Two years ago in May I was lucky to travel to Thailand for the public coronation of King Rama X before embarking on a culinary tour around the country. The new monarch decreed that anyone attending the events had to wear yellow since it’s the color associated with Monday, the day of his birth.
It was an amazing experience, but I had no idea how much I would sweat in the Bangkok heat wearing a long yellow dress for two straight days as we took part in the festivities. Eventually I developed prickly heat on the backs of my thighs, a small and itchy rash caused by clogged sweat glands. Ew.
Luckily, one of my friends and travel companion was a Thai native, who told me about a secret among locals: Snake Brand Cooling Powder. This antidote against the humidity was actually developed in 1947 by Dr. Luen Vongvanij to help foreigners deal with the heat rash caused by Thailand’s muggy climate.
Just a few sprinkles on the backs of my thighs, under my arms and anywhere else I felt uncomfortable and sticky, and I got instant relief.
“Growing up in Bangkok where it’s hot and humid twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, this product is a necessity,” explained my friend Tida Harnpanpongse, who works in New York for the Thai Tourism Board. “I’ve used this cooling powder since I was a kid daily after shower since it gets rid of any stickiness from the humidity, and you can use it during the day to cool you down from the heat as well.”
The secret to the powder’s success lies in two key ingredients. Essential oil of camphor, extracted from the wood of the Cinnamomum camphora tree, relieves skin itchiness and irritation and also touts anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties.
Menthol, obtained from mint oil or made synthetically, is responsible for that amazing sensation of cooling on the skin. (Think about how cold your mouth stays after you bite down on a Wintergreen LifeSaver and you get a pretty good idea of how great the powder feels on hot and itchy skin.)
These oils are combined with sweat-absorbing talcum, for a self-care product that works fast. It’s said to reduce the temperature on the surface of your skin by eight degrees within a minute, and keeps you continuously cool for almost an hour.
The powder is made in Thailand by The British Dispensary Co., Ltd, which dates back to 1892. The product’s packaging–a square-shaped metal tin with a border of roses on the label as well as a snake (which represents sickness) and an arrow (the cure)–has remained pretty much the same since then. But the brand has expanded and now offers it in Ocean scent with a kelp complex, calming Lavender, and Soft & Smooth, fragranced with Japanese sakura blossoms. But the biggest game changer might be the spray version, which I found to be easier to apply (and tote with me) than the powder.
With summer just a few short months away, I’m planning on stocking up and keeping tins or cans in my car, gym bag, carry-on and bathroom counter. You can buy Snake Brand Cooling Powder on Amazon and at some drugstores.
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