May one dab gel or cream on the skin on Shabbos?
- May one dab cream on a baby’s red bottom on Shabbos?
- May one dab Vaseline on dried lips on Shabbos?
Placing a cream or gel on one’s skin on Shabbos touches upon two possible Shabbos prohibitions, one being the Biblical smearing prohibition and the second being the Rabbinical medicine prohibition. The following are the general details of each these prohibitions:
- Smearing prohibition: It is Rabbinically forbidden to smear gels or creams on the skin on Shabbos due to the smearing prohibition. The question however is asked regarding dabbing the cream or gel on the body and as to whether this is considered similar to smearing or not, as will be explained in B.
- The medicine prohibition: It is forbidden to apply medicine to one’s body on Shabbos, if it is recognizable that one is doing so for the medicinal purposes. Accordingly, it is forbidden to place medicinal cream or gel on one’s body due to the medicine prohibition, even if one simply dabs it on and does not smear it, and we follow the approach that dabbing medicine does not consist of a smearing prohibition. However, if the person is defined as a Choleh Sheiyn Bo Sakana [i.e. bedridden, or weak in his entire body, or dangerous wound] then it is permitted for such a person to take medicine on Shabbos, and hence there is no medicine prohibition involved in dabbing medicinal cream onto the body in such a case. However, nonetheless, it may involve the smearing prohibition as stated above, and as will now be clarified.
Some Poskim rule that it is permitted to dab a cream or gel on the body, without smearing it, if it is not being done for medicinal purposes. If, however, it is being done for medicinal purposes, then it is only permitted to be done if the person is defined as a Choleh Sheiyn Bo Sakana [as explained above in A]. Other Poskim, however, rule that it is Rabbinically forbidden to even dab a gel or cream onto the skin due to the smearing prohibition, and it is thus forbidden to be done even for non-medicinal purposes. Practically, one is not to even dab gels or creams onto his body due to a possible smearing prohibition, and if done for medicinal purposes then due to the medicine prohibition, even if he does not plan on smearing it with his hands. However, in a time of great need, such as a person who is sick for whom the medicine prohibition is suspended, then one may be lenient to dab the cream or gel on the body. [One may dab it on directly from the tube, or through placing it on the finger or cue tip and then dab it.]
Dabbing gel or cream on a baby: All babies are defined in Halacha as a Choleh Sheiyn Bo Sakana, to which the medicine prohibition does not apply. Accordingly, it is permitted to dab medicinal cream or gel onto a baby’s red bottom, or other skin ailment. This applies even if the cream ends up getting smeared when one closes the diaper. Some Poskim rule that one may be lenient in this regard for all children until age nine.
Dabbing Vaseline on lips: Vaseline may not be applied onto dry lips even if one will merely dab it on as opposed to smearing it, due to the healing prohibition. It certainly may not be smeared due to a possible smearing prohibition.
Dabbing medicinal cream on a wound: Any open wound that is prone to infection may have antiseptic ointment dabbed on it on Shabbos.
One may dab a cream or gel onto the skin if it is being done one behalf of a child under age nine, or for one who is sick or weak in his entire body, or on behalf of a potentially dangerous wound. One may not dab a cream or gel on the body for other medicinal purposes, such as chapped lips and the like. One is to be stringent not to dab the cream or gel for even non-medicinal purposes.
Good advice-Water down the gel:
In all cases that dabbing gel or cream on the body is avoided even for non-medicinal purposes due to the potential smearing prohibition, one may simply water down the gel inside of a cup of water, and then spread the watered down substance on the skin, if it is not being done for medicinal purposes.
 See Piskeiy Teshuvos 314:11; 328:45; Sheyikadesh Atzmo 12:9
 Admur 314:21 regarding thick fat and the same applies to a gel
Regarding a cream or gel that is meant to be completed absorbed within the skin, some Poskim are lenient: See M”A 316:24; Daas Torah 328”26; Minchas Shabbos 92:30; Minchas Yitzchak 7:20 in name of Daas Torah; Nefesh Chayah 327; Maor Hashabbos 4Michtav RSZ”A 52; SSH”K 33 footnote 64; Piskeiy Teshuvos 328:18 [45 in new edition]. This allowance, however, would not apply if the cream is common to be left visibly on the skin then it is forbidden to be placed.
 Admur 327:1 and 328:28; Michaber 327:1; Mishneh Shabbos 111a
 See Minchas Yitzchak 7:20; Piskeiy Teshuvos 328:18
 Admur 328:19
 Possible implication of Admur 328:27 who omits reason of Rosh and M”B ibid that one may come to smear; Chazon Ish O.C. 52:16; Shevet Halevi 4:33 in his initial ruling permits dabbing using tube as it’s a Shinuiy, and concludes that for the sake of healing Choleh Sheiyn Bo Sakana one may be lenient and also in a time of great need; SSH”K 33:14; Piskeiy Teshuvos 328:20; Beir Moshe 1:36-4; 2:59; 3:155
 Possible implication of Admur 314:21 regarding wax that may not even dab in the opening of the hole and the implication is that the same applies to thick oil or fat, that it too may not be even placed on, thus implying that one may never dab a gel due to that one may come to smear it [However, Tzaruch Iyun from Admur 328:27 who omits this prohibition, and thus perhaps one can conclude according to Admur that in general dabbing the gel is permitted, and it is only in the specific case where wax is commonly used that we prohibit even gel]; Implication of Michaber 314:11; Rosh Shabbos 33 and M”B 252:38 [forbids placing thick Kilor on eye because may come to smear]; M”B 314:46; Hilchos Shabbos Beshabbos 3:169; Avnei Yashpei 2:32; Piskeiy Teshuvos 314:11; Shevet Halevi 4:33 in his conclusion is only lenient in time of need;
 The reason: As if one dabs it he may come to smear it as he usually does. [Admur ibid regarding wax; M”B ibid and ibid]
 All Poskim ibid in lenient opinion; Shevet Halevi ibid; Piskeiy Teshuvos 328:45 [see there footnote 367 in name of Beir Moshe 2:30 that this includes for the need of Onah-Vetzaruch Iyun!]; See Admur 328:19 that one may do a Rabbinical prohibition with a Shinuiy for the sake of a Choleh Sheiyn Bo Sakana and Shevet Halevi ibid that dabbing it on is considered a Shinuiy.
 Beir Moshe 2:30; Orchos Rabbeinu 1:158; Piskeiy Teshuvos 328:45 footnote 368; Accordingly, in order to facilitate a full Shinuiy that will not accidentally cause smearing, one should dab it on directly from the tube.
 Admur 328:22
 See Beir Moshe 1:36, brought in Piskeiy Teshuvos 327:1; Minchas Yitzchak 7:20; Piskeiy Teshuvos 328:18
 See Piskeiy Teshuvos 328:45 footnote 370
 Minchas Yitzchak 1:78; SSH”K; See Shabbos Kehalacha Vol. 1 p. 214
Other opinions: Some Poskim say that it is dependent on if he still needs to be fed foods by his mother. Thus, once the child begins eating like an adult [on his own] then he is no longer considered like one who is ill. [Ketzos Hashulchan 134 footnote 18; Aruch Hashulchan 328:20] Other Poskim rule that the child is only considered like an ill person until the age of 2-3. [Sheivit Halevy, Chazon Ish, Rav SZ”A] Other Poskim rule that the child is only considered like an ill person until the age of 6. [Tzitz Eliezer 8:15-12]
 See Beir Moshe [1:36-4] where he discusses reasons for why it should be permitted to smear Vaseline being that it is too soft of an item to contain the smearing prohibition as well as that its main intent is to be absorbed within the skin. However, in his conclusion he rules not to be lenient to smear it and rather may only dab it. See also Beir Moshe 2:29-3. Vetzaruch Iyun from Ketzos Hashulchan ibid regarding if this really contains smearing.
 Or Letziyon 2:36-6