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Market children with thanaka in Mandalay

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


Source and preparation

Thanaka wood (Murraya exotica) 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).[5] 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[5] 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

Thanaka cream has been used by Burmese women for over 2000 years.[4] It has a fragrant scent somewhat similar to sandalwood.[2][6]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]


  1. ^ a b Streissguth, Thomas (2007). Myanmar in Pictures. Twenty-First Century ISBN 0822571463. 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 0521414210. pp. 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 0521535603. pp. 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 Köllner, Helmut & Axel Bruns (1998). Myanmar (Burma). Hunter Publishing ISBN 3886184153. pp. 18. Retrieved 2008-01-21.  
  6. ^ Baker, William & Ira Bruce Nadel (2004). Redefining the Modern. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press ISBN 0838640133. pp. 24. Retrieved 2008-01-21.  

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