I got to know about the traditional Burmese beauty secret, thanaka, when Bio-essence first introduced their line of whitening Tanaka White products a couple of years ago. At that time, it got my curiosity as to what tanaka was because it sounded Japanese and how it works to lighten the skin. So I Googled and found out that tanaka is actually spelt as Thanaka. It is a yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from the ground bark of the thanaka tree and 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.
The thanaka paste is made by grinding the logs and branches of the thanaka tree vertically on a special, flat and circular whetstone, known as a kyauk pyin, which, with the addition of a few drops of water produces a milky yellow liquid which can then be applied to the skin.
The thanaka paste 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, 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 all over the body from head to toe. Apart from cosmetic beauty, thanaka also gives a cooling sensation in Myanmar’s hot weather and provides protection from sunburn. It is believed to help remove acne, promote smooth skin and act as a sun block, antiseptic, anti-fungal ointment and toner.
As a result, for many Burmese women the paste is an essential part of their beauty routine. Another reason for thanaka’s popularity among Burmese locals is that the thanaka is cheap. Whether it is sold in powders, soaps or any other forms, thanaka is an affordable beauty tool for all.
This traditional secret never lost its popularity even in city dwelling Burmese ladies. In Singapore, one is able to spot the occasional Burmese lady with thanaka patches on her face. In my last job at a nursing home, I very often saw Burmese nurses with thanaka white patches on their cheeks and forehead as they go about their job duties.
The use of thanaka as a beauty secret is so popular that it has spread to its neighbouring country Thailand.
A firm believer of using products in its natural, 100% concentrated form, I thought to give the thanaka secret a try since my rationale goes that modern cosmeceutical products often only include a fraction of the property that they market as the winning formula.
For example, a typical papaya face mask sold in the market may contain only a small percentage of papain, the ingredient that sloughs off dead skin and works as a skin exfoliator, together with a host of other preservatives and God knows what. Since papain is the magic property, wouldn’t it be better to hve mashed papaya applied directly on the skin? Furthermore I have ‘elephant’, super non-sensitive skin so that gives me the extra benefit to play around with concentrations.
And as I mentioned, that is my own rationale towards commercial beauty products that claims to use ‘natural’ ingredients.
Back to my own DIY thanaka homemade mask. I managed to get hold of a pack of 100% pure thanaka powder in a sealed foil pack for S$3+. Traditionally it is mixed with water to create a paste to apply on the skin.
But given that we are in city-living Singapore where tons of beauty products line local shelves, I mixed the powder with my Hada Labo Super Hyaluronic Moisturizing Lotion. The ‘lotion’ comes across as a very watery toner, thus making it an excellent liquid base for my thanaka powder face mask. I will be attempting to mix the powder with Nature Republic’s 100% pure Aloe Vera Gel in my next attempt as pure aloe vera is known to fade scars.
The colour of thanaka powder mixed with liquid gives a muddy earth shade but it will dry to a whitish-yellow hue. Apply the wet paste to the skin with fingers or a mask brush. The powder absorbs pretty much a lot of liquid so either you apply it at a speed of light before the paste thicken to messy crumbles, or you dilute it further with more liquid.
The thanaka powder flakes considerably a lot when it is dried so if you’re sleeping in the mask like I am, line your pillow with a protective pillow sheet (available at Daiso).
3 hours later.
VERDICT: No noticeable lightening. Maybe its because that this is my very first application. However, my face did felt so much more smoother and softer than usual when if I applied other beauty lotions/ serums after cleansing. Not too bad for a first try out.
Downside: The biggest, major turn-off is the extreme flaking off of the thanaka mask when it is dried. Barely 3 hours and my entire pillow and sheets are stained with specks of sulphur-coloured looking powder crumbs.
Comparing the thanaka homemade face mask to Bio-essence’s Tanaka White Serum, I’d say the latter is a more fuss-free option that can be used both day and night. It is unfair for me to judge the thanaka homemade mask’s whitening effect upon one application so I’ll be giving this treatment the benefit of the doubt with more applications in the future.
Based on the numerous requests I get for the thanaka powder, please note that I am not a seller nor a supplier. I merely got my pack on eBay. As a gesture of appreciation (to my blog), I eBay-ed and found the link which thanaka powders can be found HERE.