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Is Kohl Eyeliner Dangerous?

Anna asks about kohl eyeliners. Not the modern kohl eyeliners you see in drugstores, but the kind known as kajal or sirma that women in Egypt and Asia use. She likes that these products are supposed to aid against eye diseases and are good for the skin near the eye. However, she’s heard that real kohl eyeliners can contain potentially dangerous levels of lead? Is this true? And is there anyway to tell if the brands that I like are safe or not?

The Right Brain replies:

Kohl is a mixture of soot and minerals that has been used for centuries to darken the area around the eye. Interestingly, some cultures believe that kohl should be used on children to help ward off evil spirits. It is also supposedly a good tooth whitener. (Kohl! It’s an eyeliner! It’s a tooth whitener! It’s a dessert topping!)

Can Kohl Kill You?

But seriously, we’re not making fun of the cultures that use kohl, but as scientists we are concerned about using dangerous cosmetic ingredients. And kohl can indeed be dangerous – some brands have been proven to contain high levels of lead because they`re made with galena (lead sulfate) or similar compounds. In fact, in January 2007, the state of Maryland banned the Hashmi brand of kohl because they claimed it contributed to lead poisoning in children. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to tell if any given product is contaminated with lead or not.

The Brains Bottom Line: Stay away from kohl products because there is a real risk of lead exposure. Use a regular eyeliner like Maybelline or E.L.F. if you want to darken your eyes and ask your doctor if you`re concerned about eye diseases.