Applying kajal or surma on a newborn’s eyes is a common practice in India. Kajal is usually applied on the lower waterline of the baby’s eyes and sometimes on the cheeks or back of the earlobe. Applying this dark kohl on the baby’s eyes is believed to ward off buri nazar. People also apply kajal on their baby’s eyes to make the eyes look bigger and attractive. The fondness for kajal is ubiquitous across towns, villages, and even metropolitan cities in India. Even if the new parents don’t believe in the culture of applying surma on their baby’s eyes, the elders or the grandparents in the family insist on this practice even today. And parents usually oblige to this request to make the elders happy or because they genuinely believe that it can protect their baby from evil eyes.
But the important question here is if the use of kajal on a newborn’s eyes could possibly lead to any negative consequences. Though it is considered as a good practice in certain South Asian, Arab, and African countries, has anyone ever wondered about the repercussions of this ancient practice? If so, you have come to the right place. Continue reading the MomJunction article to know if one should really be applying kajal to a newborn’s eyes.
What Is Kajal?
Kajal is an eye cosmetic product that has been used since ancient times. Surma is made from a specially processed kohl stone that has an ultra-fine texture and is incorporated with therapeutic ingredients. Applying kajal is believed to improve vision as well as keep the eyes clean and cool. Kajal/surma has also been used to prevent or treat several eye diseases such as cataract, conjunctivitis, and blepharitis (1).
Why You Shouldn’t Apply Kajal On Your Baby
Though it is believed to be beneficial for the baby, the commercially produced kohl contains lead which can be potentially harmful to the baby. Lead is usually found in the form of lead sulfide which accounts for a large portion of these kohl products (2).
It is also known to contain traces of minium, galena, magnetite, amorphous carbon, and zincite (3). Kajal may also comprise of other chemicals such as carbon, iron, antimony, camphor, menthol, aluminum as well as zinc compounds. A tiro product that was associated with lead poisoning appeared to constitute 82.65 of lead in it (4).
The risks associated with lead poisoning are greater in children. Exposure to high levels of lead can cause kidney problems, anemia, and neurological damage which can lead to coma, seizures, and death in some cases. Low levels of lead exposure may also lead to behavioral and learning difficulties in children. The prolonged application of kajal can also affect the bone marrow and the brain as a result of the excessive storage of lead in the body (5).
Young children are at greater risk of lead poisoning as their central nervous system is yet to completely develop and also because of their higher rate of gut absorption. There have been several instances of lead poisoning in infants around the world. For example, a 6-month old baby In Boston was found to have elevated levels of lead in the blood. The investigation revealed the cause to be the application of a Nigerian kohl product known as tiro. Tiro is similar to kajal or surma in Asia and the Middle East which is applied to improve visual development (6).
There have been several instances where infants were found to have lead in their blood because of the application of kajal. Infants whose mothers have used kajal were also known to have elevated levels of lead. The FDA is aware of such cases and has therefore identified all forms of kohl products as illegal color additives (7).
Yet despite the warning, many people across the world continue to use kohl products such as kajal or surma on their baby’s eyes. Though there are many who vouch for its safety and benefits including the well-meaning relatives, it is always better to get an expert opinion or go for other safer options before you continue this harmful practice.