A Burmese Beauty Secret – The Thanaka Powder

LP 40 London to Sydney 2013

Picture Source: Lonely Planet

Many people will be surprised to know that my race is actually Burmese. This is because I actually look nothing like the typical Burmese (tanned with dark South-East Asian features). Instead I look very very Chinese with fair skin and almond shaped eyes. My family migrated to Singapore more than 25 years ago when I was just 5 years old and I grew up in Singapore. Growing up in a Burmese household, the Thanaka powder is as common to me as cooking oil in your kitchens. My mother would grind the Thanaka bark against a stone slab to form a creamy paste and apply it to her skin after bathing. Sometimes she would apply a thicker layer on her cheeks to form what is known as “ba guak”. She would also use the Thanaka powder as loose powder and use it to set her liquid foundation makeup. I remembered that when we first moved to Singapore, my elder sister was just starting Primary 4 (the equivalent of Grade 4 for the rest of the world). Not knowing that the Thanaka powder was not common to see in Singapore, she actually went to school with “ba guak” applied thickly on her face. She got laughed at in school by the other kids and came home hurt and furious. But my elder sister was a spunky and feisty girl (she still is full of sass!) and she still went to school with the Thanaka powder, not caring about what other people might say, albeit she wore it in a light loose powder layer rather than a thick yellow paste layer.


A child with Thanaka “Ba Guak” on her face (Source from https://burmatravel.info/burma-information/burmas-thanaka-paste.html)

For me personally, I still use the Thanaka powder everyday as my loose powder after my sunscreen. I find that it not only helps to mattify my face after my generous application of sunscreen, it doesn’t dry out my skin unlike some loose powders. In fact, the Thanaka powder also helps to soothe and cool down my skin on hot days. Most days, I’m good to go out with just a dusting of the Thanaka powder on top of my sunscreen as it also provides some slight coverage. I do not wear any other base makeup unless I need to attend an important function.

Where can you find it?

In Singapore, I believe that the Burmese shops in Peninsula Plaza sell the Thanaka powder. It shouldn’t be very expensive (not more than S$15).

Thank you for reading!

Review – Pestle & Mortar Superstar Retinol Night Oil


Photo taken from official website pestleandmortar.com

I came across the Irish brand Pestle & Mortar when Caroline Hirons (the super famous UK skincare blogger) claimed that their Superstar Retinol Night Oil is “the best retinol I’ve used outside of a prescription“. With a claim like that, and especially from one who’s known to be a skincare guru, how could I not check that product out?! Around the middle of last year in 2016, I became concerned when I started seeing super fine lines on my forehead. I tried to incorporate more hydrating products into my skincare routine thinking that it might be fine lines caused by dehydration. While those products did help, I still wasn’t fully satisfied with the results. I did some research on my own and came to the conclusion that I need to start including a retinol product to up my game for the fight against signs of ageing. I bought the Superstar Retinol Night Oil and have been using it since January 2017. Before we begin on the review proper, let’s take a look at its ingredients, shall we?


Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Oil*, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil*, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil*, Rosa Canina (Fruit) Oil*, Punica Granatum (Pomegranate) Seed Oil**, Ribes Nigrum (Black Currant) Oil*, Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, Retinyl Palmitate, Daucus Carota Sativa (Carrot) Seed Oil***, Nigella Sativa (Black Cumin) Seed Oil**, Calophyllum Inophyllum (Tamanu/Foraha) Seed Oil**, Vaccinium Macrocarpon (Cranberry) Seed Oil*, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Tocopherol, Calendula Officinalis Flower Oil**, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil**.
*Cold Pressed | **Cold Pressed and Organic| ***Steam distilled

The ingredients which I’ve highlighted in red, bold and underlined are actually the star ingredients of this product. Both are esters of retinol. As stated in their official website, Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate represents a new generation of Retinoid. It is an aesthetic ester of all-trans retinoic acid that works similarly to prescriptive Tretinoin (Retin-A) but without the irritation. Retinyl Palmitate, on the other hand, does not penetrate as deeply as the Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate so it is better for surface exfoliating purposes. These 2 ingredients are supported by the more nourishing blend of organic oils and cold pressed using booster technology in Ireland, to deliver the right mix of Vitamins A, E, C and B along with Omegas 3 and 6. I believe this is why the product is able to work its magic without drying out the skin at the same time.


It has a light oil texture that is comfortable even in Singapore!

How does the Pestle & Mortar Superstar Retinol Night Oil fare?

Even though I had not used any retinol products before this (Note: I started using the Differin Gel much later after this product), I was gung-ho and went straight to using it every night with no reservations. And I was rewarded for my “courage” with fabulous results! Now I must say that when I first started using this product, I was quite “meh” about it. I mean I couldn’t really see super fast and drastic results, unlike with acid toners, much to my instant gratification self. However, I do know that skincare is a life-long process and you will only be rewarded many years later and you realise that you look much younger than other people your age.

What changed my opinion of my product was this: During the Chinese New Year period around the end of January this year, me and my husband brought our 2 year-old daughter to China to meet her paternal grandparents. Her grandfather had never met her before ever since she was born and told my husband that he really wanted to see her. Now China, especially the northern region of Hebei where my husband was originally from, is very very cold around that time of the year. Knowing that, I brought only gentle hydrating products, with the exception of the PIXI glow tonic, to prevent my skin from drying out. When I came back to Singapore, my skin was in a mess! Firstly coming back to hot (with average daily temperatures hovering around 31 ~ 34 degree Celsius)  and humid Singapore from a cold country was a shock to my skin. Secondly, the pollution in China was really really bad, due to most people burning coal during winter for warmth, and it affected my skin too. It also didn’t help that I usually have hormonal acne around that time of the month and I was having my period when I came back. My skin was dry yet it looked oily with random breakouts on the bottom half of my cheek area. I started using this product again hoping for a miracle to happen. Within a week, my breakouts had stopped and actually started healing, my skin became balanced again and the grey pallor was gone. I was a convert!

My routine for using this product is this: Cleansing Oil => Cleanser => Acid Toner => Hydrating Toner/ Mist => Pestle & Mortar Superstar Retinol Night Oil => Night Cream. Sometimes when I get back home late or when I’m feeling lazy, I’ll just cleanse my face, spray a copious amount of hydrating mist, massage in 2 pumps of this night oil and go to sleep. I’ll still wake up with soft hydrated skin. Currently I alternate the use of this product with the Differin gel. That is, if on Monday night I use this retinol oil, I’ll use the Differin gel on Tuesday night and continue with this on Wednesday night. My skin is kept relatively happy in this way.

Where can you find it?

This product is not available in Singapore locally. However, you can buy it from their online shop (http://www.pestleandmortar.com/product/superstar-retinol-night-oil/) and they do ship worldwide. It retails for 76 Euros or 63 British Pounds (30ml sized).

LookFantastic SG has also recently stocked this brand.

Receive $5 off your first order when you spend S$30 on LookFantastic by either clicking HERE or use my referral code SUMB-R2!

Thank you for reading!

Review – Differin Gel 0.1%


Photo taken from official Differin website

Differin Gel contains a powerful prescription-strength retinoid called adapalene in concentrations of both 0.1% and 0.3% respectively.

According to their official website, “adapalene adjusts the speed of skin cell turnover to make sure your skin goes through the right process, creating a healthier environment for skin. Regulating skin cell turnover to a normal rate helps to keep the pores from clogging and target acne before it even starts”.

  • In clinical studies, Differin Gel provided nearly a 60% average reduction in acne lesions after 12 weeks which continues to improve with further use
  • Up to a 90 day supply clears and prevents pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, and clogged pores
  • Reduces redness and inflammation caused by acne
  • Restores skin’s tone and texture by clearing your acne

Taken from the Differin official website https://www.differin.com/

So basically Differin is an anti-acne gel and dermatologists have been prescribing it to patients as young as 12 years old who suffer from acne problems. In the US, FDA had just approved this product (for 0.1% concentration only. 0.3% concentration is still prescriptive-based) to be made available for over-the-counter (OTC) use but in Singapore both concentrations of this product are prescription based.

Let’s take a look at the ingredients of Differin 0.1% gel, shall we?


Active ingredient: adapalene 0.1% (retinoid)
Inactive ingredients: carbomer 940, edetate disodium, methylparaben, poloxamer 182, propylene glycol, purified water and sodium hydroxide. May contain hydrochloric acid to adjust pH.

How does the Differin 0.1% Gel fare?

Long story short, it works! I love it! This is a GAME-CHANGER! *LOL*

Now let me share with you the long story.. Although Differin had always marketed itself as a treatment for acne only, my purpose in including it into my skincare routine was to see if it had any anti-aging effects on my skin. When I first starting using this, I was very cautious and went in slowly. I’ve heard stories about the horrible side effects of prescriptive retinoids such as red irritated peeling skin, massive purging and even chemical burns. So for the first 2 weeks, I only used it once every 3rd night. For example, if I used it on Monday night, I’ll only use it again on Thursday. After I built up my tolerance to the product by the 3rd week, I started using it on alternate nights. AND I only used a pea-sized amount on my whole face (please do not use any more than that.. you will only increase your risk of getting chemical burns on your face). By doing so, I was able to avoid most of the unpleasant side effects of Differin.


Use a pea-sized amount only

I’ll share with you exactly what I did below.

My Differin Routine

  1. Remove sunscreen and makeup with cleansing oil/ balm
  2. Double cleanse with a mild cleanser
  3. Swipe a hydrating toner all over my face and neck
  4. Apply a thin layer of water-based hydrating serum all over my face and neck
  6. Apply a pea-sized amount of Differin all over my face. I portion out the product onto my fingertip and just dot it on my cheeks, forehead, nose and chin. When you are done, only a thin layer of the product should coat your face. I didn’t use Differin on my neck as I’ve heard that it is too strong and might cause discolourations on the neck where your skin is thinner.
  7. WAIT 30 MINUTES FOR DIFFERIN TO BE ABSORBED (very very important!!)
  8. Mix 3 drops of facial oil with night cream in my palms and apply to my face and neck.
  9. Go to sleep

In the first 2 weeks of using Differin, I experienced mild purging with some of my stubborn clogged pores emerging and slight feeling of dryness/ tenderness around the sides of my nose. However, I didn’t experience any peeling skin. By the end of the 3rd week, my skin was looking brighter, my mild breakouts were mostly gone and skin feels much smoother. Now that I’m in my 6th week of usage, I’ve noticed that the large pores on the cheek area at the side of my nose seemed to be minimised, skin tone is very even and some fine lines on my forehead are softened. I believe that with continued usage of this product, I should experience better results in terms of anti-aging. Afterall the best form of anti-aging is prevention!

Another exceptionally important thing to note is to wear lots of sunscreen when you are using this product as it will make your skin more sun-sensitive!

Where can you find it?

In Singapore, Differin is prescriptive based only. In the US, it can be purchased from Walmart, Walgreens, Target and most major pharmacies. It retails at US$12++ (15g – up to 30 days supply) and US$25++ (45g – up to 90 days supply).

Thank you for reading!