The debate about Halal nail polish starts with a discussion about wudhu, or the mandatory ablution before prayer.
According to the tenets of wudhu, water has to touch all parts of your body before you’re considered to be clean enough to offer prayer. Non-porous nail polish, or traditional nail polish from large brands, prevents water from reaching your fingernails and toenails and, therefore, isn’t considered to be Halal.
Specific texts of the Qur’an tackle this issue. For example, Surah al-Mā’idah 5:6 exhorts upon Muslims to “wash your faces and your arms” while performing the abolution. Scholars have weighed in on this topic and come to the conclusion that every single part must be washed thoroughly without any dry spots whatsoever.
Furthermore, according to the Hadith of the Prophet (PBUH), all body parts must be rubbed vigorously with water before performing the prayer. If, for any reason, an individual has a substance on their body which prevents water from entering, such as dried paint, or wax then it should be assumed that water hasn’t permeated through to that part of the body and that the wudhu is incomplete.
Traditional nail polish is similar in this regard. When it's dried, it constitutes a solid layer that isn’t porous or permeable. Lots of Muslim women choose to remove nail polish before performing wudhu or not wear it altogether for fear that they’re not fulfilling the requirements completely.
Does Breathable Nail Polish Make It Halal?
The first time breathable nail polish hit the mainstream was in 2009 after a brand claimed to add silicone hydrogel (also known as K-polymer) to their nail polish product suite. This brand pointed to the fact that silicone hydrogel is used in things like contact lenses to give it an element of breathability and prevent dryness as water vapor permeates through the outer coating.
We put this claim to the test. After all, claiming something to be Halal or Halal-certified isn’t to be taken lightly as it can impact our religious obligations as Muslims.
What we discovered was that water vapor does penetrate through breathable nail polish but only if one coat of polish is applied per nail. If at any point you apply more than one coat, it becomes impossible for the water vapor to effectively permeate. Another problem with this claim is that “water vapour” is the gaseous state of water, and in order for water to become vapour, it must be heated to 100 degrees Celsius or higher. Therefore, the act of wudhu can not be performed by vapour, only water in its liquid form.
This brand has released some material showing how its polish performs on absorbent surfaces such as paper towels and coffee filters. In other instances, it claims that water vapor penetrates through the nails after vigorous rubbing of over 30 seconds.
But these tests aren’t valid from a scientific perspective. A valid water permeability test dictates that there be no friction or additional pressure through external forces. Substances that are water permeable must be allow water through their own accord and cannot be forced to do so. Any additional friction breaks down the substance to the point that it may alter its physical nature and contaminate it completely.
Think about it: if you’re doing wudhu, do you need to be in a position where you have to think about rubbing a particular body part for over 30 seconds? You need to have peace of mind and know that no matter how long you spend doing wudhu, it is of an acceptable standard.
Hence, any version of “Breathable” nail polish that requires rubbing or added force to allow water to permeate cannot be constituted as Halal. These findings have been corroborated by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)’s Halal Nail Polish Certification.