The beige-yellow splodges, swirls and spots on cheeks and foreheads means one thing: you can only be in Burma. Burma’s Thanaka Paste comes from the bark of the thanaka tree, though other species are sometimes used. The bark is ground to a powder then mixed to a paste with water before being applied with fingers, although stencils may be used for more complicated designs.
It is the beauty of Burman culture. Patterns vary from delicate leaves and flowers or intricate swirls through to random blobs resulting from the slap-it-on-all-over technique, though bear in mind it’s generally applied as morning make up and after working several hours in a sticky market the thanaka may not be looking its best.
The majority of Burmese women wear it as do quite a lot of the guys, especially younger ones. The reasons for and benefits of applying thanaka are almost as numerous as the patterns themselves.
They include, in no particular order: the powder has a cooling effect, it provides protection from the sun, it deters mosquitoes and insects, it’s thought to prevent acne, it makes the skin smooth, it smells nice — it has a sandalwood-like fragrance — it acts against fungal infections, and last but not least — it looks good! In short, it’s apparently an all-in-one Burmese cosmetic and dermatological cure-all.