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Breaking Down Barriers: Halal Nail Polish and the Islamic Perspective

Contact Author Mariam Abou-Dahech and Gabriella Baki, Ph.D.; University of Toledo, Toledo, OH USA
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Read the full article in the November/December 2020 digital edition. . .

Halal cosmetics and personal care products have been gaining popularity. In fact, it is projected the halal cosmetics market will reach $52.02 billion by the year 2025—a threefold increase from 2015.1 Much of this popularity has to do with the growing global population of Muslims and the related demand for beauty products that are compatible with these Islamic religious tenets. As such, the present article describes the concept of halal and outlines the required features of halal nail polish.

What is Halal?

Halal is the Arabic word for permissible, which refers to something that follows Islamic tenets. It predominantly relates to food. In the Quran/Koran, certain foods are specifically forbidden.2 These include pork and swine products, alcohol, birds of prey, insects, carnivores, corpses and any animal slaughtered in the name of anything other than God, among a few other restrictions. Yet, the term halal can be used more universally, spanning to other products and services, as well as aspects in a person’s life such as morals and appropriate behaviors.

Since no specific holy legislation about cosmetics was given at the time of the prophet Muhammad, religious scholars have deemed it fit to use the rules required for foods for cosmetics. What this means is halal cosmetics must not be derived from: animals, unless they are permitted animals slaughtered in the halal way; insects; humans; or intoxicants such as alcohol—although some nonintoxicating alcoholic solvents are permissible. Unintentional ingestion, absorption or inhalation of these ingredients were the driving forces for a halal designation.3

Although the above-disclosed rules are in place regarding halal cosmetics, not all Muslims are in agreement. Many argue these legislations are passed by religious scholars who may have limited knowledge about the cosmetic industry and possibly cosmetics in general since their main focus is religion. Some believe the rules are only relevant to cosmetics that physically enter the mouth, such as mouthwash or toothpaste. This may be due to ethanol content, for example, which will not intoxicate an individual if added to a lotion, hairspray or foundation. Most alcohols derived through fermentation, such as isopropyl alcohol and ethanol, are also volatile so they will not stay in the formulation after application.

Additionally, cosmetics are designed to remain on the surface of skin4 and not absorb into the dermis where blood vessels are located. Any penetration is more commonly observed with cosmeceuticals or pharmaceuticals,5-7 rather than cosmetics with no active ingredients.

When it comes to using carmine extract in lip balms or other cosmetic lip products, for example, ingestion is another argument—similar to that of lead from lipsticks. Consumers do not eat lipstick intentionally and in the rare case where lipstick could be ingested, it would be a negligible amount and accidental—something a Muslim would not be held accountable for, as their intention was to wear it and not to eat it.

Finally, assured quality is another key determinant for halal cosmetics. Ingredient sourcing, manufacturing and packaging must all comply with halal standards, without cross-contamination or suggestive names or images on products.8 In order for a product to be deemed halal, it must bear a certification logo from one of the few agencies that certify cosmetic ingredients and products as halal. Such agencies include, but are not limited to, the Islamic Society of Washington Area9 (ISWA) and the Halal Advisory Group.10

Why Nail Polish Raises Concerns

Muslims’ religious obligations include performing five daily prayers. In order for these prayers to be completed, a Muslim must carry out wudu (ablution), or the act of cleansing the body. During this ritual, parts of the body such as the feet, face (including the nose and mouth) and hands are washed with water. If one were to pause to use the toilet, the act of wudu is invalidated and the individual must perform it again before starting the next prayer.

Nail polish is a cosmetic applied to the nail plate in order to impart color to and beautify the nails.11 Nail polish is essentially created using film formers12 and when it is applied to the nail, an impermeable layer is formed. Since the nail bed is part of the hands, and the hands are to be washed during wudu, having a barrier on the nail does not allow the water to touch it, which some believe invalidates the cleansing ritual. Females during the time of the prophet painted their nails with henna, which did not raise as many issues as the nail polish we use today. But it is impractical for an individual to remove and reapply nail polish up to five times a day, which is why many Muslim women choose not to wear nail polish.

Debates have been raised over whether wearing nail polish during wudu invalidates the practice; examples of both are outlined in the following section. Considering these deeply expressed religious concerns, however, halal nail polishes have been developed to serve this unique market need. These are also discussed later in this article.

Nail Polish Debate

As stated, since the wudu process involves passing water over one’s hands, many Islamic scholars have argued that the use of nail polish does not allow water to come into contact with the nail, which therefore invalidates the wudu process.13 In reference, most religious authorities cite the following hadith (collection of traditions) relayed about the prophet Muhammad and his companions: “If you find water, then let it touch your skin, for that is good."14

Considering this, most Muslims generally agree that wearing nail polish is prohibited when praying, and thus refrain from using nail polish. This idea seems to be deeply rooted in the minds of most Muslims worldwide, so it does not seem likely that the overall attitude toward nail polish in the Islamic community will change.

Despite this fact, some individuals disagree with the idea that nail polish nullifies wudu, although this is the vast minority. These counterarguments are based on the general concept of Islam being a noncomplicated religion, as well as science.

For example, the Quran reads, “Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship.”2 As such, it can be argued that people are over-complicating this topic and that it is impractical for women to remove and reapply nail polish five times a day just to pray.

. . .Read more in the November/December 2020 digital edition. . .


  1. Whitehouse, L. (2018, Feb 15). Halal beauty: What does its rising popularity mean for the global industry? Available at: https://news.in-cosmetics.com/2018/04/12/halal-beauty-what-does-its-rising-popularity-mean-for-the-global-industry/
  2. Quran & Adadith HALAL about Food. (2017). Available at: https://www.icv.org.au/about/about-islam-overview/what-is-halal-a-guide-for-non-muslims/
  3. Sugibayashi, K., Yusuf, E. ... See, G.L., et al. (2019). Halal cosmetics: A review on ingredients, production and testing methods. Cosmetics 6(3) 37; https://www.mdpi.com/2079-9284/6/3/37
  4. FDA (2017). Cosmetics & U.S. law. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-laws-regulations/cosmetics-us-law
  5. Draelos, Z.D. (2008). The cosmeceutical realm. Clinics in Dermatology 26(6) 627-632; doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clindermatol.2007.09.005
  6. Levin, J. and Momin, S.B. (2010). How much do we really know about our favorite cosmeceutical ingredients? J Clin and Aesthetic Derm 3(2) 22-41; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20725560 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921764/
  7. Shah, V.P. and Maibach, H.I. (2013). Topical Drug Bioavailability, Bioequivalence, and Penetration. Springer, NY US.
  8. Khan, M. I. and Haleem, A. (2016). Understanding halal and halal certification and accreditation system: A brief review. Saudi J Business and Management Studies 1(1) 32-42.
  9. ISWA Halal Certification Department (accessed 2020, Oct 2). Become halal certified today. Available at: https://www.ushalalcertification.com/index.html
  10. Halal Advisory Group (accessed 2020, Oct 2). Halal certification services. Become halal certified in 3 simple steps. Available at: https://www.halaladvisory.ca
  11. Pagano, F.C. (2011). A review of nail polish: The industrial cosmetic. Cosm & Toil 126(5).
  12. Pagano, F.C. (2014). Technology-driven trends in nail polish color and texture. Cosm & Toil 129 60-67.
  13. al-Munajjid, S.M.S. (2007, Aug 20). Does nail polish invalidate wudoo’ and do the prayers have to be repeated? Available at: https://islamqa.info/en/answers/103738/does-nail-polish-invalidate-wudoo-and-do-the-prayers-have-to-be-repeated
  14. Sunnah Mission (accessed 2020, Oct 2). Purification (Kitab Al-Taharah). Available at: https://sunnah.com/abudawud/1/332

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