Kajal: The Best Modern Versions of This Ancient Eyeliner

Whether you call it kajal or kohl, I call this kind of eye makeup awesome.
Publish date:
August 31, 2015
eyeliners, Revlon, physicians formula, kajal, sonia kashuk, kohl, Palladio, the body shop

Raccoon eyes were a hallmark of my teenage style. Sorta smush it off with water before bed and apply another looping ring in the morning. I used to use pencils from the drugstore and even a little Maybelline Ultra Liner, which is still on the market. But then I found kajal.

Kajal is how kohl eyeliner is known in some parts of the world, including India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. This stuff is used by men, women and children, and has its roots all the way in 3000 BC Egypt.

Ancient Egyptians lined their top lid in black and applied bright green malachite to the waterline of the lower lid. That's pretty dang stylish, ancients! Hatshepsut was a glorious female Empress who was known for this makeup look (among many other groundbreaking and barrier-shattering things). Hers was mixed with the ashes of frankincense resin and sacred oils.

Kajal or kohl was believed to protect the eyes from polluted water, the sun, diseases, and of course omnipresent evil spirits. Don't want them in your shizz!

Today, kajal and kohl are synonymous with eyeliners made from charcoal, the ashes of certain plants and woods, and oils–especially castor oil. You can still find some brands made from a lead derivative that is presumed to be healthy in some cultures, but the FDA does not allow this in the US.

Here's a breakdown of some different types and colors of this awesome anthropologically sound makeup product.


Lakme isn't too prevalent in the West, but it's a fairly popular brand in India. Usually, kajal comes in a cone that looks like incense, but Lakme upgraded by sticking it in a pencil, which you find about a third of the time now.

Precision is key with this pencil unless you are looking for a smoky look. This pencil is like most Indian kajals I have tried, which are less waterproof and more gentle and blendable. You can smudge the hell out of it or carefully get a black-as-night cat eye. Cheap but not as easy to find in person, buy this online and marvel at the slight sheen.

Sisley's Phyto Khol Perfect pencil is really accurate, matte, and dark, it stays on very well and is awesome if you are a daily waterliner kinda gal. Rose oil is one of the bases and is great for the delicate eye area, and is commonly used in fancier kajal. It's as pigmented as OG but a bit harder in texture from the extra beeswax, better for the less talented.

Iman's kohl shadow sticks are a smoky-eye essential. Kohl and shimmer in a fat crayon glide on for super easy to execute eye looks for only 10 dollars. This one is a metallic black called Mystery, how Bowie!

Palladio has been killing it lately! This Fifty-Fifty duo has a long-wear marker on one side and a kajal cone on the other. It's roughly drugstore priced at $15 and has botanical ingredientslike shea butter as a variation. And this ish stayed put well into a bath!

Sonia Kashuk is bringing her world beauty inspiration to Target shelves for easy, flick-of-the-wrist impulse buys like this cone. It's not as "ink black" as some of the other kajals, but that's better for klutzes like me who need to re-do it a few times. Kashuk's Dramatically Intensifying Kajal uses rose and mimosa flower waxes to really bring it.

I think The Body Shop's Matte Kajal Black is great if you want that modern matte finish, but still want smudging power. Marula oil and rose extract are in this formula and at $15, it's not even crazy-expensive!

Nowadays, kajal as a term is used to define a texture more than a color, even though it's traditionally black. A creamy and smudgeable texture is really the key; pigmentation is the second most important thing, and these babies bring the texture and pigment for people who want more than black liner.

And with that... COLORS!

Physicians Formula makes adorable three-packs of complementary-colored kajals for simple smoky looks. I think Shimmer Strips Custom Eye Enhancing Kohl Kajal Eyeliner Trios are great for beginners or people who like to use their fingers instead of tools. My fav four colors of their sets are an opalescent brown called Pewter, Champagne, a gunmetal Charcoal, and Silver.

The Pewter and Champagne are spiked with tiny bits of rainbow shimmer: subtle but adds amazing dimension. The Silver and Charcoal are really glamorous and behave like cream eyeshadows: blendable and bold when layered.

These are so affordable, but don't apply too much pressure to the tip of the cone, it was a bit less sturdy as the others.

Revlon's Photoready Kajal Matte Eye Pencils are ready for drawing on '60s mod realness. I like how easy they go on, but they're delicate like the Shimmer Strips, so use a light hand. The Matte Lemon is tight but the Marine is so retro and pretty that it could bring back the pastel liner look single handedly.

The Body Shop's Matte Kajal White is a rad choice for broadening your waterline or hitting the corners of your eyes with some brightness. The formula stays on for hours and adds a gorgeous highlight that makes your eyes look awake. Every picture I have taken in the past six months (save Hatshepsut up there!) has employed this technique.

  • Who else is a kajal/kohl lover?
  • What are your best tips for keeping it in place?