Toxic Elements in Traditional Kohl-Based Eye Cosmetics in Spanish and German Markets

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jun 5;18(11):6109. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18116109.


Kohl is a traditional cosmetic widely used in Asia and Africa. In recent years, demand for kohl-based eyelids and lipsticks has increased in Europe, linked to migratory phenomena of populations from these continents. Although the European legislation prohibits the use of heavy metals in cosmetics due to the harmful effects to human health, particularly to pregnant women and children, these elements are still present in certain products. The European Union recommended levels are Pb < 20 ppm, As < 5 ppm, Cd < 5 ppm, Sb < 100 ppm, and Ni < 200 ppm. In Germany, levels are more restrictive: Pb < 2 ppm, As < 0.5 ppm, Cd < 0.1 ppm, Sb < 0.5 ppm, and Ni < 10 ppm. Here, we analyzed 12 kohl-based cosmetics in different presentations (powder, paste, and pencil) that were purchased in Spanish and German local shops. An inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrophotometer was used to identify toxic elements and heavy metals. Levels of Pb ranged between 1.7 and 410,000 ppm in six of the study samples, four of which had levels above the recommended limit of at least two heavy metals. Arsenic (a carcinogenic element) values were within the range allowed by the EU in only 58% of the studied samples. Moreover, two products doubled this limit, reaching levels of 9.2 and 12.6 ppm. In one of the products, cadmium, related to toxic keratitis, was four times higher (20.7 ppm) than that allowed, while in two other products, these limits were doubled (11.8 and 12.7 ppm). Our results indicate the need to supervise the manufacture of kohl-based traditional products and the analysis of their composition prior distribution in European countries.

Keywords: antimony toxicity; cadmium toxicity; cosmetic; heavy metals; kohl; lead toxicity; toxic elements.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Child
  • Cosmetics*
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Lead
  • Metals, Heavy* / analysis
  • Pregnancy
  • Sulfides


  • Cosmetics
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Sulfides
  • lead sulfide
  • Lead