Ask the Rov: Is a tattoo of permanent makeup permissible?
By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin – Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah
In recent years, procedures have been developed to apply “semi-permanent makeup” by injecting colored pigments into the skin’s dermal layer (under the constantly changing top layer). The technique is like a tattoo, yet it is not as deep and therefore will disintegrate after about 3 years.
The Torah prohibits etching a tattoo in one’s skin. The Rambam explains that this is the way of the idolators, and he demonstrates that his body is his to do as he pleases and not what Hashem dictates.1
Poskim debate whether a tattoo that doesn’t contain letters is included in the Torah prohibition and many hold then it is only prohibited miderabanan.2 There is further debate when the mark doesn’t last forever, and most poskim hold that it is miderabanan.3
Chazal permit putting ashes on a wound — although it creates a mark that will last for some time — since the wound makes it clear why he’s doing it, not for chukos hagoyim.4 Likewise, branding a slave (to prevent him from escaping) is permissible, since it’s a non- idolatrous purpose. Nevertheless, the Rama prohibits it due to maris ayin.5
Contemporary poskim debate the status of semi-permanent makeup or fake eyebrows. Some argue that since there’s no specific indicator (i.e. a wound) to make the reason clear, it is forbidden.6 Others opine that the obvious intent for beauty is enough to permit it, and since it looks like makeup and not like a tattoo, there is no maris ayin.7
In conclusion, it is the subject of debate amongst poskim, yet when the purpose is for “kavod habriyos” — e.g., one who is embarrassed of their looks — many poskim hold that the combination of mitigating factors can be relied upon.8 If the makeup is done by a gentile (without the Jew’s assistance), that can mitigate the problem even more.9
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From The Weekly Farbrengen by Merkaz Anash