Thanakha is a kind of wood that we need to grow 8 to 25 years, and 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. Mostly thanakha grow abundantly in central Myanmar. The two most popular are Shwebo thanaka from Sagaing Region and Shinmadaung thanaka from Magway Region. A more recent contender sold as a paste is Taunggyi Maukme thanaka from southern Shan State.
Thanaka cream is made by grinding the bark, wood, or roots of a thanaka tree with a small amount of water on a circular slate slab called kyauk pyin, which has a channel around the rim for the water to drain into.
Application, style and properties
Thanaka cream 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, nose, 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 from head to toe (thanaka chi zoun gaung zoun). Apart from cosmetic beauty, thanaka also gives a cooling sensation and provides protection from sunburn. It is believed to help remove acne and promote smooth skin. It is also an anti-fungal. The active ingredients of thanaka are coumarin and marmesin.