Myanmar, Houston, and Tanakha

By July 10, 2015 March 25th, 2020 Culture

Myanmar, Houston, and Tanakha

Houston is one of the nation’s top resettlement locations for refugees. One of the top refugee groups is Burmese refugees.

Houston Burmese Refugee number 2015

So we thought it would be important to find some similarities between our Burmese brothers and sisters. One of those similarities is the importance of physical appearance and skin care. We all know how important it is to take care of your skin and protect it from the sun. So how do Burmese people take care of their skin back home?

Walking around Myanmar, it is common to see people covered in tanakha, from the wealthy to the common farmers in the paddy fields. Children get creative with designs on their cheeks, forehead, and nose, and many cover their arms and legs to take advantage of the sun protection and skin-cooling properties this substance provides. Myanmar is a tropical country with a primarily agrarian economy, yet the people of Myanmar are largely spared the effects of increased UV exposure—on the contrary, Myanmar women are known for aging gracefully! Could tanakha be their secret?

What is Tanakha?

Tanakha is an organic tree bark paste commonly used in Myanmar (Burma) as an effective natural sunblock, moisturizer, and oil absorber. For centuries, men, women, and children in Myanmar have applied it to their faces, arms, and legs. To make tanakha, a branch from a mature tree is cut to about five inches, and its bark is ground with water over a flat stone called Kyauk Pyin until there is a thick paste. The paste is then applied all over, and when it is dry, creates a yellow mask-like effect. Its aroma, both woody and floral, is soothing, much like the tanakha’s effect on your skin. Burmese people apply it in the morning and, depending on how much they sweat, the tanakha stays on, flakes off, or gets absorbed by the skin.

The western cosmetic market is spreading eastward into Myanmar. Sadly, some now feel that it is “backwards” to be wearing tanakha. Yet there are many that still believe in the numerous benefits of tanakha in skincare and beyond. When children are sick with allergies, diarrhea or an upset stomach, mothers often give them a spoonful of tanakha to cool the digestive system and reduce body temperature. Tanakha is also very effective for treating eczema, blackheads, and acne by diminishing inflammation. To counter the effects of aging, Myanmar women credit tanakha for keeping their skin even and taut.

If you believe that aloe vera, cocoa butter, avocado, and turmeric benefit your skin, it’s easy to understand how tanakha is just another way that nature takes care of us. Tanakha has been used in Myanmar for centuries and is still the main skin care product for the majority of its people. As the country opens up and tanakha piques world interests, companies are making it fancier and adding it into manufactured skin-care cosmetic products. But there’s no substitute for fresh tanakha, straight from the tree branch!