proliferation of modern beauty products.

All About Thanaka

Thanaka is hard and has a pale yellow hue. Dried thanaka weighs 61 pounds per cubic foot, so it is often used as a driving lever in grinding oil or paddy in the carving industry. It is even used as a measuring tool. 

Apart from its cooling and sun protection abilities, it also makes people feel fresh. Female farmers and courtiers often wear thanaka, and most Burmese girls apply the paste after bathing or attending religious occasions. 

The Benefits of Thanaka

Thanaka is primarily known for protecting the body against heat-related issues, making it especially useful for working under direct sunlight. Its fragrance has also helped treat neck pain, headaches, dull pain, and even nasal congestion. 

Some women who have suffered pain with their menses have applied the paste with turmeric to find relief. If they’re running a fever, they take liquid thanaka with the nectar of Mesua Ferrea to bring it down. Men treat symptoms attributed to urinary disease, like toothache, blurred vision, headache, and dull pain by grinding the root of the thanaka and drinking it.

Thanaka’s Cultural Significance

Burmese girls typically longitudinally grind thanaka, though courtiers grind it vertically to achieve a smoother consistency. The girls dry thanaka to make powder, which can be used as a face mask or mixed with other substances. Many people offer thanaka to the Buddha at the bonfire, cementing the paste as a vital part of Myanmar culture.

Companion Plants to Thanaka

The botanical term for thanaka is Limonia acidissima, belonging to the Rutaceae family. It is also in the same group as Aegle marmelos, lemon, lime, orange, and clausena. Thanaka trees can grow with Tectona Hamiltonian, Terminalia oliveri, Acacia leucophloea, Eastern gooseberry, Diospyros burmanica, Acacia catechu, and many more. The tree’s stem reaches about three feet. 

Planting Thanaka

Though you can see thanaka trees all across Myanmar, they’re primarily grown in the country’s dry zone, located in the middle. Seventy-five percent of thanaka plantations in the country are found in Ayartaw township, boasting more than 100,000 acres of land. Other townships also have thanaka plantations, like Pakokku, Shwebo, Butalin, Monywa, and more.

Other countries have recognized thanaka’s many benefits, which is why they’ve distributed it under different names. Some beauty companies from South Korea and Thailand use it in body lotion and foundation products, although they contain less than 20 percent of thanaka. This is another reason for the proposal of the cultural heritage listing, as Myanmar may receive technical assistance from UNESCO to preserve thanaka if it is successfully listed.


Thanaka is a highly beneficial substance used by the people of Myanmar for several centuries, making it a distinct part of their culture. By proposing it for UNESCO Cultural Heritage listing, it can be properly preserved for future generations to enjoy. 

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