The concept of halal cosmetics embraces an eco-ethical philosophy which rests well with modern and conservative Muslims worldwide.
WHILE applying her toner at home one day, Dr Mah Hussain-Gambles was encouraged by her husband to take a closer look at the skincare ingredients that went into her product.
He said that although Muslims are not supposed to consume liquor, her toner probably contained alcohol. Scientific studies have shown that a part of what we apply on our skin often gets absorbed into the blood stream.
That got Mah thinking and marked the beginning of her foray into halal skincare. In addition to halal concerns, she was also determined to develop a safe and ethical range of products.
In 2008, she became the first person in the world to launch a halal, organic and vegan certified, animal cruelty-free range of products called Saaf Pure Skin Care (Saaf means “pure” in Persian).
That same year, she won the Muslim News Award for Excellence in Britain for the world’s first halal and organic certified skincare line manufactured in the country.
Her most recent achievement included winning the British Female Innovator of the Year Award at the British Female Inventors and Innovators Network event last June.
Modern take: Halal and eco-ethical cosmetics mean they are free from animal cruelty, care for the environment, do not harm one’s body, and fulfil corporate social responsibility, in line with Islamic teachings.
Mah was in Kuala Lumpur two weeks ago to speak at the first International Conference on Halal Cosmetics and Toiletries – HalCOS, which carried the theme Streamlining And Unlocking The Potentials Of An Emerging Niche Market.
One of her biggest hurdles when developing Saaf was getting proper halal certification.
A by-product of that issue was the formation of the Halal Food and Cosmetics Consultancy in 2006, of which Mah is a founding member.
Now known as the European
Halal Authority, the non-profit organisation is acclaimed as Europe’s first independent halal accreditation body specialising in non-food products.
Today, Mah is also adviser to the Halal Certification Bodies in Britain, the International Halal Integrity (IHI) Alliance and also the Halal Industry Development Corporation (HDC) in Malaysia.
“The principles of halal do not only mean alcohol- and pork-free, but encompass a wholesome concept that embraces a pure and eco-ethical lifestyle,” explained Mah. In the West, the concept of halal is synonymous with meat and poultry, but doesn’t extend to lifestyle products.
Eco-ethical means free from animal cruelty, caring for the environment, not harming one’s body (eating natural formulations, organically grown products, and those free from pesticides or ingredients deemed harmful to the body) and fulfilling corporate social responsibility (which includes fair trade and no exploitation of workers).
“All these are in line with the teachings of Islam. Caring for the body, environment and the animal kingdom is the modern take on halal,” said Mah, a qualified pharmacologist and homeopath.
The global cosmetics market is worth an estimated US$334bil (RM1.07tril) while the global halal cosmetics market is estimated at US$13bil (RM41.6bil).
The global Muslim consumer base is estimated at 1.8bil, spread out over 100 countries. The Middle East accounts for 20% of the global Muslim population.
For cosmetics and personal care products to be certified halal, they must comply with the Malaysian Standard MS2200:2008 requirements.
“The eco-ethical concept has been a strong market force in the Western world for quite a while,” he said, adding that natural beauty products line The Body Shop was a good example.
“But, what we are seeing now, as the halal cosmetics sector opens up, is the relationship between eco-ethical concerns and the concept of halal, which isn’t just about how you slaughter a chicken. The ethical dimension, in a way, is slightly more prevalent in cosmetics and personal care, because it has become a (marketing tool) way of selling products.”
Apart from Islamic concerns, protecting the environment and being kind to animals are also universal human values.
“In many parts of the world, especially in the secular world, eco-ethical issues to some extent have become more important than religion,” added Abdalhamid, who spoke on Cosmetics: The Next Developing Halal Sector.
“Now that there is an emerging halal cosmetics sector, these issues are going to get talked about in a (bigger) different kind of way and will be re-examined in the food market as well.”
He said there has definitely been a shift in perspective in the last few years on halal food, from merely looking at how animals are slaughtered to the whole concept of farm-to-fork or table (taking into account how meat is transported and handled). Similarly, the halal aspect in products is being reviewed with fresh eyes, and goes beyond religious beliefs.
“The halal cosmetics sector has its own dynamics and it is opening a new frontier in the halal market,” he said.
Mah noticed that Muslim consumers today prefer halal endorsed products, and are choosing to spend money on lifestyle products that meet their religious and cultural requirements.
“Educated and conscientious Muslim consumers are specifically reaching out for environmentally-friendly and organic lifestyle products.
“There is a growing vegetarian and vegan movement in the West and it’s consumers who are driving these industries. Likewise, I think consumers should drive the halal cosmetics market in the same way,” she said.
Abdalhamid believes that the eco-ethical concept will also appeal to non-Muslims.
“If they recognise that halal also stands for eco-ethical beliefs, it will have a wider appeal. “The same applies to the modern and younger generation of Muslims. There’s probably a generation of young Muslims who, in a way, might be more concerned with eco-ethical issues than the religious aspects.
“In a way, that’s quite a good thing because those aspects of Islam have been overlooked and the legal religious aspects have been over-emphasised to the point that it has alienated a lot of the younger generation,” he said.
Mah also brought up that consumers in Europe, Middle East and Asia are becoming more discerning and want to know what goes into a product. She aims to make halal cosmetics more mainstream, like organic products.
“I receive many requests from consumers about halal hair dyes, nail varnish or bleach cream. The opportunities are endless. I would really like to introduce a halal perfume range, for instance,” she said.
At the moment, there is no unified halal standard, and there are between 150 and 200 listed halal certification bodies worldwide. The IHI Alliance was incorporated in 2006 following a resolution passed by delegates from over 30 countries at the inaugural World Halal Forum.
The Alliance is working towards the global harmonisation of halal standards and alignment of halal certification practices.
“A global standard will be difficult to produce and I don’t know if it’s possible to have one because countries are developing new or refining their existing standards. There is some work being done to develop international standards but that would be more of a reference document rather than a standard that will guarantee that your product gets into a certain country.
“The national boundary will still be protected by requirements of national bodies and institutions. I don’t see any change to that in the immediate future,” said Abdalhamid.
There is no real European body that is looking at halal (certification) and part of the problem lies with secular systems.
“For instance, France will not be involved in defining or regulating halal because it’s a religious issue. Just like in the United States, there is a constitutional separation between religion and the state. Therefore, there is a need to work with an Islamic body that acts as umbrella body for the rest of the other Muslim organisations,” he added.
However, he forsees that it will be very difficult because “Muslims were not exactly unified and have their own cultural differences.”
“Clear labelling will simplify things enormously,” he suggested. Apart from the labelling of ingredients, key components of halal such as how a chicken was slaughtered, whether it was stunned before it was slaughtered, should also be indicated in the products.
“All those details will help consumers choose.”
Abdalhamid predicted some future trends in the halal cosmetics industry.
“Clearly, there are many small medium enterprises involved in halal cosmetics in Malaysia and different parts of the world. Some of them are going to have great success and raise much awareness.
“Certain big corporations at some point will probably bring out halal ranges and that will also change things in a bigger way as the media will pick it up, and people will talk about it.”
Creating awareness will help the consumer to be able to ask the right questions.
“I think Muslim consumers still don’t recognise the strength of their consumer power. If they demand certain things, corporations will comply,” he concluded.