I would like to know, is it haram to use skin/face-lightening creams? These creams are becoming very common, especially within the Subcontinent communities. Until now, such creams were aimed almost exclusively at women, but now, they are available for men also. The domestic Indian skin-lightening cream industry is valued at over $190m – a strong indicator of the great Asian obsession with fair skin.
In principle, using face-lightening creams as a form of adornment can not be considered unlawful (haram) according to Shari’a. However, there are certain things worth considering:
1) Islam has placed certain reasonable limitations in regards to adornment and personal beatification. Islam acknowledges the desire of husbands to see their women beautiful and adorned, thus allows wives to use the various types of jewellery. Women are also encouraged to wear Hena on their hands and feet, whilst good fragrance [provided it is not worn in the presence of non-Mahram men] is regarded as charity.
On the other hand, those so called means of adornment that distort the image of a human being, and entails mutilation (muthla) of one’s body is prohibited by Islam. Allah Almighty relates in Surah al-Nisa’ the words of Shaytan, when he said:
“I will lead them astray, and I will tempt them with false hopes, and I will command them, whereby they shall slit the ears of cattle, and I will command them, whereby they shall alter the creation of Allah [i.e. alter the figure of a creature].” (4: 119)
Sayyiduna Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (may Allah be pleased with him) relates: “Allah’s curse is on those women who practise tattooing and get themselves tattooed, and those who remove hair from their faces, and those who make space between their teeth artificially to beautify themselves. They are such that they change the nature and features created by Allah. Allah’s Messenger also cursed such women.” (Recorded by Imam al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim in their respective Sahih collections)
As such, the jurists (fuqaha) have declared all types of mutilation of one’s body to be unlawful (haram) unless when permitted by Shari’a, such as circumcision, trimming the hair of the body, and cutting nails. The body given to us by our Creator is a trust (amana), thus it is unlawful to tamper with it in any way. In doing so, one would be guilty of committing the sin of “altering the creation of Allah” (taghyir khalq Allah). It is for this reason that all surgical procedures carried out on the body for the purpose of adornment have been prohibited.
Using face-lightening creams does not entail mutilation (muthla) or altering Allah’s creation (taghyir khalq Allah) since there is no specific operation to be undergone with a view to change the colour of the skin forever. As such, using such creams is not unlawful. However, it is a kind of excessive beautification which is not warranted in Islam. Allah Most High has created each human being with a beauty that best suits him/her, and as slaves of Allah, we should be content and happy with what Allah has created us with. Indeed, Islam allows us, in genuine cases of need, to bring back to normality areas of the body that are deformed or damaged, but is having a dark skin really a form of abnormality!
Unfortunately, the current fashion industry expects every woman to live up to the blond, fair, blue-eyed, tall, leggy model. Hair extensions, coloured contact lenses, facial surgeries, nose and ear reshaping, and face-lightening creams are all forms of this ever-growing sinister industry.
Islam teaches us that the standard of beauty is not what colour one’s skin is, but rather, one’s piety, one’s good actions and one’s conduct towards others. A white person has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white, except by piety and the fear of Allah (Taqwa).
As such, even though using a cream that lightens one’s skin colour can not be deemed unlawful per se, it is nevertheless going against the spirit of the teachings of Allah Most High and His beloved Messenger (Allah bless him & hive him peace).
2) If face-lightening cream is used in order to deceive others, such as deceiving a prospective fiancé regarding the colour of one’s skin, then this is undoubtedly unlawful. Dishonesty and deception are clearly unlawful, and considered to be amongst the major sins; hence a Muslim should always remain distant from them.
3) Moreover, such creams must not cause any harm to the face. In a recent report published by the BBC, it was stated that some face-lightening creams contain toxic substances that can do permanent damage to the skin, and in more severe cases, significantly increase the risk of contracting skin cancer. Some products even contain banned chemicals such as Hydroquinone – a bleaching agent.
If this is true, then again, it will be unlawful to use such creams, since inflicting harm upon oneself is impermissible. Allah Most High says:
“And make not your own hands contribute to (your) destruction.” (Surah al-Baqarah, V: 195)
4) Finally, it goes without saying that using such creams (or any other form of adornment) with the intention of drawing the attention of non-Mahram members of the opposite sex to oneself, and causing temptation (fitna), is without doubt strictly prohibited.
In conclusion, there are certain conditions for the permissibility of using face-lightening creams, and if fulfilled, it can not be considered unlawful (haram). However, even if these conditions are met, it is still disliked, unwarranted and repugnant to use such creams, since it goes against the spirit (ruh) of Islamic teachings.
And Allah knows best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK