One of the 39 melakhot forbidden on Shabbat is Tzove’a (dyeing). By Torah law, it is limited to long-lasting paints or dyes applied to surfaces that will retain them for an extended period (see below 18:5). The Sages, however, prohibited even color that will not last for a long period, and even if it is applied to a surface that will not retain the color. One example of this is the prohibition on the use of makeup, which colors one’s skin for a short time. Accordingly, one may not use eye shadow, blush, lipstick, or clear lip gloss that provides a shine. Similarly, one may not use even clear nail polish, because the shine it provides is considered color. While this prohibition pertains to applying makeup, removing makeup with water or cotton is permissible. Cotton balls soaked in water should not be used, because of the prohibition of Seĥita.
It is also forbidden to apply foundation, a cosmetic used to even out one’s complexion. This prohibition is more severe than the prohibition on using other types of makeup, because in addition to transgressing the rabbinic prohibition of Tzove’a, one might also transgress the Torah prohibition of Memare’aĥ (see the next section) if one is using cream foundation.
One may use powder, however, whether white or colored, because powder has no adhesive agent. It is only when the material used for coloring adheres to the skin that there is a prohibition of Tzove’a; in contrast, if it just stays on the surface of the face and does not adhere to it, one may apply it (Igrot Moshe OĤ 1:114; Yeĥaveh Da’at 4:28). Some are stringent even in such cases (Maharam Brisk 1:23; Beit Yisrael §56). However, since this disagreement pertains to a rabbinic prohibition, the halakha is in accordance with those who are lenient.
The prohibition on wearing makeup is one of the most difficult to follow. For a woman who is used to putting on makeup every day, it is not easy to refrain from doing so on Shabbat, especially since it is precisely Shabbat when everyone tries to look their best. However, if we explore the issue more deeply, perhaps we can suggest that this, on the contrary, relates to the main idea of Shabbat, a day of holiness and rest. Shabbat is when we take a break from the tension that we experience throughout the week. We work so hard to present ourselves to others as more beautiful than we naturally are, in an attempt to meet society’s cruel and superficial standards of beauty. In contrast, Shabbat helps us truly relax by strengthening our faith and belief in divine providence. We can achieve this spiritual relaxation when we attain an internal acceptance of existence as it is, and an appreciation of our natural beauty, which we highlight with clothing and jewelry. This is oneg Shabbat.
Nevertheless, before Shabbat, one may, and even should, put on makeup. The Sages state: “One who labors before Shabbat will eat on Shabbat” (AZ 3a). During the week, it is our mission to fix the world, improve it, and prepare it for Shabbat. This allows us to absorb the divine light more completely. However, if we are unable to prepare ourselves fully for Shabbat – for example, we know that makeup applied on Friday will not last through the whole of Shabbat – once Shabbat arrives we must calmly and joyfully accept existence as it is. This very acceptance is what will allow us to continue to fix and improve the world during the week.