Kohl eyeliner powder is a loose pigment that, when applied with a traditional eyeshadow brush, provides the same smudged line as a liquid or gel-based eyeliner. The kohl itself is made from mineral galena, which has UV absorptive properties (when applied to the skin, it protects against sun damage and sunburn).
The application method has remained mostly unchanged over millennia. One dips a stick-like applicator into the kohl, and then holds the eye open, while drawing the powder along the inner water line of the eyes. The line can then be drawn to varying lengths and shapes, according to one’s whim or fashion. Kohl can also be smudged with a fingertip to create a smoky effect.
Today, user-friendly kohl pencils and sticks paired with convenient applicators are must-haves in every beauty collection. Unlike ancient formulations, however, most modern kohl products prioritize safety for everyday use. Traditionally, the pigments in kohl were heavily laced with lead, and, even if only small amounts of the powder are ingested, it can have serious health implications. Lead poisoning can affect the development of children and cause blindness in adults, and it can also trigger miscarriages and lead to a variety of long term health problems.
Luckily, Eugene Rimmel, who invented the modern eyeliner pencil in the 19th century, was careful to ensure that his product wouldn’t contain toxic ingredients. And although lead-free kohl isn’t as readily available as its toxic counterpart, artisanal brands like Saffron & Rose offer a modern alternative that is purely natural, made from olive pips, dates, cloves, lavender and shea butter. The company’s kohl is painstakingly handmade and ground using an old stone pestle and mortar, and it takes two years for each batch to be fully finished. The company practices sustainability by encouraging customers to bring back their empty casings to be refilled with new kohl.