Is using kohl or surma an authentic Sunnah? Is it dangerous as some people claim?
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Applying kohl, also known as surma, is authentically reported from the Prophet. The Prophet would apply kohl in moderation for health reasons and it is permissible for women to wear it as a cosmetic.
Ibn Abbas reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
إِنَّ مِنْ خَيْرِ أَكْحَالِكُمُ الْإِثْمِدَ إِنَّهُ يَجْلُو الْبَصَرَ وَيُنْبِتُ الشَّعَرَ
Verily, the best of the kohl that you use is antimony, for it brightens the eyes and grows the hair.
Source: Sunan An-Nasa’i 5113, Grade: Sahih
Ibn Abbas also reported:
وَكَانَ لِرَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم مُكْحُلَةٌ يَكْتَحِلُ بِهَا عِنْدَ النَّوْمِ ثَلاَثًا فِي كُلِّ عَيْنٍ
The Messenger of Allah would apply kohl three times in each eye when he would sleep.
Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi 2048, Grade: Hasan
Kohl has been known from ancient times to provide some health benefits.
Ibn Al-Qayyim said:
وَفِي الْكُحْلِ حِفْظٌ لِصِحَّةِ الْعَيْنِ وَتَقْوِيَةٌ لِلنُّورِ الْبَاصِرِ وَجَلَاءٌ لَهَا وَتَلْطِيفٌ لِلْمَادَّةِ الرَّدِيئَةِ وَاسْتِخْرَاجٌ لَهَا مَعَ الزِّينَةِ فِي بَعْضِ أَنْوَاعِهِ وَلَهُ عِنْدَ النَّوْمِ مَزِيدُ فَضْلٍ لِاشْتِمَالِهَا عَلَى الْكُحْلِ وَسُكُونِهَا عَقِيبَهُ عَنِ الْحَرَكَةِ الْمُضِرَّةِ بِهَا
Kohl protects the health of the eyes and gives strength and clarity of vision, and it cleanses the eyes of bad substances. Some types of kohl are applied for beautification and its application at the time of sleeping has more benefits, as it will cause stillness from harmful movements.
Source: Zaad Al-Ma’ad 4/259
In fact, modern studies have shown kohl to have some natural health benefits and it is theorized that this is why many ancient cultures were known to use it.
According to National Geographic:
The new study found that the low doses of lead salts in the makeup may have actually had beneficial properties. When the salts come into contact with skin, they boost the body’s production of nitric oxide. This chemical is known to stimulate the immune system and help fight off disease-causing bacteria.
Source: National Geographic News
Thus, it is recommended to apply kohl before sleep for health reasons and it is permissible to use it as a cosmetic, but men should avoid applying it in a way that resembles women.
This applies to pure and natural kohl used in moderation, but we should be warned about modern cosmetic products that are marketed as “kohl” but might have dangerous additives that cause lead poisoning.
According to the US National Institute of Health:
Most commercially produced ‘kajal’ (kohl) contain high levels of lead. Studies have revealed that ‘kajal’ comprises of galena, minium, amorphous carbon, magnetite, and zincite. Prolonged application may cause excessive lead storage in the body, affecting the brain and bone marrow, causing convulsions and anemia.
Source: US National Library of Medicine
Therefore, we must be cautious about the use of commercial products marketed as kohl. If we want to apply this Sunnah, we must avoid excess and we must be sure that we are getting kohl from safe and natural sources.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.