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Village girls wearing thanaka at Ava, Burma

Thanaka (Burmese: သနပ်ခါး; MLCTS: sa. nap hka:; pronounced: [θənəkʰá], also spelt thanakha) is a yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from ground bark. It is a distinctive feature of the culture of Myanmar (formerly Burma), seen commonly applied to the face and sometimes the arms of women and girls, and is used to a lesser extent also by men and boys.[1][2][3] The use of thanaka has also spread to neighboring countries including Thailand.[2][3][4]


The earliest literary reference to thanaka is in a 14th-century poem written by Mon-speaking King Razadarit's consort.[5] Mentions of thanaka also exist in the 15th-century literary works of Burmese monk-poet Shin Maharatthasara (1486-1529).[5]

Source and preparation[edit]

Thanaka wood (Hesperethusa crenulata) for sale
Kyauk pyin stone slabs for grinding thanaka at a pagoda market in Sagaing

The wood of several trees may be used to produce thanaka cream; these trees grow abundantly in central Myanmar. They include principally Murraya spp. (thanaka) [2] but also Limonia acidissima (theethee or wood apple).[6] The two most popular are Shwebo thanaka from Sagaing Division and Shinmadaung thanaka from Magwe Division. 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. Thanaka in its natural state is sold as small logs individually or in bundles, but nowadays also available as a paste or in powder form.

Thanaka cream is made by grinding the bark, wood, or roots[2] of a thanaka tree with a small amount water[6] on a circular stone slab called kyauk pyin[4] which has a channel round the rim for the water to drain into.

Application, style and properties[edit]

Thanaka cream has been used by Burmese women for over 2000 years.[4] It has a fragrant scent somewhat similar to sandalwood.[2][7] The creamy paste is applied to the face in attractive designs, the most common form being a circular patch on each cheek, sometimes made stripey with the fingers known as thanaka bè gya, or patterned in the shape of a leaf, often also highlighting the bridge of the nose with it at the same time.[4] It may be applied from head to toe (thanaka chi zoun gaung zoun). Apart from cosmetic beauty, thanaka also gives a cooling sensation and provides protection from sunburn.[1] It is believed to help remove acne and promote smooth skin.[4] It is also an anti-fungal.[2] The active ingredients of thanaka are coumarin and marmesin.[8]

Health Concerns[edit]

In 2013, two pre-school age children from separate families in Kansas City, Missouri tested positive for dangerous levels of lead in their blood. Their elevated blood lead-levels were identified through required lead testing administered to refugees seeking resettlement in the United States. Investigators from the KCMO Health Department linked the lead poisoning to Thanaka powder at each family's residence. Sales of Thanaka at local stores and online is not highly regulated; public health officials believe the lead contamination can be caused by the tools used to grind the powder, or its containers. Public health officials recommend only using cosmetic products from a verified source; look for 1) product ingredients in a language you know and 2) a contact number on the packaging. Imported products with a U.S. distribution company are more likely to be lead-free. More details can be found in this article:

Lead poisoning remains an alarming public health problem in the United States and can cause significant and long-lasting educational and behavioral developmental disabilities. [9]


  1. ^ a b Streissguth, Thomas (2007). Myanmar in Pictures. Twenty-First Century ISBN 0-8225-7146-3. pp. 44, 73. Retrieved 2008-01-21. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Mabberley, D J (1997). The Plant-Book: A Portable Dictionary of the Vascular Plants. Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-41421-0. p. 470. Retrieved 2008-01-21. 
  3. ^ a b Kemp, Charles & Lance Andrew Rasbridge (2004). Refugee and Immigrant Health: A Handbook for Health Professionals. Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-53560-3. p. 98. Retrieved 2008-01-21. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Moe, J. "Thanaka withstands the tests of time". Mizzima News, 17 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-06. 
  5. ^ a b Yeni (5 August 2011). "Beauty That’s More Than Skin Deep". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 7 August 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Köllner, Helmut & Axel Bruns (1998). Myanmar (Burma). Hunter Publishing ISBN 3-88618-415-3. p. 18. Retrieved 2008-01-21. 
  7. ^ Baker, William & Ira Bruce Nadel (2004). Redefining the Modern. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press ISBN 0-8386-4013-3. p. 24. Retrieved 2008-01-21. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Bellinger, DC. 2011. The Protean Toxicities of Lead: New Chapters in a Familiar Story. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 8: 2593-2628.

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