Thursday 15 September 2022

Tiro (eye-lining cosmetic) - Usefulness and potential hazards of lead poisoning…

We call it “Tiro” in Yorùbá land. Our Igbo cousins in the east call it “Uhie”. Our Hausa relatives up north call it “Kwali”. The tiro is a cultural eye-lining cosmetic for facial ornamentation [1].

Most tiro are made from Galena (Lead II Sulphide - PbS), an inorganic compound. It is the most important ore of lead and an important source of silver. The Egyptians were mining deposits of galena at Gebel Rosas as early as 3000 BC, and used the mineral to make fishing net sinkers, plumb bobs and religious figurines.

The earliest recorded use of tiro/galena is as “Kohl”. Kohl is an ancient Egyptian eyeliner cosmetic worn to reduce the glare of the desert sun and repel flies [2]. 

From time immemorial in Yorùbá land, tiro has been applied for its beautifying and attractive effect on the eyes. It is also used for its protective or sunlight shielding effect on the eyes as well as in the treatment of ophthalmologic infections to cleanse the eyes. 

Due to the high lead content, the risk of lead poisoning must be taken seriously. Our ancestors probably had a way of reducing the concentration of the lead in tiro but over the years, the know-how has been lost! My grandmothers used tiro regularly and they lived into their late 90s.

In 2012, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a paper titled: “Infant Lead Poisoning Associated with Use of Tiro, an Eye Cosmetic from Nigeria - Boston, Massachusetts, 2011” [3].

The CDC paper asserts:

“In June 2011, a male infant aged 6 months of Nigerian descent was referred to the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) at Boston Children's Hospital because of an elevated blood lead level (BLL). An investigation found no lead exposure except for "tiro," a Nigerian cosmetic that also is used as a folk remedy to promote visual development.

The tiro applied to the infant's eyelids contained 82.6% lead. Products similar to tiro, such as "surma" and "kajal" in Asia and kohl in the Middle East, also might contain lead. This case adds to the medical literature documenting nonpaint lead sources as causes of elevated BLLs in children (2,3) and highlights persons of certain immigrant populations as a risk group.

Educational efforts are needed to inform immigrants from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East that tiro and similar products can cause lead poisoning in children. Health-care providers and public health workers should ask about eye cosmetics and folk remedies when seeking a source of exposure in children with elevated BLLs from certain immigrant populations.”

Exposure to lead results in damage to cognitive development in children and damage to the nervous system. The use of leaded eyeliners like tiro has been associated with increased blood lead levels in children and women.

The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC) should look into this and regulate the production of tiro if required in Nigeria.

Photo Credit: 

Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit, Boston Children's Hospital

Journal Of Humanities And Social Science


1. Adegoke D: "Exploring Tiro, the Facial Ornamentation of the Yoruba in Western Nigeria", Journal Of Humanities And Social Science, Volume 23, Issue 1, Ver. 8 (January. 2018) PP 61-68

2. Hardy A. D, et al: Journal of Ethno-pharmacol. Apr; 60(3):223-34. Composition of eye cosmetics (kohls) used in Oman (1998)

3. CDC:

By Olobe Yoyon

1 comment:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...