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What is ithmid kohl/surma chemically ?

The black type of ithmid kohl is thought to be a form of galena whereas the red type is thought to be some form of iron oxide. However not any Galena or Iron Oxide rock is suitable to be used as an ithmid eyeliner as rocks can vary significantly in their chemical makeup even though the name is exactly the same.

Many customers have been asking about what mineral ithmid kohl is chemically. This post discusses this but before going straight into answering question it is important to make a little bit of introduction and background information.

Ithmid kohl is a kohl made from ithmid rocks which are formed naturally by the reaction of various elements over many many years.
Rocks from the same family of ithmid can be found in many places around the world. However, these rocks , although chemically similar, are not exactly the same.

This is very important to note : Not all rocks with the same name are exactly the same chemically. There can be differences even though the name is same.

This is well known concept in chemistry. The same element or mineral can exist in different forms (allotropy) and have different properties. Thus rocks of the same mineral can have different properties and act in a different ways chemically.

Because of this focusing too much on attaching a specific chemical name to ithmid can be very misleading. So even if one knows what mineral ithmid kohl is, not all rocks that correpsond to the chemical name of the ithmid kohl mineral will be fit for use as kohl and applied to the eyes. In fact some of the rocks that have the same mineral name as ithmid rock might be harmful.

Also the exact chemical make-up of any rock is massively influenced by the elements and the local environment. It is not entirely determined by its name.

The other big issue is that ithmid as an arabic word is somewhat loose term and is not tied exactly to just one substance. Trying to identify “the” ithmid can be misleading and wrong. It is a fact that ithmid can come in different colours and is found on several places on the world. So ithmid is not one specific mineral.

The most popular places for mining ithmid are Saudi Arabia, Iran, Morocco, Yemen and Levants. But it can exist at other places too. The ithmid from each place is unique and different at the micro level and sometimes at the physical level. Many properties like the colour, texture and effect on the eyes can vary, even between stones from the same country or region.

True-ithmid-kohl-powder-
Red/Burgundy Hijazi Ithmid Kohl

In the Hijaz region of Saudi Arabia, red/burgundy and black ithmid types can be found. The isfahani ithmid from Iran also comes in red/burgundy.

This variations illustrate the fact that it wrong to think of ithmid as one specific mineral as all these types are considered as ithmid.

Pure black ithmid kohl
BLACK Hijazi Ithmid Kohl

Another issue is that when it comes to rocks and minerals, identification is not as a straighforward and clear cut process as many people imagine. There is families and subfamilies etc. It is easy to have a rock lab tested to find out the chemical elements and compounds it contains. But sticking a name on it is not as easy.

With that points in mind, the black type of ithmid is thought to be a form of Galena. And the red types are thought to be some form of iron oxide.

But not any type of Galena or Iron Oxide is suitable for use as ithmid eyeliner. If you have been following the introduction this should make sense to you.

I will strongly advise you ,for the sake of your eyes and health, to not be tempted into going on the internet to buy random rocks with that chemical names with that intent of using them as an ithmid kohl. Just because they share the name does not mean they are exactly the same. Even though I have been selling ithmid for years I would not myself dare do it.

Picking the right type of galena or iron oxide rocks that are suitable to be used as ithmid is a tradition that has been passed down from one generation to another amongst local ithmid dealers around the world.

This is A Galena Rock
This is also Galena rocks. You can notice the two samples look different
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