A Brief History: How Kajal became an important part of my makeup routine
June 9, 2021
Speak Kajal to Me.
By Amel Afzal, Contributor
They call the eyes the windows to your soul. They have fascinated great thinkers and creators throughout human history and are symbols for the Gods, for truth, wisdom and even power. Humans are visual creatures and neurological studies have found that when we’re looking at someone, we naturally gravitate to their eyes. With this information alone, we’re able to predict what a person may reach for, where they may walk to, and even what they’re thinking and feeling.
Through a single glance, we can convey happiness, sorrow, lust, envy, or wonder.
Lining eyes for centuries, Kajal, or Kohl, has come to define icons and is undoubtedly one of the most powerful makeup statements of all time.
Where did Kajal begin?
The journey dates back all the way to 3000 B.C. where it was a form of protection for several Middle Eastern, South Asian, and North African cultures. Initially a form of protection, both physical and metaphysical, Kajal was known to shield your eyes from the harsh rays of the sun, also bringing with it several immunological and antibacterial properties that support eye health. On a metaphysical level, wearing it also protects you from Nazar or evil eye, warding off spirits and negativity alike. Even today, several families apply Kajal on their toddlers eyes and foreheads, for that reason.
photos of: Queen Nefertiti, Mumtaz Mahal, & Queen Makeda
The original formula was a mixture of galena (a form of lead sulfide) and other minerals mixed with water and oil however the ingredients have differed based on time in history, location and class of wearer. Women would make their own Kajal at home, warming up the mixture called “Surma” on a flame and then scooping up residue with their fingertips to apply around the eye. As time went on, the practice evolved to signify social status, and eventually became an ultimate symbol of beauty for all genders. Today, the names Kohl, Kajal, and Surma are still used interchangeably within many cultures, and the practice of using eyeliner and perfecting that cat eye is a global phenomenon.
Kajal represents history and tradition, culture and time, independence and beauty. Above all,
Kajal is an homage to the strong and beautiful women in my family.
I grew up watching my mother and grandmother adorn themselves. Much to their dismay, I’d often resort to using their make up as crayons. As I grew older, I was able to appreciate what certain beauty rituals meant to them. Before a long day's work and taking care of the children, it was their time of tranquility before facing the world.
photos of: my beautiful Nani, Kaukab Shahbaz, through the ages
One of my greatest memories is watching my Nani sit at her hand-crafted wooden vanity, braiding her hair, fixating on getting that fresh rose perfectly positioned in her bun. She would continue her process, very minimal: Pond’s face cream, a little bit of lipstick, and never to be forgotten was the integral flick of the dark Kohl that lined her beautiful almond eyes like a wave.
My Nani is a classic beauty and her makeup statement then and now defies the test of time.
Today, I can’t imagine my makeup bag ever being without Kajal. I’ve evolved the generational trademark and made it mine. At the root keeping with its classic form, but taking influence from different points in history. My eyes are the most multifaceted and powerful tools in my arsenal. And this perfect cat eye, well honey, that’s just the cherry on top.
About — Amel is a creative director living and working in New York City. Currently, she is working on brand marketing and product experiences at Hearst. Outside of her professional career, Amel is a creative consultant and entrepreneur. She is on the Alumni Board at Parsons School for Design, mentoring juniors and seniors taking that first step into the workforce. Amel is also the Co-founder of Hey Tck, a digital platform celebrating third culture kids around the world. She is also the executive director at Babs PAC, a political action committee based out of New Jersey. Check out her website for other initiatives she’s involved in and connect with her on linkedin and instagram.
Cover photo credit: Amel Afzal, @amelllii wearing Kulfi Kajal in Nazar No More