Holy Beauty: Getting Kosher Glam for Passover As Difficult As Splitting the Red Sea

For a normal woman, any rupture to her beauty routine will make her as pleasant as Pharaoh on a bad day. But for the kosher ladies of Passover, overhauling their cosmetics caddy is an undertaking of Biblical proportions.
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For a normal woman, any rupture to her beauty routine will make her as pleasant as Pharaoh on a bad day. But for the kosher ladies of Passover, overhauling their cosmetics caddy is an undertaking of Biblical proportions.

During Passover, everything that's fermented and leavened is prohibited -- and Jews cannot eat, own or benefit from such ingredients. This law extends to more than just surfaces of the home, it extends to the surface of the skin too -- and a woman's regular makeup bag often contains the "forbidden fermentation." It is theoretically possible, of course, that an Orthodox woman will inadvertently swallow her lipstick, (though the blame here should really lie with the manufacturers that make the flavors so insatiably delish).

Still, the issue is about whether people get enjoyment from the leavened product, says an Orthodox learning coordinator in New York. "We should gain no pleasure, inside or outside, from the leavened product," she said in synthesizing the technicalities of the very complex system of laws. "If you take the whole story of Egypt to heart, then anything feeding our outside should be as strict as anything feeding our inside," she added.

As a result, Passover restrictions necessitate a major overhaul to a woman's regular beauty regimen, from her liquid foundation and face creams to her lipsticks, shaving lotion and hairspray. And it's best to stay clear altogether of any product containing alcohol, since its origin is untraceable and potentially, unkosher. When shopping for a new kosher for Passover beauty line, women must look out for about three dozen so-called suspicious ingredients -- including alcohol, corn syrup, wheat, rye and oat, which are to be avoided like the, er, plague.

So just to clarify: that's a no to their regular deodorant, perfume, toothpaste and mouthwash. In other words, kosher gals should basically just wear a "keep back 15 feet" sign for the safety of those around them who aren't hard of smelling.

Is it any wonder that women consider getting kosher glam to be as difficult as parting the Red Sea?

Every year, the G-d- and makeup-loving Ladies of the Book feverishly check the updated Passover guidelines (the rabbis send out a fresh list every year with potential new bans on formerly OK'ed products). This is the full list of "personal care items" that are approved by the reigning rabbinic body.

Very observant women are sure to approach the drugstore beauty aisle with patience -- and a prayer. Since most beauty products aren't clearly marked "kosher," these frum fatales must meticulously read the fine print to determine if the list of ingredients dovetails with Passover -- at which point the beauty item becomes de facto kosher.

So how did our female Jewish forebears deal in the desert? Like that unbearable heat didn't wreak havoc on our temperamental hair?!

One close friend of mine blessedly maintains her kosher cool attitude about the eight-day beauty blip. While Orthodox and proud, she doesn't alter her beauty routine to comply with the strict -- and some say questionable -- religious guidelines. "If I did subscribe to this, I just wouldn't wear makeup on Passover. To buy new makeup every year is insanity." So while not all women modify their beauty regimen, there is one customary change that almost always holds: "I know I'm guaranteed to change my toothbrush at least once a year," she said of the area of hygiene must get an overhaul for the next eight days: the toothbrush and toothpaste combo -- which have been cross-contaminated with chometz all year round. Isn't cleanliness g-dliness, after all?

Perhaps an addendum might be added to the usual four important, yet incomplete, questions: Is being a slave to our favorite beauty products a small price to pay for being free?

So when we finally get to seder night, after having spent hours poring over textbook-sized documents, and women ask themselves "Why is this lipstick different from all other lipsticks?" the answer is simple:

It's because it probably took the Israelites less time to cross the desert than it did for a religious Jew to determine if her Lancome liquid face cream is kosher or not.

Tova Gold's first memory of Passover is thinking that her grandmother's house looks like it was covered entirely in tin foil. The 34-year old from Teaneck, NJ, doesn't wear much greasepaint, but she wouldn't dare dump her regular products either. Part of an esteemed rabbinic lineage, Gold's religious observance has evolved as an adult. She vividly remembers Passover of 1988, armed with that year's "Guide to Passover Products" and "scouring the beauty aisle of CVS for at least two hours with that damn book buying all new makeup and hair care products," she now says with a laugh and a chill. "Looking back on it now, it makes my adult head swim." Forced to toss her Debbie Gibson Electric Youth Perfume (a bat mitzvah gift), Gold, brave soldier that she was, understood these laws and dumped Debbie -- at least for a week.

For eight days, we can all take one for the team, um, tribe, in the name of cosmetic upheaval.

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