A popular cosmetic, eye medicine and protective ward against the evil eye, kohl (كحل in Arabic) has been in use since 3100 BC. It was used by by Egyptians of noble rank to cover the upper eyelid, while green malachite was used for the lower. Its use spread throughout the Middle East and South Asia, along with North Africa.
Literary references to kohl abound, and sections in 1001Arabian Nights describe feminine beauty with terms such as "kohl-dark eyes" which set off long hair, a slender waist, and of course "heavy buttocks".
Male heroes in the Arabian Nights are no stranger to eye makeup either. Several noble princes in the tales are described as being smeared with kohl as infants. This practice continues throughout the world today, to protect the infant from the Evil Eye. Although the use of traditional kohl on infant's eyes today is not recommended, there's some evidence that ancient kohl preparations may have had some anti-microbial effects against conjunctivitis.
Kohl is prepared in North Africa traditionally by grinding galena (lead sulfide) and adding various botanical products. Although this traditional preparation is believed to be superior to modern cosmetics versions, the use of galena has raised concerns about lead poisoning. The photo above shows a small quantity of traditional kohl I purchased at a roadside shop. It came wrapped in a small piece of newspaper secured by a rag strip:
Given the lead concerns, I think I'll stick to less exotic cosmetics, like this:
But I have doubts that the latest mass produced eyeshadow offers the same protection against the Evil Eye as my newspaper wrapped treasure.
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