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Lipstick tubes Photo: Mat Szwajkos/Getty Images

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Is My Lipstick Forbidden by My Religion?

The answer is more complicated than you’d think.

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I was searching for the perfect shade of lipstick to complement my wedding dress. Not one to wear much makeup if I can help it, I conceded to my best friend that my wedding day would be an exception, and that I would look for a shade that I could live with. I left the rest of my makeup shopping in her capable hands.

But I was resigned to search at just a single makeup counter: the Body Shop. Why? The question pricked at the back of my mind as I examined cherry red (too stark for a wedding!) and dark plum (too somber). Settling on a blushing pink — perfect for a bride, in my novice opinion — I was reminded of the struggles that I face in my search for all things halal. This is the murky world of makeup from a Muslim girl’s perspective.

Like Judaism with its rules on what is kosher, Muslim people are also restricted in their purchases according to what is "halal," or permissible. The obvious application is food; for example, a sheep must be slaughtered in a specific way for it to be halal. The other visible aspect of Muslim consumption is in the area of fashion, with new hijab styles abounding and brands like Dolce & Gabbana creating modest fashion lines and Nike’s recent launch of a hijab-friendly sports line.

When it comes to makeup, some Muslims buy whatever they choose; but more conservative Muslims are restricted because we have realized that not all makeup is halal. While I could just look for the halal accreditation symbol (the crescent moon and star) to know that the jelly beans I covet are in fact suitable for consumption, makeup and other broader areas of the consumer world are another story. You can’t just look at the packaging of your lip gloss to determine in a split second whether the ingredients are halal. Without some guidance, all of those e-numbers and scientific chemical names are indecipherable to most laypeople.

You may be wondering why anyone would even bother to worry about the halal status of a lip gloss, but then you would be interested to know that the average woman consumes up to three pounds (1.3 kg) of lipstick in her lifetime. If I am in fact eating my lipstick, then it is no different from a jelly bean, and I need to make sure that it is halal. Thus the trip to the Body Shop, one of the few stores in my price range that advertises itself to be vegan, or at least vegetarian, in terms of ingredients, and also ethical in terms of sourcing its materials. If I can’t find a halal certification, I am going to get as close as I can.

I thrill whenever I see products made out of one or two completely natural ingredients that I can easily determine the halal status of. But this is not the case for most products, which are made out of countless chemicals and processed ingredients, which makes me avoid a whole range of goods altogether, out of sheer confusion or exhaustion.

Apart from the mammoth task of just finding suitable products, there is also the question of application, and reapplication, and re-reapplication of my makeup. You see, Muslims pray five times a day, but before we pray, we must also perform the ritual ablution, which includes washing your arms, feet, passing a wet hand over your head and washing… your face. And the water must reach your skin for the ablution to be valid. And the ablution must be valid for ritual prayer to commence. So… how do you wash your face as required, over waterproof mascara? Some products are best left alone, since they would need to be completely removed each time I have to make ablution, and this seems like way too much effort for minimal aesthetic reward. Imagine having to reapply makeup a few times a day. Do we give up altogether, adopt quick makeup routines, or commit to multiple makeup applications daily?

I’ve found some quick workarounds, like wearing eye shadow instead of eyeliner, because it is easier to wash off and reapply. I don’t wear any concealer, and hope that my efforts to keep my skin clear and dewy succeed, while I sometimes dab a dot of blusher on my cheeks. For special occasions, I apply more makeup, and pray that the ablution that I have performed just before applying my makeup will hold out.

This also leads to the question of whether I even dare venture into the world of nail polish. Nail polish may not be permissible because of the waterproof issue. (Unless you are willing to apply and remove nail polish each time you need to make the ritual ablution to pray.) While some Muslims feel that there is leeway in this, others stick to henna (which is allowable) instead of trying to remove and reapply nail polish multiple times a day or week.

And beyond the technical aspects, I have uncovered some broader concerns over ethical production as well. Should I be concerned with how raw materials are sourced and tested, for example? Is halal purely about an animal being slaughtered according to the principles of Islamic law? As a conscientious Muslim concerned about the environment, I feel compelled to at least consider broader ethical consumer issues, regardless of technicalities. This makes me question whether products tested on defenseless animals are okay to use, as long as the product itself doesn’t contain any offending ingredients. And so, another task added to my increasingly complicated checklist, I now look for ethical producers in the hopes that my lipstick has not made any bunny unhappy.

At least clothing shopping is becoming easier, with big fashion houses jumping onto the conservative dress trend. But what about makeup? There are so many silent considerations that go through a Muslim woman's head each time she thinks of making a purchase that the introduction of more Muslim-friendly makeup options would be very welcome. Thankfully, home industries and small companies have started popping up here and there, but a more universally accessible solution has not come to the fore.

With the growing range of products that we can buy from around the world and the related reduction in price due to low production costs, we are now exposed to more options than ever. The difficulty is in discerning which of these products are actually halal and avoiding the temptation to blindly purchase whatever is on your wish list without doing a proper due diligence on the permissibility of a product. Who knew that shopping could be such drama?

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