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.

In order to make home made cosmetics and personal care products you are going to need some equipment. Much of it you can buy from catering supply shops, lab equipment stores or suppliers of your raw ingredients.  Below is a list of the most important things you need in order to start making products safely.

Bain Marie and heat resistant bowls – A Bain Marie or a water bath is important for making lotions and balms  as it will allow you to control the temperature at which you heat your formulations.  For making creams or lotions you will need two pans and two water resistant bowls that can fit in the pans.  They should not be too small to touch the bottom of the pan.  Alternatively you can use a few tins at the bottom of the pan to keep the bowl off the bottom.  You can read more about Bain Marie method here. As stated you will need heat resistant bowls, and in order to make samples large enough it would be better for them to hold a minimum of 1 litre.  Your bowls should also not be too wide. They need to be narrow enough to allow the blender shaft to be covered by the emulsion/liquid.

You can always use an electric slow cooker and two heat resistant bowls to make a bain marie.

Measuring Equipment


It is important to have a few different scales. One that can measure smaller amounts of materials for sample sizes and another to measure larger batches.  You can pick up cheap jewellery scales from Amazon.  Ideally they should weigh minimum 0.1g but you can get some that go as low as 0.001. Some good precision scales are CB 1001 or the Kern EMB 500-1 which you can get from here.  Or if you don’t want to spend so much you could try something like this jewellery scale.

For larger batches you can use standard digital kitchen scales.

pH reading – Most types of product need to be of a certain pH in order to be skin safe and to be compatible with a formulation (normally the emulsifier or the preservative performs at a certain pH range.   It’s good to have both  litmus papers and more accurate pH meters. They can be picked up fairly cheaply from amazon or your pharmacist.  It is important to get one with a probe protection as the probe is glass and can break easily.  A good starter meter is the Hanna Checker or a Milwaukee

Thermometer – You will need  a few of these to ensure that your water and oil phases reach the correct temperature range.  Standard glass ones are fine.

Disposable pipettes – probably the easiest way to measure out small amounts of liquids is with a pipette.  You can get them from here and here in the U.S and here in the UK.

Mixing and weighing vessels – You will need vessels for weighing different types of ingredients.  For powdered ingredients you will need a weighing boat, plastic shot glass or even silicone or paper cupcake cups.  You will also need some small glasses for measuring more corrosive materials like essential oils and highly acid/alkaline ingredients.  Make sure you have a selection of different sized larger containers measuring from 200g to 1-2ltrs.  Some people prefer glass and others plastic.  I have a selection of both.  I also have large glass bowls for microwaving butters to melt them when I make soap.

Stick Blenders – In order to make a cream or a balm you will need one of these.  They are standard ones you might use in a kitchen.  You can also get a small hand held milk frother in order to work in smaller quantities.  If you want to make body butters having a hand held Blender with a balloon whisk might come in handy or a stand mixer. Having a dough hook will come in handy too.  I really like the Waring brand of immersion blenders which come in different price ranges and for both home use and professional kitchen use.

Stirring rods, spoons and spatula.

Containers – Glass jars and bottles are good for storing small amounts of products especially if they arrive in plastic bags.  Plastic jars and bottles are a good choice for storing your finished product.

You can buy them from various online shops. Google ‘PETG jars /bottles  or amber / clear glass Winchesters / medicine bottles.  You can get pharmaceutical bottles and jars with bakerlite caps with inbuilt leak resistant cones inside which are fool proof for any liquid based formula or ingredient. 

Microwave Baby bottle steriliser – this will come in handy for sterilising your utensils in the microwave.

Hot  plate or hob – If you don’t want to make your products in a kitchen you  might want to get hold of a few hot plates in order to heat your products to the right temperature.

Soup Kettle – I have a number of these. they come in handy melting my wax for candle making as well as making water free butters, scrubs and similar products.

Goggles to protect your eyes (not really necessary for lotion making but critical in  soaping.


70% isopropyl alcohol is  needed for disinfecting equipment before use

Kitchen towel is needed to mop up any spillages

Cellophane or tin foil are needed for covering the water phase when heating to help  stop evaporation and water loss whilst heating your water phase.

Dust mask to protect your lungs from powders like clay and powdered surfactants which can be very irritating to the respiratory tract.

Pen and paper – or  note pad to record your formulations as well as the processes you followed.