Right intentions: Why alcohol use in halal beauty and personal care products is permitted

By Amanda Lim contact

- Last updated on GMT

A lack of understanding of fatwa has led to confusion about the permissibility of alcohol use in halal personal care products such as fragrances. [Getty Images]
A lack of understanding of fatwa has led to confusion about the permissibility of alcohol use in halal personal care products such as fragrances. [Getty Images]

Related tags: Halal cosmetics

A lack of understanding of fatwa has led to confusion about the permissibility of alcohol use in halal personal care products such as fragrances, according to industry experts.

One of the most common misconceptions about halal beauty products is that they cannot include alcohol, and this has led to many alcohol-free beauty offerings in the halal market. The alcohol-free claim is especially touted in perfumes, which conventionally can contain up to 80% or 90% of alcohol.

In truth, even though alcohol is considered haram – which means prohibited or sinful – multiple halal authorities and Islamic scholars have agreed that alcohol use in medicine and personal care is permissible as it does not intoxicate the user.

According to the Halal Products Research Institute (HPRI) of Universiti Putra Malaysia, the use of alcohol in products like perfumes is permitted under Islamic laws.

Quoting its own research and the Fatwa Committee of the National Council for Malaysian Islamic Religious Affairs dialogue held in 2011, HPRI concluded that ‘not all alcohol is khamr’.

Khamr is an Arabic word for intoxicant and refers to items such as alcoholic beverages. According to HPRI, an alcohol that is not from a Khamr source can be used in medicine and cosmetic products.

Similarly, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore or Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS), has given the green light for Muslims to use perfumes that contain alcohol.

“Most modern perfumes contain alcohol as a solvent and/or to speed up the dispersion of the smelling agent. This alcohol usually comes from the industrial chemical process of producing ethyl alcohol. It does not come from the usual fermentation of carbohydrates such as fruits. Most contemporary ulama are of the view that industrially produced alcohol from chemical process is not najis since it is poisonous and cannot be consumed.”

Under Islamic law, najis means spiritually unclean. Alcohol, when derived from a non-khamr source, is considered not najis and permissible for Muslims to use.

So what makes it halal?

Singaporean fragrance brand and private label manufacturer Freda’D develops and sells high-quality hypoallergenic fragrances targeting people with highly sensitive skin.

Owner Faridah Yusuf is a third-generation perfumer that began training in the art of perfumery since her teenage years.

However, as someone with highly sensitive skin, Faridah experienced allergic reactions to certain ingredient in perfumery. This drove her to develop perfumes that did not irritate her skin.

“I realised that I was not the only person that had these experiences. There were many people who couldn’t use perfumes and I could offer them a solution.”

Faridah said that the mission of her business is to 'solve problems’​. Aside from being someone who suffers from sensitive skin, she is also a Muslim who understands that her fellow Muslim consumers are becoming more concerned about the nature of products like perfumes.

She believes that there is a lot of confusion in the market about the permissibility of alcohol in perfume stemming from a lack of awareness and understanding of fatwa.

“There is simply a lack of understanding. Just because alcohol is haram, some people just rather avoid it. In all honesty, they don’t understand that the alcohol used in perfume does not intoxicate you.”

Faridah emphasised that halal products are not just about the ingredients, but the intention is important as well.

“It’s more important to ensure that you have the right intention. For example, Muslim women should not wear perfume with the intention to attract a man’s attention. Today, we all use perfume for many different reasons, like boosting your self-confidence.

“At the end of the day, it boils down to the intention of wearing, that is the most important. A lot of people think halal is a very complicated thing but it’s actually a simple thing people have complicated.”

On the other hand, the perfume brand or manufacturer must have the right intentions as well. For instance, a brand cannot utilise sexual imagery to market its products, said Faridah.

“Even though sex sells, this is not something the brand would do. It’s not a direction I think it’s right, regardless of religion. I believe perfume should evoke beautiful memories. My perfume collections are about stories. For instance, the Sahara fragrance was inspired by my trip to the Sahara Desert.”

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