Polish problem: Why rules prevent halal nail polish in Malaysia

By Richard Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Why Malaysian halal nail polish brands must go overseas for certification. ©GettyImages
Why Malaysian halal nail polish brands must go overseas for certification. ©GettyImages

Related tags: Halal cosmetics, Nail polish

Malaysian halal nail polish brands must go overseas for certification, and even if they receive accreditation, they cannot carry the badge of their home market regulator.

While JAKIM, Malaysia’s heavyweight halal certification authority, offers the halal stamp for other beauty categories like makeup and skincare, it does not do so for nail polish specifically.

Other certifiers, such as Australia’s Halal Certification Authority, do offer this service—though their logo carries little weight in Malaysia, where Jakim is seen as the benchmark.

According to JAKIM, halal certification will not be given to any “product, food or premises which gives a negative implication towards religion​”. In this way, nail polish is categorised alongside karaoke centres, drugs and cigarettes as undesirable.

The issue in the case of nail polish lies in the inability to cleanse oneself fully prior to praying, according to Mahellah Omar, an authority on halal certification.

Nail polish gives a perceived indication that the person doesn’t pray because it invalidates wuduk​,” said the head of the Serunai Commerce Halal Centre of Excellence

Muslims must perform a ritual known as wuduk​, which involves the cleansing of the hands, mouth, nostrils, arms, head and feet with water prior to praying, known as solat​.

This is done in a strict order and requires Muslims to take off any unbreathable makeup before they can achieve proper wuduk. When cosmetics form a waterproof barrier, water will glance off, leaving the skin beneath unpurified.

Yet nail polish is also available in a breathable, “wuduk-friendly​” form marketed by a number of brands including Zahara and Sephora, though these still cannot be certified as halal by Jakim. Even peel-off nail polish does not comply.

Cosmetics can be halal but they might invalidate your solat. That is why certain countries take the approach that if their ingredients and packaging are halal, then the product is halal. They are not concerned about the implication of a product​,” said Mahellah.

All cosmetics can apply for halal certification in Malaysia, but nail polish is the most problematic. When companies want to sell nail polish here it becomes an issue because Jakim won’t certify it but others do.​”

Mahellah doesn’t believe that the regulator’s point of view on nail polish will ever change, even as more porous lacquers become available.

The distinction comes because other types of cosmetics are not permanent and will wear off on their own through sweat and daily activities. Nail colour, by contrast, is permanent and can only be removed using nail remover​,” she said.

Even if nail polish is breathable, and allows water to permeate through it to reach the nails, it can be argued that it still invalidates wuduk because it doesn’t allow the action of washing to take place. By definition, wuduk requires water to be rubbed onto the body​.”

With just 10% of Malaysia’s 267 registered beauty manufacturers being halal certified, according to Serunai Commerce’s figures, cosmetics is lagging behind the country’s other major halal segments of food, tourism and pharmaceuticals.

Manufacturers surveyed by CosmeticsDesign-Asia​ say the JAKIM certification process can be taxing, especially as Malaysia imports most of ingredients and has little production itself. Because of this, a complex supply chain of raw materials needs to be painstakingly tracked back around the world before a product can get the local halal stamp.

Even if a product doesn’t carry JAKIM’s logo, Muslims are still free to buy it, albeit without the assurance it carries.

Serunai Commerce, which is supported by JAKIM, is a Malaysian systems developer and consultancy firm specialising in the halal Industry, which it aims to make more accessible to companies in Malaysia and overseas.

Its Kuala Lumpur-based centre of excellence carries out training courses for companies looking for halal certification, and conducts awareness training for non-Muslim staff across the halal industry.

It has just opened a second centre in Cape Town and plans more next year, including one in Korea, where the halal cosmetics industry is poised to take off.

Though the country is home only to some 180,000 Muslims, it is pursuing an aggressive halal expansion agenda. Government incentives have lately been coaxing more consumer goods and tourism companies to seek halal certification for their products and services to cater for inbound Muslim arrivals and exports to Islamic countries.

There are now more than 3,000 cosmetics brands in Korea, and now they are opening up towards halal certification​,” said Mahellah.

More Muslim tourists are travelling to Korea and looking for halal cosmetics, but only five have been certified so far. There is a lot of interest in the market​.”

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