Tanaka - A Burmese Beauty Ritual

Myanmar, formerly Burma, is one of the largest countries in Southeast Asia. It has a rich history and cultural traditions, visible in festivals, food, and the remains of past kingdoms and temples. The majority of the population are Bamar Buddhists; however, there is an incredible cultural variety. Despite varying traditions and customs across different ethinic and religious backgrounds, there are some values and traditions that can be attributed to most people in the country. The Burmese are typically gentle, considerate, good-humoured and patient people. They appear to have a lot of gratitude for their situation, as well as hope for the future. One of the traditions that unites Burmese of various ethnicity and religion is the beauty ritual of Tanaka.

Thanaka is a paste made from ground bark of several trees (primarily Tanaka, Murraya and also Limonia Acidissima). It is sold in various forms in markets or alongside other beauty products.  It can be purchased as a powder and also in its original bark form that you can grind yourself. 

Thanaka Trees must be at least 35 years old before they are considered mature enough to yield good quality cuttings. The barks, wood or roots of the tree is ground with a small amount of water (and sometimes flour) on a circular slab called 'Kyauk Pyin'.  The slab  has a channel around the rim for the water to drain leaving the ground bark behind as a paste. 

Women, men and children use the paste primarily as a sunblock and an anti mosquito treatment. Burmese women have also been using it as a form of make up for more than 2,000 years. The paste is applied in attractive designs or just a simple circular patch on cheeks, nose and neck. It imparts a fragrance (similar to Sandlewood) and a cooling sensation which provides some protection from sunburn. It is a natural anti fungal and is believed to help remove acne and promotes smoother skin.


Sources: SBS, BBC & National Geographic