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Why do Burmese Women Have White Faces?

Have you ever seen a Burmese woman in white face painting and made the same question as mine “what does it mean?” Some paint simple circle shapes, others make it more sophisticated with flowers and leave patterns, leaving us intrigued.

It’s actually a Burmese traditional cosmetic named Thanakha, which most of the Burmese females use to protect their skin and for beauty purpose. Thanakha is made from natural sources, which was popularly used since a long time ago. Thanaka means both “Cosmetic for beauty” and “cleansing” in Burmese. As the name, this unique cosmetic is used to protect the skin from sunlight and cooler face skin in hot weather.

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Thanakha is made from roots and timber covers of Thanaka trees after an easy process, being soaked in water and ground in a mortar. It is smooth and smells good. Burmese women love this natural cosmetic; they even bring a small mortal along with them when they travel as women in other countries bring their normal cosmetics.

It is not only used daily but also in special events and festivals to show social status of the women. In Burmese monarchy time, there’s a special thanakha was used for royal people, which is lighter, more fragrant and added with sparkling tiny gold dust, while normal people were used the one with yellow pollen of special flowers named Gant Gaw which smells very good. Until now, Burmese women still use this flower to make thanaka.

Woman and child make Thanakha

Thanakha is also widely used in religious events and festivals that you have a chance to witness if you plan visited Myanmar during that time. In some places, people use a towel soaked in Thanakha for Buddha washing face ritual.

Using natural cosmetic is seen in many ancient social and many countries in the world. However, nowadays, face painting is only seen in a small group of people to attract tourists, it is rarely used so popularly throughout a country like this. That’s why face painting custom by Thanakha is a special and interesting cultural phenomenon, which shows the cultural strength of this traditional country.

Below are some nice images of Thanaka faces:

Burmese girl in Bagan 

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