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Products called "Kohl," "Kajal," and "Surma" Can Damage the Brain and Nervous System

NEW YORK CITY – April 26, 2007 – The New York City Health Department today warned New Yorkers that certain imported eye cosmetics contain high levels of lead and should not be used. These cosmetics—called kohl, kajal, and surma—are imported from Asia, Africa and the Middle East and can be purchased at neighborhood stores throughout New York City.

In recent months, the Health Department has investigated five lead poisoning cases among children and pregnant women who used these products. They can cause lead poisoning when accidentally ingested. Children are at special risk because they may put hands in their mouths after touching these cosmetics on their faces. Lead is a toxic metal that damages the brain, nervous system, kidneys and reproductive system. Lead poisoning can also cause problems in pregnancy and can lead to learning and behavior problems in young children.

The Health Department recently tested different kohl, kajal, and surma products purchased from stores in New York City. Most of the sampled products had lead concentrations exceeding the federal recommended limit of 10 parts per million (ppm) for lead in certain cosmetic additives. The following products were found to contain excessive levels of lead:

  • Hashmi Surma Special
    Made in Pakistan, 47% lead (468,708 ppm)
  • "Pure Kohl from the Waters of ZamZam"
    Manufacturer information not listed, 36% lead (362,419 ppm)
  • Hashmi Kohl Aswad
    Made in Pakistan, contains 27% lead (272,353 ppm)
  • Hashmi Kajal
    Made in Pakistan, contains 4% lead (41,298 ppm)

These products come in many varieties, any of which may contain lead. It is not possible to tell the difference between safe and dangerous brands because lead is not listed as an ingredient on the label. These products are banned by the FDA and have been imported illegally. They should all be considered unsafe.

"We urge New Yorkers not to use any products that contain lead," said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden. "Lead is poisonous and can cause serious health problems, especially for children and pregnant women. If you are using these products, stop using them immediately and call a doctor to request a blood lead test."

The sale of toxic personal products is prohibited under New York City Health Code. The Health Department is working with distributors and storeowners to remove these products from their shelves.

The Health Department has ordered distributors and storeowners selling kohl, kajal, or surma products to:

  • Immediately stop selling the products.
  • Remove them from shelves and inventory stockrooms.
  • Package and return the products to the distributors.
  • Dispose of products as required by law.
  • Post a warning sign advising customers to stop using these products.

The Health Department advises people who may have obtained and used these products to:

  • Immediately stop using these products.
  • Call a physician to request a blood-lead test.
  • Keep products away from children.

Call 212-POISONS (212-764-7667) for additional information on imported eye cosmetics that contain lead or to report locations where these products are sold.