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Is kosher beauty the next make-up and skincare phenomenon?


TextHannah Tindle

Despite there being stringent rules for observant Jewish women, the market for kosher products remains almost entirely untapped

Last year, Dazed Beauty published an investigation into halal beauty. Written by Tahmina Begum, the piece discusses which make-up products constitute as halal, and the rise of their popularity with followers of Islam. Begum also explains that “the term ‘halal beauty’ is usually an underground term for (us) #Muzlamics”, but outlines how this is rapidly changing, through Muslim-owned make-up empires such as Huda Kattan’s Huda Beauty. 

Unlike Begum, I choose not to practice a religion. However, being Jewish by birth and raised in a secular household – and, perhaps because of this distance to a culture I strongly identify with – I have always taken an interest in the traditions and religious laws that other Jewish people follow. As a fashion writer and make-up obsessive, the way in which Orthodox Jewish women dress and present themselves has been a particular source of intrigue, and the existence of kosher beauty is something I’ve often wondered about.

If a quick Google search is anything to go by, it is a market that seems almost entirely untapped. Yet, delving a little deeper, it would seem that kosher beauty is a very real part of the lives of observant Jewish women, who might take it upon themselves to apply stringent rules when it comes to their make-up and skincare. 

For those unfamiliar with the term – although it has been brought to mainstream attention in recent months via the hit Netflix series Unorthodox – Orthodox Judaism encompasses various forms of observancy: from the ultra-observant Hasidism (as we see in Unorthodox) to Modern Orthodox communities. Kosher is the word used for foods that are deemed permissible for consumption under kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), and halacha, the laws of Jewish life derived from the oral and written Torah. Make-up and beauty laws – both dictating the contents of products and their application – straddle each. 

Shaindy Kelman, a biochemist living in Baltimore, is a Modern Orthodox Jew. But her kosher beauty company ShainDee Cosmetics – which has been up and running for 36-years – caters to women from communities all over the world. Kelman’s business is one of the only online stores selling products specially formulated in a lab for kashrut and halacha, and for festivals such as Passover, where the consumption of certain ‘leavened’ grains is prohibited. This includes wheat, oats, rye, barley and spelt, if they’ve had contact with water or any sort of moisture for longer than 18 minutes.

With make-up and skincare often derived from these grains, containing ingredients either derived from or tested on non-kosher animals, or made in labs in close proximity with other products that have – Kelman works hard to ensure that her own vegan foundations, blushes, lipsticks, and more, fit within kosher laws. “I work with a Rabbi and they check every product,” she says. “There are people that say that it’s not so necessary to do this, because you’re just applying it on your face and not eating it. But there are some people who don’t even want to have make-up that isn’t kosher in their possession – especially on Passover.” 

Kelman says that although her customers often wear ShainDee products on an everyday basis, it is during Shabbat that they really come into their own – particularly her powder formulations. The sabbath, from sunset on Friday evening to sunset on Saturday night, is a day of rest, where it is particularly important to look your best, while still adhering to guidelines laid out in the Torah.

“There are very strict rules in the Torah about how you’re not allowed to colour or paint on shabbat, which extends to applying make-up,” said Kelman. “So women often don’t wear make-up at all. I had women saying to me that it’s so sad, because the sabbath is when we wear our most beautiful clothes, so we want to have something pretty for our face, too – but we still want to follow the right guidelines.” Kelman has even filmed her own make-up tutorial on how to correctly use products for Shabbat (which includes no cream products or blending of colours, as this is too similar to painting).

“There are very strict rules in the Torah about how you’re not allowed to colour or paint on shabbat, which extends to applying make-up. I had women saying to me that it’s so sad, because the sabbath is when we wear our most beautiful clothes, so we want to have something pretty for our face, too – but we still want to follow the right guidelines” – Shaindy Kelman, founder, ShainDee Cosmetics

Of course, there are existing beauty products available to buy from mainstream brands that are also considered suitable. But finding out which can take a great deal of detective work and patience, scouring counters and aisles – and the small print on the back of packaging – with a fine tooth comb. For Passover 2020, Kosher.org.uk published an updated list of lip products that are permissible for Passover – including those from Clinique, Esteée Lauder, L’Oréal, and Rimmel. But as Doree Lewak quipped in a 2011 Huffington Post article: “... it probably took the Israelites less time to cross the desert than it did for a religious Jew to determine if her Lancôme liquid face cream is kosher or not.” Which is perhaps why a beauty brand such as Kelman’s has gained worldwide traction in Orthodox communities. 

There are times when rabbinical laws have been altered to make things a lot easier for observant women, and to keep up with changing beauty technology. In Unorthodox, you may recall the scene in which the lead character Esty takes a ritual bath. This bath is called a mikveh, and is used by men and women to achieve ritual purity. Your whole body must be entirely clean, which is why we see Esty taking such a meticulous shower before dipping herself into the water of the mikveh. Wearing make-up in the mikveh is not allowed, and neither is nail varnish. 

Esther Goldstein, an observant woman based in London, used to live in Manchester among a Hasdic community, and dresses in accordance with the Jewish laws of modesty, known as tznius. But this doesn’t stop her getting her nails done. Goldstein explains that the development of gel nail polish meant that new rules for entering the mikveh had to be written up. “Many women in Israel were having gel polishes put on, the Rabbonim decided that if you wore gel you could have your nails painted 24-hours before going into the mikveh – it can’t be chipped or growing out in any way.” The reason for this being that the gel polish would then be considered ‘as one’ with your body, rather than a foreign entity. 

With shows such as Unorthodox piquing secular interest in observant Jewish culture, kosher beauty is surely a topic that is set to be explored further. “But I don’t think the kosher market will follow crazy trends,” says Shaindy Kelman. “Going with a brighter lipstick or shadow will be the most dramatic. Orthodox women want to improve our features, not to add drama.”

“With parallels to be drawn between halal and kosher beauty – in that the use of vegan, organic, clean, and ethically formulated products are favoured – there is a huge opportunity for existing and fledgling brands to speak to the needs of observant Jewish women”

With parallels to be drawn between halal and kosher beauty – in that the use of vegan, organic, clean, and ethically formulated products are favoured – there is a huge opportunity for existing and fledgling brands to speak to the needs of observant Jewish women. Tamina Begum notes that the beauty sector catering to a Muslim market is predicted to be worth $52.2 billion by 2025, and recent agency report on the future of beauty published in February this year stated that 58 per cent of Gen-Z consumers would purchase a product because it contained natural ingredients

Whether we’ll be getting a kosher Glossier any time soon is another matter. But it will be interesting to see if future Gen-Z beauty moguls will consider the inclusion of beauty products that appeal to an observant Jewish audience – and, how it will be done. 

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