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 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. The use of thanaka has also spread to neighboring countries including Thailand.
The earliest literary reference to thanaka is in a 14th-century poem written by King Razadarit's Mon-speaking consort. Mentions of thanaka also exist in the 15th-century literary works of Burmese monk-poet Shin Maharatthasara (1486-1529).
Source and preparation
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)  but also Limonia acidissima (theethee or wood apple). The two most popular are Shwebo thanaka from Sagaing Region and Shinmadaung thanaka from Magway Region. 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 of a thanaka tree with a small amount water on a circular stone slab called kyauk pyin which has a channel round the rim for the water to drain into.
Application, style and properties
Thanaka cream has been used by Burmese women for over 2000 years. It has a fragrant scent somewhat similar to sandalwood. The creamy paste is applied to the face in attractive designs, the most common form being a circular patch on each cheek, nose, 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. 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. It is believed to help remove acne and promote smooth skin. It is also an anti-fungal. The active ingredients of thanaka are coumarin and marmesin.
Market stall keeper wearing thanaka, Mandalay
A Karen child (an ethnic group in Burma and Thailand) with Thanaka on her face.
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