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Why is ‘halal’ beauty’s latest buzzword?


TextTahmina Begum

The religious term appears on products that cater to Muslim women’s specific needs, we explore what it means and whether or not people actually want it

‘Halal beauty’ is usually an underground term for us #Muzlamics. The connotations of the term are connected to products that are simple and, frankly, that do not have much range for the wider market. But recently across both Muslim and non-Muslim owned beauty brands and skincare, halal has been spotted next to terms such as ‘vegan’ and ‘cruelty-free’. 

For halal beauty to be on the rise makes sense. Over the past ten years, Muslim owners of beauty empires like Huda Beauty directed by Huda Kattan and hijabi influencers like Dina Tokio have been catering to a diverse Muslim audience, who are largely women of colour, before it became cool. The halal beauty sector is also predicted to be worth $52.2 billion by 2025, which again makes sense.

Many Muslim women wear headscarves so their faces are their monopoly for make-up. But before we begin to think the beauty industry is now inclusive towards Muslim women, it’s important to differentiate what constitutes as ‘halal beauty’ in the first place and if it’s truly ready to stay.

“Simply put, halal make-up doesn’t include animal-derived ingredients, alcohol or GMOs that are deemed unclean in Islam,” says Jolie Nubani, co-founder of make-up brand Shade M. But unlike ‘clean beauty’, ‘organic’ and ‘natural’, there is no EU regulations on ‘halal beauty’ and the upcoming beauty trend is based on interpretation.

The term halal is what’s permissible by Allah and haram is non-permissible. “Contrary to popular belief, halal isn’t limited to the Islamic diet and regulations circling the consumption of food and drinks. Halal extends to beauty, too, and the growing demand for halal cosmetics is something worth shouting about,” says Nubani.  

For Tuesday In Love Cosmetics founder Dr Dar, it’s also about sourcing ethically and manufacturing within Islamic guidelines. “Our products are not only free of animal products, but also are never tested on animals, nor do we use child labour in the manufacturing of our cosmetics.” Whereas for the first HMC certified halal skincare brand, Halo Skincare, it’s also about being kind to the earth.

“Halal is wider than ingredients and not using alcohol, it’s about using minimal packaging, things that are beneficial for your skin and not using any animal derivatives. For example, you don’t need pig fat (a standard ingredient in lipsticks) you can use vegetable glycerin,” says founder and scientist of Halo Skincare, Soni Shah. For these reasons, halal beauty is also found to be popular within the vegan and vegetarian community. 

One phrase that frequently appears with halal beauty is ‘permeable’ make-up. It’s important for Muslims to have products that allow water to pass through and touch their skin, because of wudu, a wash where water has to touch the skin, in preparation for prayer, five times a day. For Muslim women who want to keep their beat on or like getting their nails done, this can be an issue.

“Halal is wider than ingredients and not using alcohol, it’s about using minimal packaging, things that are beneficial for your skin and not using any animal derivatives”– Soni Shah, founder and scientist, Halo Skincare

“I don’t trust breathable nail polish,” says Salwa Rahman (AKA @urgalsal_ on Instagram). “When Inglot brought it out, I looked at their infomercial materials, but I still don’t trust it. Muslims differ on how we practise, some may perform wudu over make-up, but I still think it’s a barrier to my skin.”

Similarly, for beauty creative May Tahmina Akhtar, scepticism towards permeable make-up is apparent due to conflicting advice from imaams (Muslim worship leader). “Some say they can’t ever truly be 100 per cent permeable but some say if the science says so, then we can do wudu and pray with it,” she explains. “I’ve never tried it as I’m not sure which take I agree with. To save hassle, I don’t really bother with making sure make-up is permeable as I’ll take it off before praying etc.”

For brands like Tuesday In Love, their patented water-permeable nail polish has become world-renowned due to demand from Muslim women who want to be able to have their nails done and pray too. “A lot of people love doing the water permeability test and that’s one of the major things that has made our brand so popular,” says Dr Dar. 

It does beg the question: Islam is a major religion, with 1.8 billion followers – that’s nearly a billion Muslim women – so why is halal beauty only making its mark now? Akhtar points out some brands are halal, but they either don’t know it or are not promoted as such. “For example, the vegan Lush lipsticks are halal even though they are not halal-certified,” she says.

On the other hand, the branding of  ‘clean’ and ‘vegan’ has a broader market that can include women of all religions and walks of life. “That’s not to say that halal beauty products can’t be used by non-Muslim women, but seldom does the media advertise halal products in that way,” adds Dr Dar. 

There’s also the question of how much work do beauty and skincare brands want to do for Muslim women when it’s not lipservice. “Beauty brands may not be targeting the halal market because of the production cost,” says Dr Dar. “This low cost also includes the use of child labour and animal cruelty. The price mark up on these products, therefore, creates a huge profit. If these same companies decided to create halal products, they would be held accountable for the sourcing and production process which many people and halal certifying agencies would red flag them on for their unethical practices.”

Branding oneself as being pro-Muslim and halal can also be an issue for beauty brands that want to remain ‘apolitical’. Just like how it’s been know that British Muslim restaurants do not openly advertise the serving of halal food due to being negatively stereotyped or being seen as lesser than, some beauty brands may not want to associate with Islam right now. 

Though Muslim women may be a minority in the UK, across the world, they are the global majority, so if mainstream brands do not want to serve them due to political and religious associations, are they anything but underserved? Yes and no. 

Before Soni Shah relaunched Halo Skincare, her initial startup was inspired by her religious pilgrimage to Hajj. It’s in this journey where only simple ingredients can be used that made her create for herself and Muslim women like her. “There was very little in 2006 but now it’s the younger generation who have understood our neglect as shoppers and are asking for more. We’re a lot more aware of what goes into our skincare and brands can see the potential of the Muslim pound.” 

“Branding oneself as being pro-Muslim and halal can also be an issue for beauty brands that want to remain ‘apolitical’. Just like how it’s been know that British Muslim restaurants do not openly advertise the serving of halal food due to being negatively stereotyped or being seen as lesser than, some beauty brands may not want to associate with Islam right now”

Beauty creative Salwa Rahman puts forward an alternative view. “You can’t underserve something that hasn’t been considered,” she muses. “For all the beauty creatives I spoke to, actively seeking halal beauty is a new request, as everyone admitted their ideas around what’s halal are the traditional messages around food and general lifestyle. Stretching to beauty is new.”

One thing missing from the halal beauty conversations: black Muslim women. When doing research, skin tones only stopped at deep olive tones with most Muslim-owned halal beauty brands from the Middle East or with southeast Asian Muslim woman in mind. When speaking to black Muslim women about this, some also felt like they couldn’t contribute to a conversation that was supposed to connect all Muslim women and halal beauty together.

“Brands are not paying close attention to our skin needs and concerns closely and intricately,” says Shahd Salaam, activist, beauty blogger and founder of MiCROO New York, an agency for creative women. “There needs to be more brands that create products for black women, and we’re not an afterthought or add on.”

If halal beauty is to continue and prosper, it needs to see how wide the market truly is. That’s the magic of creating for a Muslim audience, you have to think about Nigerian women to Turkish women, Egyptian to Bangladeshi. But, first understand that Muslim women, as a whole, are not a trend or something that will be ‘in’ next for skincare and beauty. 

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