The old remedy in Burma is prized for its sunblock and aesthetic qualities, believed to cool the skin, prevent sun damage, and clear up acne. Having outlasted British colonialism and military dictatorships, this ancient treatment is being challenged by a new power; multinational cosmetic corporations.
Despite major cosmetic brands investing vast sums in campaigns to sway audiences, beauty experts on the region reckon thanakha is here to stay and that many young Burmese women are even blending it with Westernized beauty regimes.
Some manufacturers have even packaged thanakha as a ready-made powder to compete with the latest trends in skin care.
Holding its own
Thanaka cream has been used by Burmese women for over 2000 years.
It is a distinctive feature of the culture of Myanmar (formerly Burma), commonly applied to the face and sometimes the arms of women and girls, and is used to a lesser extent by men.
The substance with a fragrant scent similar to sandalwood, has also spread in popularity to neighboring countries including Thailand.
The paste is made by grinding the bark, wood, or roots of a thanaka tree with a small amount of water on a circular stone slab and is applied to the face, the most common form being a circular patch on each cheek, or patterned in the shape of a leaf, often also highlighting the bridge of the nose at the same time.
However, medical researchers are yet to find any scientific proof that thanakha is as beneficial for the skin as the Burmese claim.
Tide is turning on 'West is best'
Asia's home grown brands have been working tirelessly to change the 'West is best' mind-set with cosmetic consumers, be it with traditional treatments or domestically sourced formulations.
The tide for 'West is best' has actually changed so much that Eastern beauty products have now become an influence on the Western cosmetics industry.
According to Mintel, opportunity for international brands to develop more finished beauty products both locally and in the West.
The market researcher also reckons that the Eastern influence coupled with numerous launches of beauty drinks could also change America's uptake of nutricosmetics in the coming years.