Thanaka is a new ingredient for me.  I came across it when browsing instagram and became instantly intrigued.  But what is this powder and where did it originate?

What is Thanaka Powder?

Thanaka, or Limonia acidissima or Hesperethusa crenulata is a common tree in Southeast Asia and is used for its medicinal purposes throughout the region.  It is commonly known as the sandalwood, applewood and monkey fruit tree. It is indigenous to Myanmar and has been used as a cosmetic product by the Myanmaris for over 2000 years, as a sun protectant, for skin decoration and also to cool the skin.   The fruit is very high in protein as well as vitamins and minerals and is used to make a local beverage.  Concoctions are made from the fruit to treat digestive problems as well as other ailments.

thanaka powder

The powder comes from the bark of the tree which is ground into a fine powder.  When used it is mixed into an opaque yellow paste with a small amount of water and is used as an astringent, antiseptic, antifungal, anti-aging, cosmetic and sun protectectant and to prevent acne.  As with many traditionally used medicinal plants, Thanaka’s chemical properties have been studied.  Thanaka contains two active ingredients:  coumarin and marmesin.  The presence of coumarin explains it’s anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which make it good for treating acne and other skin conditions.    Interestingly, it is used predominantly as a sun protectant.  Seiverling et al found that presence of marmesin made it a pretty efficient UVA absorber when compared with titanium dioxide. It has also been found to have skin brightening properties which are attributed to arbutin, also found in the bark powder.

What is it like?

Thanaka powder mixed with water.


I had mine shipped all the way from Thailand.  I mixed it with a small amount of water and applied it to my face. It made a very smooth, creamy yellowish paste.  On application, it did have a very cooling effect and even when it dried, it did not feel particularly uncomfortable to wear.  It is supposed to have a fragrance but I found it to be neutral in scent.

Surprisingly, it washed off very easily once it had dried, unlike clay masks that take an age to remove if left on too long.  I can’t say I noticed anything particularly different about my skin afterwards, except that it did not feel taught and my skin wasn’t pink after application, as is normally the case with clay masks. I think I might need to use the mask for a while before making my final judgement but from first use, I would probably say this would be the perfect mask for sensitive skin.

Here is another easy mask formula you could try:

Thanaka and Honey Soothing and Hydrating Mask

To make enough for one application follow the ‘grams’ column.
Thanaka Powder924.5
Simply weigh and mix together in a bowl and apply.  Leave it on until it dries.  Its not like a clay mask, it can be left on over 10 minutes as it is not likely to cause any irritation or discomfort. I left mine on for far too long as I forgot it was there 🙂

That’s me wearing the Thanaka powder mask.



Wangthong S1, Palaga T, Rengpipat S, Wanichwecharungruang SP, Chanchaisak P, Heinrich M, Biological activities and safety of Thanaka (Hesperethusa crenulata) stem bark., J Ethnopharmacol. 2010 Nov 11;132(2):466-72. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2010.08.046. Epub 2010 Sep 6.


Anne Goldsberry MD MBA,a Alan Dinner PhD, and C. William Hanke MD MPHa, Thanaka: Traditional Burmese Sun Protection, March 2014 | Volume 13 | Issue 3 | Original Article | 306 | Copyright © 2014
Elizabeth V. Seiverling, MD1, Alyssa M. Klein MD1, Lindsay C. Bacik BS1, Christoph Gelsdorf MD2and Hadjh Ahrns MD3, Sun protection and other uses of Thanakha in Myanmar

Having studied social sciences and humanities at postgraduate level, I know, quite well primary and secondary research but I hadn’t really needed to use the scientific method. All I knew was this method wasn’t of too much use when studying the complexities of societies or human nature.  That said, I was probably introduced to the scientific method when taking units in anthropology (which I loved) and I probably did it when studying sciences in school – though I can not remember it at all.  In all truth, it was only when I started formulating, that I really started paying attention in any meaningful way.   I don’t call myself a scientist but I do use this tool when formulating natural cosmetic products.

The scientific method is a valuable device for making products of a high standard; that can be made repeatedly and accurately.  It is a way to be systematic when formulating cosmetics and should inform most of the stages from conception to bringing the final product to market.  So, what is the scientific method and how can it be used to make great products?

Broadly speaking, the scientific method is a set of stages a person goes through to find out more about a subject in a way that can be replicated by others and that hopefully results in learning about how our world works.  The scientific method has various stages, however, those steps are not linear in nature and they can be adapted for distinct types of scientific inquiry.

Below is an infographic about the general steps within the scientific method.

How is the scientific method used when making cosmetic products?

When formulating it is important to experiment, test, record and observe in a methodical way. Below is an example to show how the scientific method can be utilised when developing cosmetic products.


So, I want to make a cream with a new emulsifier. At this point I say to myself “ I fancy trying out that new emulsifier, I wonder what it is going to be like? I think I might make an emulsion with lots of oil in it.”  What do I do?

Here is a basic summary of the steps I might take:

  1. Research the specific emulsifier.  Peruse the supplier’s data/sell sheet as that will give lots of information.  They have normally done a great deal of work testing their ingredient as they want to sell it.  I usually take interest in things like the pH it works well at, what ingredients they advise to avoid or use minimal amounts of.  I look at the processes and methods they employ and do a google search to find out if there are any products on the market that use this emulsifier.  Often the ingredients list will give a lot of information.
  2. Start formulating on paper (or excel sheet). I use the knowledge I have gleaned from the supplier’s research as well as my own experience when formulating. But, this is a starting formulation and must be made in order to know if the emulsifier works the way I want it to. It could be said that the paper formulation is my hypothesis.
  3. Make a prototype. I carefully make a physical cream with the emulsifier, recording the method, conditions, and details of how I make it, including any errors. The first formulation contains the recommended use rate for the number of oils used in the formulation, but it is an expensive emulsifier and I need it to be cost effective. I have to be aware that the company may also use the higher bracket of the emulsifier in their sales copy.  On that basis I formulate the same cream with different levels of emulsifier to find the optimum level.
  4. I do a stability test to see if the emulsifier works in my formulation. The one with the least emulsifier is not stable, it has separated however the others are fine. The stable one with the least amount of emulsifier is chosen.  To ensure this is truly stable, it is made again and tested again.

But I keep thinking about the one that didn’t pass the stability test.  I wonder, “Maybe it had nothing to do with the emulsifier, maybe it was something else?” I hypothesize what this might be and test it out again.  I rewind back to stage 2.  This might happen a few times while I try and troubleshoot especially if other things spring to mind.

Using the scientific method in formulating skincare is not difficult, providing good records and methodology are used.  It is easy to have negative results with a formulation and be tempted to change a few things at once. I have been guilty of this myself.  Then again, there are also times when I know I am so far off the mark I end up using the experience of the first prototype to start all over again. But when close to the desired result, it is always better to change just one ingredient at a time – it might be time-consuming but at least I know what is happening and why.

This is a pretty simple whipped Shea butter.  I used refined organic Shea that had been pre-tempered and was quite soft. It might work with raw minimally processed types.  It is very occlusive and when I made it.  Initially, it felt quite greasy so I added some organic tapioca starch to cut the oiliness a little. I didn’t want to dry it out completely as that would be pointless.  In my opinion, it sinks into the skin quite quickly for what it is. Below is the formulation and method.  It is scented with organic Orange and Lavender essential oils. As this is a leave on product it is better to use distilled Orange oil as I understand it is not phototoxic.

The formulation:

Organic Shea Butter150g93.75
Organic Tapioca Starch9g5.62
Organic Orange Essential Oil0.5g0.315
Organic Lavender Essential Oil0.5g0.315


  1. Partially melt the Shea Butter. Mine was half melted when I decided to whisk. After the inital whisk the temperature was 29c.  I then added the Tapioca Starch and essential oils. 2. I whipped every 10 minutes.  This is what it looked like when it was 27c3.  I carried on whipping, every 5-10 minutes.  This is the final picture after I whipped it at 23c.

I initially used the ‘add ingredients as I go along’ method of formulating and calculated the percentages afterward.  You might want to just use this as a basic guideline and adjust accordingly especially if you like things a bit neater. This is a good starter, but you could easily swap out the tapioca starch for another starch and of course use different essential oil blends. You could probably get away with softening it slightly in a bowl of hot water rather than melting it.  Many people swear by using this method or continually stirring to stop it going grainy.

Shea butter has a really nice consistency. It’s not extremely hard and quite easy to whip. It’s very moisturising and many people use it on its own for dry and itchy skin conditions. Whipping it is a great way to make it user-friendly as it is quite dense otherwise.

If you have problems with grainy Shea or want to know how to do all sorts of different things with it then you will find the book Working with Shea by Lise Andersen very useful.

Common Name: Sea Buckthorn berry oil

Botanical Name/INCI: Hippophae Rhamnoides (Sea Buckthorn) Oil

Extraction Method: Cold Pressed

Shelf Life: 1-2 years

General Oil Specification: Carotenoids (400-500mg), Beta-carotene(15.70mg), Vitamin A (210-230 IU), Vitamin E (180-250mg), Vitamin K1 (170-200mg), Beta-sitosterol (provitamin D) (250-400mg), Iodine (70-80mcg), Calcium (5.4mcg), Iron (1.7mcg), Magnesium (1.6mcg), Phosphorous (6.5mcg), Zinc (1.5mcg).

Fatty Acid Profile: Lauric acid 0.12% , Myristic acid 1.51%, Palmatic acid 30.46%, Stearic acid 1.63%, Arachidic acid 0.53%, Behenic acid 0.18%, Lignoceric acid 0.16%, Palmitoleic acid 34.45%, Oleic acid 20.10%, Gadoleic acid 0.05%, Erucic acid 0.01%, Linoleic acid 5.83%, Alpha-linolenic acid 2.03%, Other acids 2.94%


Due to the deep red colour of this oil it is best used as part of a blend. There are no contra-indications to using neat it may cause colouration to the skin which may take a few days to disappear if used neat. Normally it is used in a blend up to 10% to avoid the colouration but receive the benefits of this amazing oil.

Sea Buckthorn is an amazing oil, its fruit is very citrusy and tart and contains on average 695mg per 100g of vitamin C, fifteen times the amount as oranges. It also contains vitamin E, carotenoids, omega oils 3,6,7 & 9, flavenoids (including quercetin) and minerals.

It is extremely rich in b-carotene which gives its colour. Plant carotenoids are rich in provitamin A which has a strong anti inflammatory effect on the skin.