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The Scientific Challenges Facing The Halal Market

April 22, 2010

On 13th and 14th April Halcos ran for the first time in Malaysia- a conference put together to discuss the opportunities for Halal cosmetics. My presentation was based on the essay below. I know that it makes for long reading but you may find it of interest.

Is the future Halal? I think so……

Cosmetic science is often seen as the poor relation – a ‘science’ that is based on triviality, a veneer, a science that feeds the indulgent and self-obsessed side of humanity.  At best it is seen as shallow and at worst corrupting. Our modern interpretation of the word ‘cosmetic’ supports this notion as we shall see below.


Adjective meaning ‘used or done superficially to make something look better, more attractive or more impressive’ OR “Serving to beautify; imparting or improving beauty”

It is this definition that leads us to believe that we are incomplete and in need of refinement without this ‘cosmetic’ activity or product.   How can this be when a universal, complete and therefore perfect beauty DOES exist?  Surely we don’t need this type definition of ‘cosmetic’?

However, when we look more closely at the word we find a different meaning, a meaning that may enrich and celebrate our intrinsic beauty. The word ‘cosmetic’ originates from the Greek word ‘Kosmos’ meaning ordered or arranged. Further, the adjective “Kosmetos” means adornment and arrangement – implying that beauty and perfection already exist and ‘cosmetification’ is a celebration of that natural wonder.    This celebration is neither trivial nor self-indulgent.

This ‘word play’ is all important when contemplating a future for Halal certified cosmetics and the science that it stands upon.  Therefore we find ourselves with two options on the table:

1)     Kosmetos:  To endorse a definition that empowers and supports the ‘beauty absolute’.


2)     Cosmetic: To outsource our perfection to a product or process that can be bought, sold and measured. 

The cosmetic science presented in the remainder of this lecture endorses the first premise which, as we shall see, still leaves plenty of room for creative work and play.

 The Halal standard  that is currently being developed by the Malaysian Halal Council  requires cosmetic manufacturers to comply with the relevant parts of food standard MS 1500 – all ingredients must comply to  Halal and Shariah requirements, no ingredients derived from pig, no non-Halal ingredients, no alcohol. All ingredients must be stored, manufactured, packaged and delivered in accordance to strict Halal standards.  This top-level philosophy is relatively easy to comply with if one is making traditional and predominantly ‘natural’ cosmetic products. However, those seeking to enter the booming cosmaceutical or functional product markets will require more clarification and scientific challenges exist both in the supply chain and in the way that these products are to be used by the public.

The Market Opportunity.

According to leading market research company Euromonitor (1), the global cosmetic market is now worth $334 billion US Dollars (2009). Out of this, the Natural health and beauty markets are the most dynamic and are predicted to be worth $14 billion(2) in the US by 2014 with a growth rate of 74% between the years 2009-2014.   According to AME  the market for Halal cosmetics is booming across the Middle East, growing at 12% annually to reach $2.1 Billion US in 2006 (and approximately US $2.75 Billion now).  With the Middle East (4) only accounting for 20% of the Global Muslim population (5) the overall market could be worth in excess of US $13 Billion. And then there are the non-Muslim’s looking to go beyond ‘natural’, looking for products that align with their ethics.   During the 2009 ‘In Cosmetics’ Exhibition in Europe “Extreme Ethics” was touted as the next big trend coming to the cosmetics market and with Fair Trade and Earth Friendly brands already hitting the shelves it looks like they may have been right.

From A Scientific Perspective.

While it is widely accepted that a Halal cosmetic should contain no Alcohol (Ethanol) and no animal derived ingredients it is not always easy to detect these ingredients due to the complexity of cosmaceutical manufacture. Before we go any further we should define this term:

Cosmaceutical:  This phrase is marketing rather than a legislative term for cosmetics that bridge the gap between a cosmetic (something that is meant to improve the appearance or smell of the body) and a pharmaceutical (a product with the ability to cure, treat, mitigate or prevent a disease).  As cosmetics are not legally permitted to affect our biology cosmaceutical claims, while medical sounding are essentially offering a ‘cosmetic’ benefit:

Cosmaceuticals often help ease the signs of ageing, uneven skin-tone, uneven skin-tone, pore size, skin tightness and volume:

Typical ‘claims’:

“Reduces the appearance of wrinkles.” – Topical Botox type product.

“Gives you radiant skin.” – skin Whitening formulation.

“Helps slow the signs of ageing” – Anti-ageing formulation.

“Smooths skin” – Skin Peels.

This growing sector is significant for the Halal Certifier for a number of reasons including the fact that it is the fastest growing and most financially lucrative segment. However, from a scientific perspective cosmaceutical products are designed to act more deeply upon the skin and are therefore more likely to be absorbed into and even through it than traditional cosmetics.  The skin makes for a formidable barrier between traditional cosmetics and the blood-stream but cosmaceuticals are blurring that boundary, making it more likely that what one puts onto ones skin migrates into it.

While it is not possible or necessary to give an exhaustive list of cosmaceutical ingredients in this presentation, it is useful to examine a small selection.  As we will see below, cosmaceutical ingredients leave the Halal Certifier with a number of challenges, avoiding animal derivatives and ethanol requires some keen detective work.

 Typical examples of ingredients in this sector that require some legislative and scientific thought are as follows:

Active Type 1: Skin Nutrients / Antioxidants.

Traditionally the Vitamins A, C and E have been all that you need to protect and feed your skin and protect it from the ravages of free-radicals (free radicals are said to damage healthy cells and promote premature ageing).   These vitamins are available to the cosmetic formulator as synthetic, nature-identical or natural additives with the vast majority of sales being of the synthetic version due to price point.  For example, Vitamin E (available as D-Alpha tocopherol acetate)  is available naturally in a wide range of foods including vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and whole grains however a study carried out by supplier BASF nutrition (6) found that the synthetic version was more environmentally friendly to manufacture, consuming three times less energy and resulting in four times less air emissions.  Being key vitamin supplements for food use, these vitamins are all available with Halal certification (7) although not from all manufacturers.

But the goal-posts for cosmetic anti-oxidants are constantly changing as you would expect from such a fashion driven industry meaning that today’s cosmaceuticals demand more exotic  skin-food and antioxidant packages.

One example of this new-era of highly active skin-foods is the “French Paradox” vitamin – Resveratrol.  The name originates from the fact that resveratrol is found in the skins of red grapes and the red wine that they go on to make.  However, the active can also be manufactured synthetically and even when recovered naturally, the resveratrol can be extracted long before the grapes are fermented.  While this ingredient is used by cosmetic formulators as is, it does produce some formulating challenges due to its stability and solubility.  One ingredient manufacturer has overcome this by reacting it with a methylotrophic yeast Pichia Pastoris.

 The Pichia (8, 9) is a yeast variant that can be grown in a medium of methanol or methanol/glycerine. The manufacturer then takes this yeast extract and reacts it with resveratrol to form a more stable and biologically active form of Resveratrol.  During this second reaction the growth medium is chemically defined and ‘animal’ free making it a potential candidate for Halal Certification. This nutrient active is marketed for its ability to reduce inflammation, firm and tone the skin and promote extra cellular matrix.

Another popular skin nutrient and antioxidant is Lycopene (10) – a  member of the carotenoid family that is present in tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit and other red fruits.   With antioxidant properties that are double to the more traditional Vitamin E, lycopene makes for a natural and potent choice. However, its extraction method could prove to be problematic when considering Halal certification as it is often carried out by boiling the fruit pulp in a solution of 92% ethanol.

Active Type 2: Stem Cells.

Stem cells have long been of interest in cosmetics science because of their potential to develop into many different cells in the body and potentially reverse the damage caused by both intrinsic and extrinsic ageing. In 2008 RNL Bio, a Korean biotechnology(11)  company published a paper showing that they had managed to grow stem cells from human placenta and then use these cells to culture a variety of proteins.  The Koreans were not alone as that same year US Biotechnology company Proteonomix saw its stem-cell based active tropelastin launched into the market as part of a skincare range developed by subsidiary company Proteoderm.  

While scientific research and clinical studies can back up the efficacy of these highly potent ingredients, the ethical issues(12)  surrounding the use of human stem cells or human stem-cell derivatives should not be ignored.  Today the cosmetic chemist has all of the benefits of stem-cell derived ingredients at their fingertips without the human cost as research into botanicals has borne fruit.  Stem cells are now farmed from many botanical species including the Swiss Apple, Edelweiss, and Date Palm.

Some of the new botanical stem cell technology looks interesting(13,14,15)  and potentially attractive for inclusion into Halal certified cosmetics however, the delivery system employed by some of these actives may render them unsuitable.  As with many natural actives, the stem cells need to be presented in a format that facilitates their skin penetration, in this case liposomes are the chosen vehicles. Liposomes can be manufactured in many ways one of which is to dissolve phospholipids in a suitable solvent. This solvent could be glycerine or ethanol based depending on the chemistry of the lipids although high pressure homogenisation is also used.  These preparations may make these actives unsuitable for inclusion in a Halal standard unless strict monitoring can be employed.

Active Type 3: Skin Boosters – Hyaluronic Acid, Collagen and Elastin

Hyaluronic Acid is a glycosaminoglycan based component of the extracellular matrix and a part of the skin’s repair mechanisms.  Hyaluronic acid is also a great humectants which helps it to plump up the skin from within, keeping it young-looking and healthy.  This ingredient has long been added to skincare as a means to iron out wrinkles, firm and tighten saggy skin and deliver moisture deep into the tissues.  It is also approved for injection into the skin as a contouring agent.

The cosmetic industry sources its hyaluronic acid from a number of sources of which animal is one (Rooster Cones and Bovine Vitreous Humor). However, due to market preference the majority of manufacturers now choose hyaluronic acid  that has been produced via the fermentation of Streptococcus Pyogenes in a relatively ‘clean’ laboratory process. This may make it suitable for submission to the Halal council.

Collagen and Elastin are other common cosmaceutical actives that have traditionally been animal derived but can now be synthetically manufactured. The challenge for the Halal cosmetics manufacturer or consumer would be in compiling the paper-trail to confirm manufacturing route.

Active Type 4: Peptides

Peptides are everywhere in high-end skincare and are therefore important to discuss.  They come in all shapes and sizes and can offer a whole range of benefits spanning skin firming and wrinkle reduction to skin-cell activating and anti-inflammatory.  Indeed, it is not only the range of activities that we need to concern ourselves with, Peptides also come from a variety of starting materials and are processed in many different ways. In this group, one rule does not fit all!

There are a number of manufacturers offering sophisticated actives based on bioactive milk peptides or cytokines which promise to regenerate mature skin by stimulating the synthesis of the connective tissue. These actives can be manufactured from whole milk or from Whey protein from a number of sources including cow, goat, sheep or buffalo, in laboratory conditions to give a highly active skin care ingredient. Cytokines exist in our bodies as signalling molecules that transfer information to the cells in order to illicit a response including regulating inflammation and assisting in cell repair by acting as growth factors.

One method of preparing this bio-active is by taking whole milk(16, 17),  and heat treating it to separate the Whey.  This is then deposited on a cation-exchange resin and washed with demineralised water before eluting the product from the resin with a graduated brine solution. The resulting product is then sterilized and spray dried or used to prepare another cosmetically acceptable active.

With the first step complete and the bio-active milk peptide produced the next step is to perform a quality check in the way of a migration assay.  The assay is carried out in-vitro using a confluent layer of cells grown in a 5% foetal calf serum medium.  Although  in this example, this is the only stage in the process that involves contact with animal-derived medium it may well render the ingredient unsuitable for inclusion in any Halal standard.

Active Type 5: Traditionally Animal derived Ingredients.

While the mass-market are against animal testing the cosmetic industry does still use ingredients that have been extracted or derived from animals.  As mentioned above we have the use of animal based Collagen, Elastin and Hyaluronic acid which can all be harvested from a variety of sources including Pig skin and fish.  In addition to that we have Chitin and Chitosan(18),  which are used for their film-forming properties on the skin and hair which help with moisturisation and conditioning. They can also be further reacted to form a range of cosmaceutical actives although these benefits which derive from the chemicals glucosamine backbone can be found in vegetable sources also.

In addition to that there is Keratin which is often extracted from feathers and Lecithin and its derivatives from Chickens eggs.  These ingredients are used for a variety of functions from hair and skin conditioning to stabilising of cosmetic emulsions, properties which again can be found in non-animal derivatives if required.

One of the most common cosmetic ingredients, glycerine was traditionally sourced from animals as it is a by-product of fat saponification and is therefore both cheap and readily available. However the move towards non-animal derived glycerine which was already well underway in Europe in the 1990’s was hastened by the outbreak of “mad cow disease” or Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis.  As a result of this many cosmetic manufacturers asked ingredient suppliers to fill out a “BSE” and “TSE” declaration form which served as a final nail in the coffin of the animal derived ingredient. The plant based alternative is most commonly derived from Palm Oil, an ingredient with its own image problems concerning the alleged land management and animal displacement issues. This situation serves as a good example of the chain reaction of circumstances arising from a change in public or scientific opinion. It would be wise to be mindful of that when developing future position statements.


The rise of biotechnology and the demand for new and highly functional skin care actives leave the potential legislator with a variety of challenges.  From a purely scientific perspective care must be taken to map out not only the manufacturing process and ingredient supply chain but also the post-production efficacy testing to ensure that the ethical position of the product is maintained.  Further, additional claim substantiation testing may render a perfectly acceptable ingredient unusable due to legislation such as REACH (Europe), FDA and TGA requiring safety dossiers for new bio-active ingredients. 

The global cosmetics industry has been banned from testing finished products on animals since March 1st 2004 and a ban on testing ingredients since 11th March 2009 however, there are still some safety tests for which no animal-free testing method exists: Eye Irritation (partially replaced) , Chronic Toxicity, Reproductive Toxicity and Toxicokinetics.  It may be the case that many new and essentially acceptable cosmetic ingredients become un-certifiable due to them having to comply with these legal safety requirements.   More information on alternatives to animal testing can be found via the following organisations:  FRAME (Funding the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments): , ECVAM: European Centre on Validation of Alternative Methods (to animal testing)  and the law concerning animal testing for cosmetic purposes in Europe can be found here:

To summarise, it is clear from the global population figures and from the existing buzz in the Muslim world that an all-encompassing Halal standard for cosmetics is required. Indeed  Muslims the world over will welcome being able to buy their body care essentials without first having to call and talk to the manufacturers, research each ingredient and take products along to the mosque for a second opinion.  However, creating a standard that is all-encompassing and scientifically progressive is no small challenge.

The growth in the cosmetics industry is coming from these new and innovative bio-actives bound up in highly active cosmaceutical products. While not created from animal material many of these actives are tested for efficacy using animal derived medium.  Within this problem exists an opportunity for assistance in the development of an animal-free laboratory standard that  will not only satisfy Halal standards but will also be welcomed by the Vegetarian and Vegan market segments.  Not only that, but the rise of ‘natural’ and plant based cosmetics leads to the logical conclusion that everyone would benefit and welcome completely animal-free cosmetics. This makes for a powerful and somewhat limitless market opportunity.

A second opportunity surrounds the use of ethanol as an extraction, solvent and cleaning medium for many cosmetic actives.  It is possible in many cases to replace ethanol with another solvent in the laboratory but price, availability and history often prevent this from happening.  A 3600   approach to a Global Halal standard could provide enough motivation and market opportunity to redress this balance.

Finally and more philosophically than strictly science exists the opportunities for the Halal standard to re-define the cosmetic industry’s premise, a premise that celebrates our (humanities) intrinsic beauty rather than promising us ‘perfection in a jar’.  To do this would require significant understanding of how cosmetic products work on both a scientific and an emotional level. It also requires an understanding and an appreciation of cosmetic marketing in order to engage the public on a deeper and more equitable level.  Indeed, if this premise were to be adopted the very notion of ‘anti-age’ may well become obsolete as we seek to support and celebrate our life-journey naturally.

Whatever happens next it is clear that a myriad of opportunities exist to re-define the cosmetics industry and bring real meaning to the science that supports it. However one thing is certain, Halal certifiers will need their nano-enabled microscopes and their fine-print reading glasses at the ready to ensure that nothing slips through the net.


Market Data:

(1)   Euromonitor market Size: Figures presented at In Cosmetics Exhibition 2009 by Irina Barbalova, Industry Manager, Cosmetics and Toiletries, Euromonitor International.

(2)   US Natural Beauty market figures:

(3)   AME info, Halal Cosmetics Market for the Middle East

(4)   Beauty World Middle East:

(5)   Islam Population By Country:

Halal Brands:

Almaas, Australia:

Australian Halal Foods Pty Ltd.

Saaf Pure Skincare:

UK Halal Food and Cosmetic Consultancy.

Inika – Halal Mineral Make-up:

(no certification found).

Hussana Products:

One Pure Skincare:

Halo Cosmetics UK:

ElHajj Skincare.

General Research. Ingredients:

(6)   BASF Alpha Tocopherol natural VS Synthetic:

(7)   Halal Vitamin A, E and C from BASF:

(8)   Growing Pichia Pastoris:$=relatedarticles&logdbfrom=pubmed

(9)   Patent relating to Arch Chemical’s Metabiotics Resveratrol Manufacture:

(10)Lycopene Extraction Method:

(11)Stem Cells in Cosmetics. RNL, Seol. Korea:

(12)World Health – Stem Cell Research and Cosmetics

(13)Phytocell from Mibelle Biotechnology:

(14)Metabolic Engineering. Hyaluronic Acid manufacturing:

(15)Stem Cell Research by Mibelle concerning Swiss Apple:

(16)Preparing Cytokines from Milk for use in Skincare.

(17)Test protocol for bio-active milk cytokines:

(18)The use of Chitin in Cosmetics:

Halal Ingredient Suppliers for Cosmetics: Marinova Pure Source- Pure Science:

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Malika permalink
    April 23, 2010 8:55 pm

    The only real international halal beauty alternative is One Pure Halal Skin Care. 1. The are OFFICIALLY Halal Certified(the others are BOGUS certifications(by consultancy) only taking advantage of the word Halal. 2. OnePure is the only company with a true range of products(the rest are soooolimited) 3. One Pure Halal is as good as the major brands(Dior LaPrarie) and sold in the same places not some marginalized store so when buying OnePure you feel PROUD. 4. The owner of One Pure is a Muslim.

    This article is amazingly researched! Thank you thank you! This article will helpso many people!

  2. RealizeBeautyEd permalink
    April 23, 2010 9:55 pm

    Thanks Malika for your kind comments, I am glad that you found the article useful! The One Pure brand certainly does look good so thank you for the insight. I should try and interview the brand owner…..

  3. Sharmon Hassad permalink
    January 11, 2013 2:00 am

    a very interesting article. i have learned so much.I found this article because i was looking for info about hyaluronic acid. i have learned about more things , than i expected

  4. Farahidah mohamed permalink
    April 24, 2018 4:21 pm

    very interesting and inspirational articles for researchers to think more about finding and setting standards for halal cosmetic..I am also glad to know that you are a reliable and knowledgeable writer. i was looking for halal Hyaluronic acid too. Yes indeed, the microbial routes of manufacturing method can be ceritified halal if Manufacturer can disclose that there is no blood or serum or any enrichment media is used during fermentation steps, and disclose them clealry in Process Flow . Thanks

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 24, 2018 9:20 pm

      Thanks for the comment and trust in my writing Farahidah and best of luck with your research.

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