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Traditional kohl products contain lead

Starting date:
January 1, 2005
Type of communication:
Source of recall:
Health Canada
Identification number:

Advisory details

September 28, 2005
For immediate release

Backgrounders: Traditional kohl products contain lead | Photos

OTTAWA - 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 Backgrounder for 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
phone, toll free 1-866-662-0666

To report a suspected adverse reaction (health professionals and consumers) --

Canadian Adverse Drug Reaction Monitoring Program of Health Canada
phone, toll free 1-866-234-2345
fax 1-866-678-6789
Health Canada's website

Media enquiries

Carolyn Sexauer
Health Canada
(613) 948-4629

Public enquiries

(613) 957-2991
1-866 225-0709