Kohl, Contacts, and Caution

by Jane Wangersky | January 9th, 2013 | Women's Beauty, Women's Fashion

When buying products to use in or near your eyes,  it’s good to be even more careful than usual. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has some advice for consumers on a couple of these.

You may have seen eye makeup with the word “kohl” in the name. Before you buy any, check the ingredient list. Although kohl, like henna, is a cosmetic with a history stretching back thousands of years, unlike henna it’s considered unsafe. In fact, it’s banned in the U.S.

Kohl is derived from lead sulfide, and I don’t have to tell you lead can be dangerous. In fact, according to the FDA, even babies whose mothers use kohl have  been found to have high levels of lead in their blood.

So, if it’s banned, how is it that you might still run across products labeled “kohl”? Well, for one thing, although the substance is illegal, the name isn’t. Companies may use “kohl” simply as a color name for black products, especially eye makeup. Then again, real kohl does show up in the U.S. sometimes, maybe brought in someone’s baggage from countries where it’s not restricted, like Iran, Pakistan, and some Middle Eastern nations. It sometimes finds its way into Asian or Middle Eastern specialty markets, according to the FDA. You may also see it for sale online. So be on the alert if you see the k-word — or the words kajal, al-kahal, or surma. These are just different languages’ words for kohl.

The FDA also has a list of places you shouldn’t buy contact lenses — most of them are places where you probably didn’t know you could buy contact lenses. I surely never thought of looking for them at  a video store. But it seems some people get decorative contacts — the kind that change the color or even shape of your iris without correcting your vision — at similar businesses. The complete list is here.

What the FDA really recommends is ordering through an eye doctor, even if your vision is fine and you just want to look different. Just as long as you don’t want circle lenses, the ones that make you look like an anime character. The FDA hasn’t decided if those are safe.

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