Thanakha: A Sun Cream with Deep History

When traveling in Myanmar, especially during the summer months, there is nothing more noticeable than the women and kids wearing tinted paste on their skin. This paste is called Thanakha and every Burmese people seemed to swear by it.

Thanakha paste is made out of ground roots, barks, or branches of Limonia acidissima or Hesperethusa crenulata commonly known as sandalwood or wood-apple in English. This tree has many names but in Burma it’s known as the thanakha tree. The process involves grinding the tree parts, with a small amount of water, on a round stone slabs called kyauk pyin. The result is a thick yellowish paste called thanakha.

The tree must be old enough, at least 35 years old, and about 2 cm in thickness for it to produce a high quality product. Thanakha paste is known to prevent wrinkles and sun damage. People also use it as a cleanser and as an everyday face moisturizer. It’s also a great insect repellent. According to a study by Wangthong and colleagues of Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, extracts from Thanaka bark showed anti-inflammatory properties, significant antioxidation, and low toxic properties. Hence, the use of thanakha in the form of paste is not only safe but also beneficial to skin.

The used of thanakha dates back in the mid 11th century. It has been used as a beauty product for over 2000 years. Paintings of women wearing thanakha was discovered inside a pagoda in Bagan, Myanmar. It’s been said that thanakha was made popular by a queen from Beikthano. Her skin was so nice and everyone wanted to know her secret. Well, the secret is out and the use of thanakha in Myanmar is still very much alive to this day.