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The History of Kohl

Dernière mise à jour : 7 avr. 2021

An interview with Dr. Mona Erian of Nefertari


Good morning, today Hela on the Nile interviews Dr Mona Erian, Egyptian pioneer of natural beauty products ‘Nefertari’. Our focus today will be on the history of kohl, known to the world as eyeliner. Dr Mona, before we start, can you tell us a little bit about Nefertari, and why you chose the name?


I started Nefertari from the kitchen of my home. And I called it Nefertari, because I wanted an Egyptian name, that relates to beauty. Nefertari was the wife of Ramses II. Her name means the most beautiful of them all: she was known to be the most beautiful woman of her time. This is why I’ve chosen Nefertari.


And today, we Egyptians know a lot about kohl, or the word kohl. What is the difference between the Ancient Egyptian kohl and the kohl you make today?


There is no difference, I make the same kohl, using the same technique that ancient Egyptians used to. Let me explain: ancient Egyptians had two kinds of kohl. One of them came from a mountain in Aswan, Upper Egypt. This kohl contained a very high percentage of lead, but they never used it for living people. It was used for mummies, sarcophaguses, statues, to paint the very well-known eye of Horus. It is a very good, dark black color that stays black forever. We have statues that are maybe 4000, 5000 old and the kohl on them is still visible today.


Samples were taken from very small pots containing kohl in the New Cairo Museum, and this kohl was made for the living. It was composed of frankincense gum from Somalia, brought to Egypt through the rose road, and olive oil from west of Egypt: Tunisia, Algeria or Libya. What they used to do, and the way we do it today is: soak the frankincense gum in the olive oil for six months. We then burn it and collect the smoke. Being in in a volatile state, it has a very minimal particle size, it is finer than any powder you could make because it is a gas, not a powder. So, we collect the smoke, and while it is still very hot, freshly made, we put it in our kohl containers. These are wooden and 100% handmade. So now you have the same kohl with the same formula as the Ancient Egyptians.


And this kohl is very safe because it’s a gum that’s been burned, so it is sterile. You can apply it and you don’t have to wash it out. Most of the makeup made nowadays requires you to wash your face very well, to moisturize it, because it’s full of chemicals and can cause allergies in the eyes. But the natural kohl we produce is sterile and clean and doesn’t need to be removed. In the countryside in Egypt, it is very common to find babies, newborn babies to whom kohl is applied. And when it was thought to have something to do with tradition a doctor explained that it was actually done for medical reasons. Because when the baby is being delivered, it might come into contact with organisms that cause eye irritation or infections. So, when kohl is applied, it sterilizes the area, protecting the eyes.


Well thank you Doctora! Until next time, stay tuned to Hela on the Nile.


Listen to Dr. Mona Erian's interview ⤵️


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