I could hear the pillars of desi-hood crumbling and roaring in anger as I wrote the title for this post. Loving kohl is one of the commandments for being desi, and I promise I'm not trying to single-handedly destroy the culture wherein girls are named Kajal. Furthermore, nothing really compares to the blackness and sultriness of desi kajal. I find it infinitely more intense than anything available on the market. However, there is some reason to be careful when buying desi kajal.
The New York City Department of Health and Hygiene and the FDA have both raised concerned over desi kajal and surma. In an FDA testing of kajal and surma coming from the Middle East and from South Asia, they all tested positive for lead. In fact, some samples were found to contain more than half their weight in lead. There have also been reports of people suffering from lead poisoning because of the lead in kajal and surma.
The lead in kajal and surma was also a direct cause of increased levels of lead in children and adults. Some companies brand their kajal and surma as lead free, but they often contain antimony (sometimes in very high levels). This is a substance that causes symptoms similar to arsenic poisoning.
One very frustrating thing is that companies also don't list their entire list of ingredients. They list things such as 'base q.s.' or 'kohl stone.' In an attempt to sidestep the FDA, some companies have branded their own stamp of approval on behalf of the FDA stating that their products are FDA approved. The FDA has emphasized that this is not the case and that these kajals and surmas are still suspect and might contain high levels of lead and antimony. Finally, keep in mind that Middle Eastern and South Asian surmas and kajals have actually been banned by the FDA even though they are imported.
Just in case you were wondering, the New York City Department of Health and Hygiene and the FDA have identified even these popular desi kajals as containing lead:
- Hashmi Surma Special
- Hashmi Kajal
- Hashmi Kohl Aswad
I will try to get my hands on the comprehensive list of kajals and surmas that contain lead.