Kohl (cosmetics)

Kohl (cosmetics)

Kohl is a mixture of soot and other ingredients used predominantly by Middle Eastern, North African, Sub-Saharan African, and South Asian women, and to a lesser extent men, to darken the eyelids and as mascara for the eyelashes. Kohl {from Arabic كحل ArabDIN|kuḥl) is also sometimes spelled kol, kehal (in the Arab world), or kohal, and is known as surma or kajal in South Asia. In many parts of West Africa, it is known as koli. It is thought the practice of applying kohl originated among India's oldest caste, the "koli", where the practice of using kohl as a cosmetic and to ward off the evil eye for infants is common practice. Arab merchants, trading with the koli community on India's western ports may have brought back the practice of applying kohl to the Middle East.

Kohl has been worn traditionally as far back as the Bronze Age (3500 B.C. onward). Kohl was originally used as protection against eye ailments. Darkening around the eyelids also provided relief from the glare of the sun. Mothers would also apply kohl to their infants' eyes soon after birth. Some did this to "strengthen the child's eyes," and others believed it could prevent the child from being cursed by an "evil eye".Hardy A, Walton R, Vaishnav R., Int J Environ Health Res. 2004 Feb;14(1):83-91. "Composition of eye cosmetics (kohls) used in Cairo."]


Kohl was used in Egypt along with malachite and lipstick made from ochre oil.

outh Asia

Kohl is known by various names in South Asian languages, like "sirma" or "surma" in Punjabi, kajal (Devanagari: काजल, "kājal") in Hindi and Urdu, "Katuka" in Telugu, "கண் மை Kan Mai" in Tamil and "Kaadige" in Kannada. In India, it is used by women as a type of eyeliner that is put around the edge of the eyes. Even now in southern rural India, especially in Kerala, women of the household prepare the kajal. This home-made kajal is used even for infants. Local tradition considers it to be a very good coolant for the eyes and believes that it "protects the eyesight and vision".Fact|date=March 2007

In Punjabi Culture, sirma or surma is a traditional ceremonial dye, which predominantly men of the Punjab wear around their eyes on special social or religious occasions. It is usually applied by the wife or the mother of the male.

Some women also add a dot of kajal on the left side of the foreheads of babies and children, to protect them from 'buri nazar'. 'Buri nazar' literally means 'bad glance' and is comparable to the 'evil eye', although it can be interpreted as ill-wishes of people or even lustful eyes, in the sense of men ogling women. It is also applied at the nape a baby or child's neck so that it is not visible; at the same time it protects the child from the evil eye.


Preparation of kajal begins with dipping a clean, white, thin muslin cloth, about four by four inches square, in sandalwood paste or the juice of Alstonia scholaris (Manjal karisilanganni), which is then dried in the shade. This dip and dry process is done all day long. After sunset, a wick is made out of the cloth, which is used to light a mud lamp filled with castor oil. A brass vessel is kept over the lamp, leaving a little gap, just enough for the oxygen to aid the burning of the lamp. This is left burning overnight. In they morning, one or two drops of pure ghee (clarified cow's butter) or castor oil is added to the soot which now lines the brass vessel. It is then stored in a clean dry box.

All the ingredients used in this preparation (sandalwood/Manjal karsilanganni, castor oil, ghee) are believed to have medicinal properties, They are still used in Indian therapies like ayurveda and Siddha medicines.

In rural Bengal, kajol is made from "Monosha" plant, a type of cactus. The leaf of Monosha is covered with oil and is kept above a burning diya (mud lamp). Within minutes the leaf is covered with creamy soft black soot which is so safe and sterile that it is even applied on infants.

Health concerns

The content of kohl and the recipes used to make it vary greatly. While some kohl is a harmless, "natural" cosmetic, certain varieties can pose a serious public health concern. Galena (lead sulfide) used to be used in kohl preparations before the toxicity of lead became known, but now reputable manufacturers use amorphous carbon or organic charcoal instead of lead. Plant oils and the soot from various nuts, seeds and gum resins are often added to the carbon powder.

The drive to eliminate lead from kohl was sparked by studies in the early 1990s of preparations of kohl that found high levels of contaminants including lead. [al-Hazzaa SA, Krahn PM., Int Ophthalmol. 1995;19(2):83-8. Kohl: a hazardous eyeliner.] Parry C, Eaton J. , Environ Health Perspect. 1991 Aug;94:121-3. Kohl: a lead-hazardous eye makeup from the Third World to the First World.] Lead levels in commercial kohl preparations were as high as 84%. Kohl samples from Oman analyzed using X-ray powder diffraction and scanning electron microscopy, found galena,Hardy AD, Vaishnav R, Al-Kharusi SS, Sutherland HH, Worthing MA., J Ethnopharmacol. 1998 Apr;60(3):223-34. Composition of eye cosmetics (kohls) used in Oman.] . One decade later, a study of kohl manufactured in Egypt and India found that a third of the samples studied contained lead while the remaining two thirds contained amorphous carbon, zincite, cuprite, goethite, elemental silicon or talc, hematite, minium, and organic compounds.

Lead-contaminated kohl use has been linked to increased levels of lead in the bloodstream, [Alkhawajah AM. "Alkohl use in Saudi Arabia: Extent of use and possible lead toxicity." Tropical Geographical Medicine, 1992 Oct; 44(4):373-7.] [Al-Saleh I, Nester M. DeVol E, Shinwari N, Al-Shahria S. "Determinants of blood lead levels in Saudi Arabian schoolgirls." International Journal of Environmental Health, 1999 Apr-Jun; 5(2):107-14.] [Nir A, Tamir A, Nelnik N, Iancu TC. "Is eye cosmetic a source of lead poisoning?" Israel Journal of Medical Science, 1992 Jul; 28(7):417-21.] [# Rahbar MH, White F, Agboatwalla M, Hozhbari S, and Luby S. "Factors associated with elevated blood lead concentrations in children in Karachi, Pakistan." Bulletin of the World Health Organization. 2002, 80(10):769-775.] putting its users at risk of lead poisoning and lead intoxication. Complications of lead poisoning include anemia, growth retardation, low IQ, convulsions, and in severe cases, death. Anemia from lead poisoning is of special concern in Middle Eastern and South Asian countries where other forms of anemia are prevalent — including iron deficiency anemia (from malnutrition) and hemoglobinopathy (sickle cell anemia, thalassemia).

These banned products are different from lead-free cosmetics that only use the term "kohl" to describe its shade/color, rather than its actual ingredients. Some modern eye cosmetics are marketed as "kohl" but are prepared differently and in accordance with relevant health standards. Consumers should verify that any cosmetic product is lead free before usage.

Pop culture

*The film actress Theda Bara used kohl to rim her eyes throughout her career.
*Jack Sparrow, a character in Pirates of the Caribbean film trilogy, wears kohl (or [http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Guy+Liner "guy liner"] ) around his eyes.


* [http://www.ummah.com/islam/taqwapalace/fitness/beauty1.html#beauty4 Application of kohl - Natural Beauty at Taqwa Palace]
* [http://www.hennapage.com/harquuspdfs/kohlintro.pdf Introduction to Harquus: Part 2: Kohl - The Henna Page] . Retrieved Apr. 22, 2005.
* Al-Ashban RM, Aslam M, Shah AH., Public Health. 2004 Jun;118(4):292-8. Kohl (surma): a toxic traditional eye cosmetic study in Saudi Arabia.
* Abdullah MA., J Trop Med Hyg. 1984 Apr;87(2):67-70. Lead poisoning among children in Saudi Arabia.
* Shaltout A, Yaish SA, Fernando N., Ann Trop Paediatr. 1981 Dec;1(4):209-15. Lead encephalopathy in infants in Kuwait. A study of 20 infants with particular reference to clinical presentation and source of lead poisoning.
* Hardy AD, Walton RI, Myers KA, Vaishnav R., J Cosmet Sci. 2006 Mar-Apr;57(2):107-25. Availability and chemical composition of traditional eye cosmetics ("kohls") used in the United Arab Emirates of Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al-Quwain, Ras Al-Khaimah, and Fujairah.

External links

* [http://www.globalegyptianmuseum.org/record.aspx?id=3633 Egyptian: Kohl pot] , Black steatite, click on picture.
* [http://www.globalegyptianmuseum.org/record.aspx?id=3634 Egyptian: Bone kohl pot.] Figurine design, click on picture.
* [http://www.arzoomag.com/culture/kajal-through-the-ages/ Kajal Through the Ages]

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