Like pretty much every Indian woman I know, I started lining my eyes with kajal (or kohl) when I was a teenager. It is the only makeup I were regularly; it is the only makeup my mother wears; it was the only makeup my grandmother wore. My grandmother had a small container of black cream that she dabbed with her ring finger and then ran along her waterline.
My mother switched to the Biotique kajals, the famous Indian Ayurvedic brand that came in tubes like lipstick, and I remember watching her standing in front of the mirror in her beautiful cotton saris and swooping it beneath her eyes as she got ready for the day. She bought me my first tube and showed me how to line my waterline with a steady hand.
Now, more than 20 years later, it’s still pretty much the only makeup I wear. For fancy events, I sometimes line the top of my eyes and pull out the edges to turn it into a cat’s-eye that would make Bollywood stars of the ’70s proud, but generally I just line my waterline and am set for the day.
The traditional Indian kajal usually isn’t defined enough to line the upper lid — when the Biotique kajals get too blunt, they have to be replaced — so in India, I moved to the Lakmé pencil liner and used it for both under and over my eyes.
In America, I went on the hunt for a similar pencil, and I first tried Laura Mercier’s kohl eye pencil, mostly because it had the word kohl in it and I was easily tricked. Not tricked, actually, because it works perfectly well, but I lost it within weeks and really didn’t feel like replacing it at the cost of $26. So I decided to try the Sephora kohl pencil for $10 instead. I also got the $6 To-Go Eye Pencil to keep in my purse. You can sharpen it to your preferred level of pointiness, and it goes on smoothly without tugging at the delicate skin around the eyes. It is buildable, as most good eyeliners are, so I can choose how dramatic I want my eyes on any given day. I could probably even use it to eventually get to Julia Fox levels of eyeliner absurdity, but I am not terribly inclined to try that; I am drawn more to the fact that when I have my kajal on and I catch a glimpse of my reflection, I pause for a moment and marvel at how much I resemble my mother in the mirror in Delhi all those years ago.
I have misplaced both repeatedly, but it hurts much less to replace them at that price point. I’ve introduced non-Indian friends to this pencil, and it works for all skin types — there’s a reason a large part of the world is devoted to kajal: It makes the eyes pop and look instantly awake and brighter. In fact, when I need to fake being sick, the only thing I do is skip my eyeliner.
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