Mainstream Beauty Brands Are Finally Serving Muslim Consumers

Photographed by Shirley Yu.
Refinery29 is proud to join and numerous other publishers in creating and amplifying powerful, positive messages of solidarity with Muslim women of all backgrounds. We're coming together to celebrate the inaugural #MuslimWomensDay on March 27, 2017.
With the rise of organic, vegan, and cruelty-free beauty, it's clear that many people care a great deal about what goes into their beauty products. The "natural" and "green" labels are so ubiquitous that you can find them everywhere from Sephora to CVS. But there's a newish addition to the world of conscious cosmetics that you may not have heard about — halal beauty.
Halal beauty refers to products manufactured, produced, and composed of ingredients that are "permissible" under Islamic law. According to Habib Ghanim, director of ISWA Halal Certification Department and president of USA Halal Chamber of Commerce, this means that each product must not contain any pork, animals that were dead prior to slaughtering, blood, alcohol, or carnivorous animals — these items are considered haram, which means "forbidden" in Arabic. For an animal slaughtering to be considered halal, the animal must be slaughtered in the name of Allah, meaning it must be killed by hand — or by a specific method of cutting — while a prayer is recited, says Imam Khalid Latif, executive director of NYU's Islamic Center and owner of East Village-based halal butchery Honest Chops. For those not familiar with the term, an Imam is the religious leader of a mosque.

Your skin is the biggest organ in your body. It absorbs everything, so you're consuming [products] indirectly.

Habib Ghanim
Where cosmetics are concerned, halal is definitely a burgeoning, yet hazy-on-the-details category — much like organic and cruelty-free were more than a decade ago. Many Muslims believe that products applied topically on the skin — not only food and beverages — should adhere to halal standards. "Your skin is the biggest organ in your body," says Ghanim. "It absorbs everything, so you're consuming [ingredients] indirectly."
Halal cosmetics is certainly not new, nor is it a "trend." In fact, Ghanim has been using and certifying halal beauty products for over 10 years. But if halal beauty isn't new to market, why the sudden uptick in its availability?
Muslims comprise over 23% of the global population, according to a Pew Research Center estimate. As the Muslim population grows, more and more people are searching for halal alternatives to common cosmetics and personal-hygiene products.
Since 2013, Google searches for "halal makeup" have steadily increased. Major brands like Shiseido and Estée Lauder are taking note, and both companies have acquired halal certification for certain products sold abroad. There are even companies like Amara Cosmetics that have begun creating halal-certified products in the U.S. An increasing demand for halal products, coupled with an increasingly affluent Muslim consumer, has allowed the halal-beauty category to grow significantly.
Halal Certification
Like with organic products, if a company wishes to make a halal claim on a product it must go through the appropriate certification channels. But, as we've covered extensively with the organic market, many companies "greenwash" using misleading terms to make consumers think they are buying organic. That's why it's important to look for official seals (like the USDA Organic seal). The same applies to halal cosmetics.
Ghanim oversees one of the largest halal-certification organizations in the States, U.S. Halal Certification, which is recognized domestically and abroad. "The main thing we do is make sure there is no pig, alcohol, or contamination during manufacturing," he says. To be certified halal, Ghanim's organization must be able to track down the source of every ingredient to ensure that it was created according to Sharia Law — the system that governs members of the Islamic faith. Samples of each product are also sent to an independent lab contracted by U.S. Halal Certification to test for traces of pork or pork byproducts before certification is issued.
The process can take months and comes with a hefty fee. Membership with U.S. Halal Certification costs almost $2,000, depending on the number of items to be certified, says Ghanim. You must also pay for the organization's copyright and trademarks if you intend to use the logos. Every couple of years, the organization also conducts an independent audit and requires each halal-certified company to notify it of any changes in product ingredients.
According to Ghanim, the U.S. halal-certification industry is far from perfect, and he looks to countries like Singapore as models for the future. "Singapore was one of the first countries in the world to formalize halal certification for cosmetics," he says. "It was one of the first countries to have government regulations and a whole department that supervises and ensures that everything is in compliance with the law."
Singapore-based skin-care brand Klarity, which manufactures its wares in Korea using French and Swiss technologies, has added three halal-certified products to its lineup. The halal-certification process in Singapore took two years, but for Karine Estelle, the brand's founder, it was well worth the wait. "Halal certification [allows] our Islamic customers to acknowledge the credibility of our products," she says. "And our non-Islamic users are offered cruelty-free and less harmful skin-care products." In an ideal world, Ghanim would like to implement some of Singapore's halal-certification processes here in the States, but due to the lack of resources and sheer volume of halal companies here, it's difficult for an American halal-certification organization to have the same kind of power.
It's A Lifestyle
Many believe that halal is a lifestyle in addition to a religious belief. At Honest Chops, Imam Latif and his employees put a premium on accountability — not only in the butchery's adherence to Islam but to environmental and humanitarian ethics as well. "Halal is not just about meat or food — it's a lifestyle," he says. "The preservation of life is one of the primary objectives of Islamic law, although popular media rhetoric might have you believe otherwise."
Imam Latif emphasizes the importance of being environmentally friendly. He and his staff know exactly where each of his animals are being sourced and always make sure to sell every edible part of the animal to eliminate waste. Many halal beauty companies are adopting similar holistic philosophies, which they hope will help draw in non-Muslim consumers as well. "Our products are halal-certified using all-natural and organic ingredients," says Shamalia Mohamed, CEO and founder of Amara Cosmetics. "[We] embrace principles similar to other lucrative eco-ethical brands: that purity is the essential element for organic, vegetarian, and halal products." (Although it must be noted that Amara Cosmetics does conduct testing on animals for safety purposes.)

The preservation of life is one of the primary objectives of Islamic law.

Imam Khalid Latif
Halal & Vegan: Close, But Not The Same
In Singapore, Australia, or Malaysia, if you were to go to Sephora's website and search for halal products you'd be brought to a page that groups halal and vegan products together. This is common in the beauty industry, as many halal cosmetics companies position their products in line with vegan ones — something Imam Latif believes is a result of business owners' desire to enter a new market.
When beauty blogger Saman Munir of @MakeupHijabs can't get her hands on halal products, she turns to vegan ones. "People are becoming conscious and aware of what's in their skin care and makeup, which translates to their willingness to spend more on high-quality halal products," she says.
While both vegans and Muslims can enjoy halal and vegan products, it's misleading to the consumer to lump these products together. Although halal products cannot contain any alcohol, pig, carnivore, or blood-based ingredients, any part of a permissible animal's meat or bones can be included, says Ghanim. Vegan products, on the other hand, contain no animal byproducts of any kind including meat, dairy, or eggs, but can contain ingredients like alcohol. Just because something is labeled halal doesn't mean it's vegan and vice versa. That's why it's important for consumers to do their due diligence — always read ingredient labels and check for organic and cruelty-free certifications.
Blurred Lines
According to Imam Latif, many Muslims purchase "alternative lifestyle products" like vegan items because they feel like they can't trust the halal industry. "There are a lot of Muslims who become vegan, vegetarian, or adopt a kosher lifestyle because they are frustrated with halal products on the market," he says.
The lack of a prevailing halal-certification body in the U.S. makes shopping for halal products an overwhelming experience. "There isn't a national certification system that is so recognized that if you don't have it, you're not given credence," says Imam Latif.

There are a lot of Muslims who become vegan, vegetarian, or adopt a kosher lifestyle because they are frustrated with halal products on the market.

Imam Khalid Latif
According to Ghanim, the absence of a governing certification body means that many businesses self-certify. "Some [smaller companies] try to bypass certification and not pay to get it done, and most of the time they get away with it," he says. This is not to say that any brand that self-certifies is not halal, but that since there is no mandatory independent regulating body, consumers should steer clear of blindly purchasing products simply because they are labeled halal.
But Imam Latif and Ghanim are hopeful that as the number of Muslims in the U.S. grows, halal products will improve. "Institutionally, in the States the Muslim community is fairly young," says Imam Latif. "You'll see a growth in these services and [more] instructions in the future."
Looking Forward
The halal industry has plenty of room to grow, and for an industry that is worth billions we certainly expect it to. More and more businesses around the world are tapping into the halal cosmetics ideology, eyeing potential Middle Eastern and South Asian consumers. Japanese company Shiseido obtained halal certification in Vietnam in 2012, and currently sells 28 halal skin-care products under the Za brand in Malaysia. Even brands like Estée Lauder and Colgate-Palmolive have products that are halal-approved.
We expect to see the number of halal beauty products and companies grow, and as it does, we hope that the certification industry grows too. With the halal cosmetics market gaining traction globally, many long-ignored beauty consumers may finally be able to easily follow their lifestyle choices. And, just as organic went from an unknown category to a beauty juggernaut, so can halal — as more awareness and education about it grows.

More from Makeup

R29 Original Series