The allure of kohl eyeliner powder is undeniable—the ancient practice has long been used to enhance and protect the eyes, and it is still widely worn today across the Middle East, North Africa, and India. But many traditional formulas—including some sold by major cosmetics companies in the US and UK—contain lead sulfide, which isn’t good for your health. In fact, prolonged use of lead-based kohl can accumulate to levels that may be dangerous for children or adults with sensitive skin.
Kohl is typically made by grinding galena (lead sulfide) into a fine powder, then mixing it with ingredients like soot, plant oils, and herbs to create a range of colors, textures, and medicinal properties. In addition to preventing water retention and promoting eye health, kohl is thought to deflect the evil eye and shield the eyes from sun, wind, and dust.
Some kohls come in a cream-like stick or pencil, while others are kept in pots and applied with a small rounded or flat implement. Some women—like the 18th Dynasty Egyptian Queen Hastshepsut, who ground frankincense into hers—believe that kohl also helps prevent eye infections and soothes the irritated skin around the eyes.
If you’re interested in giving kohl a go but prioritize your health, here are some of our favorite non-leaded alternatives to the traditional formula. They’re formulated with ingredients that are kinder to the eyes and gentler on delicate skin, and some even boast antibacterial properties! We’ve even included a couple of kohls that are ophthalmologist-tested, ideal for those with sensitive eyes.