Shabbat makeup lets women gloss over law

Moisturizer., blush, powder, eye shadow, eyeliner, mascara and lipstick — these are tools many women use to face each day.

But for one group of Jewish women, the normal weekday beauty regimen is exchanged for another on Shabbat. According to halachah, Jewish law, putting on ordinary makeup is creative "work," something from which women must refrain on Shabbat.

To those who have not grown up observant or come to a traditional lifestyle in adulthood, the idea seems odd. How can putting on makeup be work? And halachah or no, some might argue that they would feel too self-conscious to give up their cosmetics one day a week. But many observant women have found a solution that satisfies both religious and fashion concerns.

Rebbitzen Ruth Baars has studied the halachic issues that can make Shabbat makeup problematic.

Many Orthodox rabbis allow the use of specially formulated cosmetics that they believe do not violate halachah. There are various rabbinic opinions on the issue, however, so women should consult their own rabbis.

Baars said that putting on normal makeup requires several actions that are considered "work" according to Jewish law. One of these proscribed activities is dyeing, originally enjoined because it was a step in preparing cloth to be used in the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary the Israelites used during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Dyeing, for Jewish purposes, is defined as changing something's color in a semi-permanent way, Baars said.

Modern long-wearing makeup items are formulated to change face, eyelid and lip colors; they are semi-permanent because they contain emollients and fixatives. Putting them on during Shabbat would constitute dyeing.

Another prohibition is smoothing. Animal skins used in the Mishkan had to have their roughness removed. Applying face creams, which smooth human skin, is thus off-limits on Shabbat.

A few cosmetics firms catering to observant clients sell Shabbat makeup that works within Jewish law.

Because a woman can "dye" and "smooth" without restriction on Friday afternoon, it is acceptable to apply makeup before Shabbat begins and hope it will stay on. "Halachic" cosmetic companies offer pre-Shabbat makeups that may stay on at least through Shabbat lunch.

Halachah-minded chemists also have formulated some cosmetics that do not have emollients and fixatives.

Baars may use a dark eye shadow to approximate the effect of eyeliner, but she doesn't draw a line with it. That would be akin to writing, another prohibition.

Shabbat makeup, Baars agrees, doesn't last as long as everyday products. They are designed not to be "semi-permanent." But they can be reapplied as often as a woman likes.