Why You Should Think Twice Before Using Kohl As Eyeliner

Using kohl, also known as tiro, kajal, al-kahal, surma, tozali, or kwalli, might be one of the best eyeliner tips we've learned from TikTok. But beyond the beauty, some of the most common beliefs about this product are that it can protect the eyes from the sun's harsh glare and ward off the evil eye.

Many cultures believe that kohl has a religious significance and can protect from evil spirits and negative energy. One popular example is in ancient Egypt, where kohl is believed to have originated. Kohl was highly significant and used by royalty like Cleopatra and even Egyptian deities like Horus, Hathor, and Ra. In Nigeria, tiro is believed to kill eye germs and protect children's eyes.

Other cultures believe that it can heal certain eye ailments and infections. In many countries, little children and adults have their eyes lined with kohl for aesthetic and spiritual reasons. Since kohl is beautifully pigmented, it darkens the eyes in a way that only a few professional eyeliners can. However, you may want to think twice before using kohl as eyeliner, because not all kohl is made equal.

Kohl contains harmful substances

One of the major reasons you don't want kohl anywhere near your eyes is because of its ingredients. Modern-day kohl products have high amounts of lead and arsenic, two dangerous chemicals with devastating effects on your skin and body. Lead, for example, can cause terrible ailments such as abdominal pain, fatigue, headache, loss of memory, and even seizures and death. Similarly, arsenic not only destroys your skin, but if it gets into your eyes, as some eyeliners do, you could have serious eye issues. 

One of the major arguments in favor of kohl is that modern-day kohl differs from traditional kohl, it's made with "healthier" ingredients. However, according to a 1998 study published in the International Society for Ethnopharmacology journal, this isn't necessarily true.

The study showed that kohl was originally made with antimony, which isn't much better for the eyes. Antimony is a chemical used in making batteries and alloys, so it's not a shocker that it's bad for your peepers. Exposure to this chemical results in eye irritation, severe itching, and tearing. While antimony is not necessarily toxic if it's not ingested, it's not worth placing it so close to your eyes, especially when other, safer options are available. Kohl or kajal is safe to wear, but only if it is free of these toxic materials. 

Is kohl banned in the US?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned products containing kohl to reduce lead poisoning in children and adults. However, despite this ban, it's not illegal to include any of these banned words in your product — so long as it doesn't actually contain any of them. Products like Maybelline's Master Kajal waterproof kohl eyeliner do not contain any kohl, but are highly pigmented.

So, if you want to get your hands on any real kohl (and we do not recommend that you do), you'd need to book a trip to countries like Nigeria and Egypt, where these products are still available. However, even if you do, it's worth noting that bringing them back to your country could be illegal. Instead of kohl, we recommend trying pigmented eyeliners like Maybelline's or Lancome's ARTLINER Precision Felt-Tip Liquid Eyeliner, which comes in black and a gorgeous brown. It has zero sulfates and formaldehydes, making it a healthier and safer alternative to real kohl. 

Many people still argue in favor of kohl, especially because the ancient Egyptians used it to manage their hot, sandy, and dusty climate. However, it might interest you to know that the average life expectancy in Ancient Egypt was below 35 years at the time, so you might want to pay more attention to modern-day eyeliners approved by dermatologists. If you were considering kohl to protect your eyes, you'd be better off with other natural sunscreens that actually work.