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Archive – Health Canada Advises the Canadian Public of Kohl Containing Lead
- Starting date:
- September 28, 2005
- Posting date:
- September 28, 2005
- Type of communication:
- Natural health products
- Source of recall:
- Health Canada
- Important Safety Information, Poisoning Hazard
- General Public
- Identification number:
Health Canada is advising Canadians that some varieties of traditional kohl products have been found to contain lead. Kohl (also known as: kajal, surma, al-kahl/al-kohl) is a traditional eye cosmetic of Middle Eastern, Asian and North African societies that is also at times used medicinally as a natural health product. Several children in Canada exposed to kohl containing lead have been identified with elevated levels of lead in their blood, putting them at risk of serious health problems.
Traditional kohl should not be confused with modern eyeliner which undergoes more stringent product controls and has not been found to contain lead.
Kohl products that make health claims would be considered natural health products in Canada. However, Health Canada has not received any kohl product submissions for approval, and no kohl product is approved as a natural health product in Canada. As a natural health product, kohl has many uses that vary among cultures, including: use as an aid in the healing of the infant umbilical cord stump, circumcision after-care, eye infection protection, blood clotting aid, digestive aid, sunglare prevention/eyestrain reliever, and general anti-microbial treatment.
If you suspect that a child has swallowed a lead-containing product, the local Poison Control Centre should be contacted. Lead also has a variety of adverse health effects on adults, so if you think you have been exposed to lead, seek medical attention. The absorption of even very low levels of lead into the blood may have harmful health effects on the intellectual and behavioural development of infants and young children.
The following products that have been analyzed by Health Canada and found to contain high levels of lead: Hashmi Kohl Aswad from Pakistan; Khojati from India; and unlabelled kohl from Morocco (see photos). There may be other kohl products in Canada containing lead. As a precaution, Health Canada advises Canadians to not use Hashmi, Khojati, or unlabelled kohl products at this time.
Kohl can be purchased at various ethnic markets and gift shops in Canada. In many cases, ingredients are not labelled. If you have any doubts about the content of kohl in your possession, dispose of it immediately. For small quantities, this can be done through normal household trash, being careful to ensure the product cannot be accessed by children. For larger amounts, please contact your local municipality for disposal advice.
Health Canada is taking action to remove lead-containing kohl from the market and to prevent further importation into Canada by working with retailers, importers and the Canada Border Services Agency.
The Canadian public is encouraged to contact Health Canada should they have questions regarding these products, or should they wish to report these or any other questionable products they encounter on the market, through the following:
Health Canada Product Safety
To report a suspected adverse reaction (health professionals and consumers):
Canadian Adverse Drug Reaction Monitoring Program of Health Canada
Origins of Traditional Kohl
Traditional kohl was originally made from the ash of frankincense, an aromatic gum resin obtained from various Arabian or East African trees. It was later made from powdered antimony, a silvery-white earth metal. As antimony became scarce and therefore expensive, other metallic elements were used in its place. These products have since been found to contain lead, arsenic, phosphates and other impurities.
Traditional Kohl Products Contravene Canada's Food and Drugs Act.
To be sold in Canada, the Natural Health Products Regulations require natural health products to have a valid market authorization in the form of an eight-digit number preceded by acronym NPN or DIN-HM. Natural health products without this on the label have not been reviewed and approved for safety and efficacy by Health Canada. To date, Health Canada has not received any kohl product submissions for approval, and no kohl product is approved as a natural health product in Canada.
Similarly, for any cosmetic product to be sold in Canada, Health Canada must be notified of the product's ingredients, to ensure they comply with the regulations. Lead is forbidden and therefore any kohl product containing lead would be too. To date, Health Canada has not been notified of any traditional kohl product.
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