The yellow circles, squares and lines seen on cheeks, noses and foreheads of people throughout Myanmar is Thanaka, a yellow-white cosmetic paste produced by grinding the bark
of the Thanaka tree on a flat, smooth stone with water. The milky yellow liquid dries quickly when it is applied to the skin. Women, men and children apply thanaka to their faces, arms and legs for a variety of reasons. Thanaka is valued as a sunscreen
and as a beauty product that keeps the skin cool, stops oiliness, tightens pores, improves the complexion and adds a pleasant, soft fragrance to the skin. Thanaka is also used as a medicinal product to treat acne, fungus, skin sores, measles, epilepsy, poisoning
In rural areas men and women apply thanaka thickly on their arms, legs and whole faces like a mask before they go out to work in the sun to prevent sunburn and sun damage
to their skin. Men and women working outdoors in urban areas do the same.
Urban female office workers who spend less time in the sun wear thanaka for its beauty and cosmetic purposes,
often applying it with make-up artistry, creating circles, squares with fine lines and leaf patterns on their faces.
Myanmar women have been using thanaka for more than 2,000 years,
buying the small Thanaka logs in the market and grinding them into a paste on a stone at home. Today, many commercial preparations of thanaka are available as branded creams, pastes and powders that are being sold in Myanmar supermarkets and being exported,
sold mainly to Myanmar people living outside the country. Some Thai spas have begun using the commercial preparations in their treatments.
It can take up to 10 years for the tree’s trunk to
reach a diameter of two inches. Quality thanaka bark is believed to come from trees that are at least 35 years old. Thanaka plantations have been established in Myanmar’s dry zone in response to continuing demand for the tree’s products and the
commercial production of thanaka creams and powders.