Women’s faces made a big impression on me in Myanmar. Specifically their painted faces. Almost all women (all of the small girls and most of the teenagers) had their faces covered in a cream paste. Some were casually smeared with it, while others (especially teenaged girls) were painted with very creative designs.

It is called thanaka, a yellow powder made from grinding a thanaka bark against stone with a little water. The resulting yellowish paste is mixed with body lotion or face cream and smeared over the face and sometimes body. Thanaka is used for its sun blocking and skin moisturising properties. It soothes and evens out skin tones. It is regarded as the best medicine for pimples, skin rashes and acne, removes body odor and serves as an insect repellent.

I spent several days walking around with my face ‘painted’ with thanaka paste. Local women seemed to like sitting me down and decorating my face with it.

Each time, it was a lovely experience and I liked the flowery smell which was similar to sandalwood but more delicate. Afterwards, I didn’t feel it was necessary to apply sunblock for the rest of the day. Despite the very hot temperature my skin felt cool and after washing it off at the end of the day, my skin felt smooth, soft and hydrated. I must also mention the fact that having my face painted made breaking the ice with Burmese people easy as pie!

DSC07275-2-L-1‘The world’s most beautiful women have a Thai smile, Indian eyes and Burmese skin’ – an old proverb very often repeated by English speaking thanaka sellers.

DSC09287Thanaka wood. These pieces have official stamps and are more expensive but are guaranteed to be authentic. The most expensive and highest quality thanaka comes from 30-35 years old trees. Apparently, this is when the wood has the ‘highest concentration of active ingredients’ (whatever that means). Markets usually sell three to seven years old thanaka wood. All thanaka wood grows in central Myanmar.Thanaka preparation Little girl preparing thanaka wood for sale.

Thanaka babyNothing cuter than a thanaka covered baby.

Thanaka portrait Kids walk around wearing thanaka sometimes in the shape of a rabbit or Mickey Mouse.

Thanaka portrait Cool application of thanaka. Teenagers (especially girls) very often have their own unique style of applying thanaka.

Thanaka portrait Some of the male teenagers use thanaka to cover spots.

Thanaka portrait Women that work outside for long hours cover their faces, necks, arms and all other exposed bits of skin to protect themselves from the sun.

Thanaka Thanaka products for sale. Pieces of wood, traditional circular grinding stones (kyauk pyin), ready made creams and pure powder (to be mixed with water or face cream/body lotion). Wood pieces are more expensive than ready-made products as the purity of the product is never known for sure.

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