Gelatin: the enemy of halal products

Choosing food to consume and powder to dab on the cheeks is a pleasure for many, until gelatine is found in the list of ingredients.

Muslims have always been concerned with halal food. The availability of halal food can be a driving factor on where they choose to go on vacation in certain places.

The Halal food industry has been here for so long, and it is now paving ways for pharmaceuticals and cosmetics to ride alongside it.

The halal sector

Malaysia has always been forefront when it comes to manufacturing halal products. Halal (Arabic for ‘lawful’) carries the meaning of “permission for Muslims to eat or apply in their daily lives” as guided by the Sharia laws.

The word has been heavily associated with food for Muslims, but lately, demands for medicines and beauty products have risen.

From the manufacturing process until it is shelved in stores, the whole supply chain has to be halal. Ensuring this is difficult, especially when ingredients derived from animals are involved.

Halal goods are not only restricted for Muslims. The non-Muslims can also benefit from them as they are manufactured to ensure the health, hygiene, and safety of the users.

The process of producing halal goods include making sure that the goods are free of:

  1. any parts of a human being
  2. any parts of prohibited animals
  3. instruments (used to process them) contaminated with najis, defined as filth including blood, carrion, fluids, excrements, vomit, and pus
  4. any poisonous or hazardous materials

Above all, one of the biggest enemies of halal products is gelatine. As Muslims are now more aware of the use of gelatine in the medicines and beauty products, they have grown pickier.

The process towards halal certification

The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) has put a very high standard for business operators to obtain a halal certificate.

The process includes a thorough scrutiny of materials used, compulsory cleanliness of factory, workers, handlers and immediate surroundings, and a strict control of transportation.

On top of that, an official site inspection will be conducted before the certificate can be issued. One certificate is valid for two years beyond. If a new material is introduced, a new application for halal certificate must be applied.

Mandatory review audits are carried out for the manufacturers to retain the halal certifications.

For foreign halal products, Trade Descriptions (Definition of Halal) Order 2011 is imposed on them and they must be recognized by JAKIM.

Halal drugs

Not all gelatines are non-halal. The ones that are, however, usually come from pigs or other animals slaughtered not according to the Islamic laws.

Pig gelatine, also known as porcine gelatine, is typically used in pharmaceuticals to produce hard capsules. It has the capacity for longer shelf life which is up to 18 months.

In addition, porcine gelatine provides a water-trapping property for capsules, especially antibiotics, which could help for better digestion than the one provided by beef gelatine.

Beef gelatine (e.g. cows) or bovine gelatine is said to be the best alternative for porcine gelatine. As long as the slaughter of the cows is sharia-compliant, it can be used as an ingredient and consumed by Muslims.

It is also noted that producing medicines with halal gelatine requires higher cost although with weaker properties, and it may cause allergic reactions especially for fish gelatine.

Chemical Company of Malaysia Berhad (CCM) was among the first to jump into halal pharmaceutical sector and follow the rules provided by JAKIM: Pharmaceutical Standard MS2424:2012 Halal Pharmaceuticals – General Guidelines.

Examples of halal products manufactured by CCM are cephalosporin for bacterial infections, macrolides for soft-tissue infections, and chloramphenicol for conjunctivitis, among others.

Halal beauty

In cosmetics on the other hand, gelatine is used in face creams, lotions, and shampoo which works as a thickening agent. It used to provide better texture for the beauty products but now many brands have decided to move on from animal-derived ingredients.

Other than gelatine, alcohol is also a major concern for skincare addicts. In the context of Islamic law, alcohol is prohibited for consumption. However, when used as a skincare ingredient, it works wonders as a preservative and its lighter property helps for better penetration, not to mention completely halal.

As much as alcohol (e.g. methanol) can be good for the skin, it can also cause irritation, dryness, and breakouts. Therefore, more local beauty brands are opting for better choice of ingredients that are safer for the skin and approved by JAKIM.

The Wudhu-friendly products are preferred by Muslim consumers.

The packaging and formulation of the products are also taken into serious consideration before they are chosen for halal accreditation.

L’Officiel lists down five great halal local beauty brands, which are dUCk Cosmetics, Dida For Women, Prettysuci, So.Lek, and Sorfina Hal.

Other halal-certified and travel-friendly local cosmetics also include SimplySiti, Orkid Cosmetics, Nurraysa, and Furaiha.

The issue of Halal often makes it to the front pages of newspaper. There are a lot of people questioning the nature of Halal, some might even call it foolish to observe it under a microscope.

However, there is no harm in observing that, it was just a consumption choice.

With more halal-certified products on the drug stores shelves or online stores, consumers especially Muslims will not have to worry about having gelatine in the ingredient list, at least, in the near future until new ingredients are introduced.       

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