The 411 On Kohl And Kajal Eyeliner

Sable Yong
The 411 On Kohl And Kajal Eyeliner
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When you think of ancient beauty practices you might consider Cleopatra’s famed milk baths, Japanese geishas’ painted white faces, or Henna hair dye from India. Something that precedes all that is the basic OG eyeliner – otherwise known as Kohl or Kajal. They’re often marketed together as “kohl kajal” but both words mean the same thing (kind of like saying ATM machine). This eyeliner dates back to BC times, originating from South Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa. You’ve probably seen some modern formulas on drugstore shelves and in beauty stores – the streamlined slick torpedo of a liner– it almost looks like a weapon. While that might have you baffled on application technique, keep in mind that it’s come a long way from being made from lead, gum resin, soot from crushed up nuts and seeds, ghee, or sandalwood. If that sounds like nothing you’d want to put near your eyes, you’re correct– you definitely shouldn’t. The traditional kohl you’ll find from India and the Middle East is generally a powder formula that’s applied with a little stick about the width of a toothpick, that when placed on your waterline, eyes shut over it, you drag the stick between your shut eyelids and voila– kohl is deposited on both waterlines quickly. While traditional, this application method is kind of tricky, yields a lot of fall-out under your eyes, and frankly–is terrifying.

The great thing about kohl liner specifically is the intensity of pigment and its dense long-lasting formula. They tend to apply smoothly and opaquely, and since they’re meant to be worn on your waterlines, which are moist, they’re made to last throughout the day. Modern kohl liners are safe to use on your eyes of course, with formulas that offer plenty in terms of color, shimmer, matte, waterproof, solid or powder forms. Their new shape, in the form of a narrow cone can be applied either like any old eyeliner pencil or the OG “express” way– you can still place the narrow part of the liner between your waterlines and drag it through gently. Kohl is a great liner to use for a smudgy devil-may-care makeup look too because it blends so well.

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An updated version of the traditional Kohl/Kajal liners, you can apply these in the same way-- by dragging them sideways across both waterlines. You just don't have to worry about, uh, lead poisoning since kohl was originally made from lead, gum resin, soot from crushed up nuts and seeds, ghee, and/or sandalwood in BC times. Ironically, ancient Egyptians believed that applying kohl to your eyelids would protect your eyes, physically from the sun as well as spiritually from any "evil eyes".


(L to R: Physicians Formula Shimmer Strips Custom Eye Enhancing Kohl Kajal Eyeliner Trio in Nude Eyes, Maybelline MasterKajal in Navy Night and Onyx Rush, Sonia Kashuk Dramatically Intensifying Kajal, Topshop Kajal)

Good things come in threes (or important things, anyway) and what better way to explore what you can do with kohl liners than with three complimentary colors like these? For daytime you can use the lightest one on your bottom waterline and in the inner corner of your eyes to brighten them, and the brown one blended into your lash line for a soft dreamy look. For nighttime, line both waterlines with the black one and wing out the corners for a shimmery dramatic look.


(Physicians Formula Shimmer Strips Custom Eye Enhancing Kohl Kajal Eyeliner Trio in "Nude Eyes", $11.95 at


Maybelline's Kohl liners are formulated with a silky oil for smooth application and rich color application. When you use it sideways to line your eyes there's no need to sharpen since the tip retains its shape.


(Maybelline Master Kajal Eyeliner in Navy Night and Onyx Rush, $7.99 at

For a deeply black smudgy liner look, you can pop into a Target or Topshop to score these sleek kajal liners. Sonia Kashuk's Kajal contains emollient Rose and Mimosa waxes for a smooth glide and Topshop's Kajal liner glides on blacker than black (and it probably responsible for all the sultry grungey makeup looks on Topshop's models).


(Sonia Kashuk Dramatically Intensifying Kajal, $8.99 at Target ; Topshop Kajal Liner, $12 at Topshop)


Lucky for us in 2015, we can use these babies to sport some dramatic eyeliner looks with colored, shimmery, slick versions of Kohl that are blindingly gorgeous rather than blindingly blinding. Use a finger to smudge it along your bottom waterline and lash line for a grungy slept-in look.


(Photography: Sable Yong)

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