- Question: [Monday, 9th Sivan 5783]
I would like to know if there’s any issue with getting a cosmetic or makeup tattoo otherwise known as permanent makeup or micropigmentation? It is similar to a regular tattoo however it is not as permanent as a regular tattoo being that it fades over time. There are in fact different types of these cosmetic tattoos with some lasting longer than others. For example, there’s permanent makeup and semipermanent makeup. Most colors last three to five years, although some may not fade for as long as 10 years. Some only last for one year to two years. I know a number of my friends have gotten these types of cosmetic makeups, and they say that it is permitted by the Rabbanim. Others however have told me that it’s forbidden due to it being considered like a tattoo, as it’s really done in the same way that a tattoo is made. What is the proper Halacha?
According to many Poskim, and the simple understanding of Halacha, permanent makeup in all of its different types and names [i.e. Cosmetic tattoos, Makeup Tattoos, permanent makeup or micropigmentation] is forbidden [at least Rabbinically, and possibly Biblically] due to the prohibition against making a tattoo on one’s body. It is hence not to be done for beauty purposes. Now, while there are Poskim who permit it to be done even for beauty purposes if it will fade with time, practically, this is not the suggestive approach for a God-fearing Jew, although those who choose to be lenient have upon whom to rely. If, however, one desires the permanent makeup for the purposes of removing a scar or blemish and the like, and not simply to add beauty, then most Poskim conclude that it may be done.
To understand the above debate amongst the Poskim regarding permanent makeup we must first introduce the general prohibition against making a tattoo on the skin, and its bylaws and then analyze whether the makeup tattoo falls under this prohibition.
The laws of tattoos and its bylaws:
- It is Biblically forbidden for one to make a Tattoo on one’s skin.
- The act of tattooing is rooted in the act of idol worship, in which the worshipers would tattoo their god onto their skin, thus showing their subordination to him.
- The tattoo that is forbidden by the Torah is made by making a cut in one’s skin and then filled it with sand or ink or other pigments that leave a mark. Alternatively, one first marks an image on the skin using a pigment and then cuts open the skin for the ink to enter into its pours. [Today tattoos are made through first sketching an image onto the skin and then using a fine needle that is filled with ink to puncture the skin and enter the ink. Thus, the cutting and filling is done simultaneously.]
- The Biblical prohibition against making a tattoo applies to anywhere on the skin.
- The Biblical prohibition against making a tattoo applies to any type of writing. [Some Poskim, however, rule that it only applies to letters of a language, and does not apply to making a mere mark, or line, and the like, although doing so is Rabbinically forbidden. Seemingly, however, tattooing a picture or design falls under the Biblical prohibition of making a tattoo.]
- If someone else makes a tattoo on one’s skin then if he assisted him in the tattooing he is liable. If he did not assist him in making the tattooing then he is exempt from Biblical liability.
- It is permitted to place ash [or any other ointment ] onto a wound [even though it will leave a permanent mark].
- One who writes on his skin without making a cut in the skin which allows the ink to penetrate is exempt from Biblical liability. Nevertheless, some Poskim rule it is Rabbinically forbidden to do so. It is however unclear if this applies even with ink that is erasable. Other Poskim rule it is permitted to do so even Rabbinically. Practically, the widespread custom is to be lenient even initially. However if the ink is permanent and cannot be removed at all from the skin even with the passing of time, one is to be stringent.
Based on the above points, we can now analyze what the law should be regarding makeup tattoos.
Arguments to permit makeup tattoos:
- No writing: According to some Poskim, makeup tattoos would not be a biblical prohibition being that they do not contain any writing but simply a mark of ink on the skin.
- Not permanent: Furthermore, perhaps it is not even rabbinically forbidden being that it is not permanent, and fades with time.
- No idolatry intent: Furthermore, even if it were to be permanent, one could argue that there is no prohibition involved being that it is no different than the allowance for one to place ash or other ointment on a wound even though it will leave a permanent mark, and the reason for this is because one has no intent to do so for the sake of tattooing for the sake of idolatry but rather for the sake of healing, and hence perhaps here too since the entire intent is for beauty and not for tattooing as do idol worshipers, then it should be permitted even if permanent.
Arguments to prohibit makeup tattoos:
Permanent makeup is done similarly to traditional tattoos, which means that the pigment is inserted in the second layer of the skin, the dermis and stays forever in the body. There are three different methods of “permanent make-up”, all of which use a needle to pierce the flesh and have ink added: Manual method (SofTap), Reciprocating Machine (Coil), and Rotary Machine (Pen Machine).
- Even marks are Biblically forbidden: As for the argument that it does not contains letters and therefore is only rabbinically forbidden, in truth this matter is under debate in the Poskim, and some rule that even a mark is under the biblical prohibition of making a tattoo even if letters are not written.
- Lasting long time is synonymous with permanency: As for the argument that since it fades with time therefore it is not a biblical prohibition of a tattoo, first of all there are Poskim who explicitly negate this and write that it is transgressed simply if it lasts a long time. Furthermore, it is possible that in this regard permanence is not literal and simply lasting a long time is considered permanent.
- Even non-idolatry tattoos are Biblically forbidden: As for the argument that since it is not being done for the sake of a tattoo of idolatry that therefore it should be permitted similar to medical ointment, this is incorrect, as anytime the Torah prohibits a matter due to reasons of idolatry, the matter is forbidden to be done whether one’s intent is for idolatry or not. Hence, there is no allowance for one to shave his head and beard on the basis that he is not doing so for idolatry, and hence here too it is forbidden to make a tattoo on one’s skin whether the intent is for idolatry or for other reasons such as makeup. As for the reason why we permitted earlier for medical ointment to be placed despite leaving a permanent mark, this is because it does not involve cutting the skin as is done by regular tattoo, and hence it is not similar at all to the original biblical prohibition against tattooing which requires both a cut of the skin and an insert of ink to be prohibited. Thus, at most medical ointment would only be rabbinical prohibition, and since one’s intent here is to do so simply for medicinal purposes and not even for the sake of leaving a mark, therefore it is permitted. Accordingly no leniency can be learned from this case to the permanent makeup which is an actual tattoo made for the sake of remaining in the skin. So can also be proven from the discussion in Poskim regarding the prohibition of tattooing a bill of divorce on the skin of the slave, even though the intent there is not for the sake of idolatry.
The ruling of today’s Poskim:
Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wozner was of the position that one should be stringent not to make the eyebrow tattoo due to being too similar to a tattoo and perhaps being under its prohibition. Rav Nassan Gistetner rules in his response in Lehoros Nasan that it is possibly biblically forbidden to make such a tattoo, due to the arguments stated above. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was of the opinion that it is forbidden to do so for beauty purposes, and so is the conclusion of most Rabbanim of today. On the other hand, Rav Ovadia Yosef who originally took a stringent approach to prohibit it, later on retracted and rules doing so is permitted for the purpose of removing a shame from the body such as to remove a scar or blemish, and that furthermore even one who does so for purposes of beauty has upon whom to rely. Practically, the vast majority of Poskim conclude to be stringent regarding beauty purposes, but give room for leniency for the sake of cosmetic surgery.
Sources: Poskim who prohibit makeup tattoos for beauty purposes: Shevet Halevi Y.D. 10:137 “We should be stringent against making the eyebrow tattoo due to it being similar to a tattoo, or due to it being a promiscuous act.”; Lehoros Nasan Y.D. 10:64; Techumin vol. 18 p. 114 in name of Rav Elyashiv; Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, brought in Nishmas Avraham Y.D. vol. 2 180 p. 132 [permits for cosmetic surgery but not beauty]; Nesivos Adam ibid., 24 in name of Rav Chaim; Mishpetei Uziel 2 Y”D 22:3, pg. 89; Betzel Hachochma 5:81-82, Shraga HaMeir 8:44-45 [only for medical need]; Shav V’Rafa vol. 1, pg. 156 – 157 [only permits for medical need]; Megillas Sefer (on Orach Chaim and Yoreh Deah, 16); Minchas Asher vol. 2:56 [only permits for medical need] Poskim who permit makeup tattoos even for beauty: Taharas Habayis 3 inei Chatzitza 8 pp.29-34; Rav Ezra Batzri in Techumin 10:282; Palgei Mayim 2:52; Nesivos Adam 1:43; See regarding the general prohibition of making a tattoo and its bylaws: Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 180; Mishneh Makos 21a; Chinuch Mitzvah 253; See regarding if the prohibition of making a tattoo applies even when not done for the sake of making a tattoo of idolatry: Michaber 180:4; Tosafus Gittin 20a; Aruch La’Ner ibid; Minchas Chinuch ibid; Lehoros Nasan Y.D. 10:64; Lenient: Tosefta Makos 3:9, brought in Biur HaGr”a Y”D 180:1; Rabbeinu Yerucham Sefer Ha’Adam, Nesiv 17, cheilek 5; Chasam Sofer Hagahos to Gittin 20b; Maharam Shick Sefer HaMitzvos 254; Shoel U’Meishiv Tinyana 1:49; Get Pashut 124: 30; Passhegen HaKsav Chapter 9 [of Rav Chaim Kanievski] proves that most Rishonim hold this way as well, that there is no Biblical prohibition unless the tattoo is done for the sake of idolatry; See regarding if the Biblical prohibition of making a tattoo applies even to a mark or only to letters: Lenient: Meil Tzedaka 31, brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah 180:1, based on implication of Rambam Pirush Hamishnayos Sanhedrin 19 and Avoda Zara 12:11 and Minyan Hamitzvos Lav 41 who constantly calls it a Kesav/writing which implies letters; Implication of Semak Mitzvah 72 “Write similar to letters”; Karban Ahron on Sifri Kedoshim chapter 6; Birkeiy Yosef Y.D. 180:1-2 and Machazik Bracha O.C. 340:3 based on Sefer Hachinuch Mitzvah 253 who writes “and one who writes even one letter receives lashes” and Ritva Makos 21a; Mutzal Mieish 51 who questions whether there is liability for writing only one letter or only if one writes two letters; Sefer Natan Piryo Makos 21a in name of manuscript of Tosafus Yisheinim “Keiyn Osiyos”; Tosafus Rabbeinu Peretz; Piskeiy Tosafos Makos 32; Bartneura Makos 3:6; Orchos Chaim 2:22-4; Zera Emes Y.D. 3:111; See Lehoros Nasan Y.D. 10:64; Stringent: Raavad on Toras Kohanim Kedoshim Chapter 6 “It does not need to be actual letters [to be liable] but rather even a mere mark is considered a tattoo”; Rash Mishantz on Toras Kohanim ibid “he fills it with ink and this is what called a tattoo even though he did not write any letters”; Initial understanding of Meil Tzedaka ibid as is implied from wording in Michaber 180:1 and Rambam “Kesoves Kaka, which is that he marks on the skin” as opposed to “writes on the skin, as writes Tur 180; So is also implied from Michaber 180:3-4; Minchas Chinuch Mitzvah 253 based on Rambam; Yad Haketana Avoda Zara p. 280 Lo Sasei 37 Minchas Ani 87; Aruch Laneir Makos 21a; See Lehoros Nasan Y.D. 10:64 who rejects many of the implications stated above which implies that the prohibition is only by writing a letter] The Meil Tzedaka however rejects this interpretation in his conclusion. See regarding how long a tattoo must last to be under the biblical prohibition: Must be permanent: See Rashi on Torah Kedoshim 19:28 “the ink does not fade forever” Gittin 20b; Chinuch Mitzvah 253; Rivan Makos 21a; Ritva Makos 21b; Or Zarua 1:716; Piskeiy Tosafus Gittin 73; See Passhegen HaKsav [Rav Chaim Kanievski] Chapter 6 who proves that most Rishonim hold this way as well, that there is no Biblical prohibition unless the tattoo is permanent; This follows the Biblical definition of permanence as recorded in chapter 317 regarding making a knot on Shabbos Even simply lasting long is forbidden: Nimukei Yosef Makos 21a; Pirush Rabbeinu Yonason; Setimas Michaber 180:1 and Rambam Avodas Kochavim 12:11 who make no mention of length of time that the tattoo will last See regarding how permanent makeup is done and how long it lasts for: https://www.medicinenet.com/how_long_does_permanent_makeup_last/article.htm [our internet filter blocks picture, use a filtered internet for viewing as we cannot attest as to what pictures are on the page- https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/wizmage-image-hider/ifoggbfaoakkojipahnplnbfnhhhnmlp ]