Poskim disagree about whether body ointments that contain ḥametz may be used on Pesaḥ. While soaps and creams are not made from ḥametz, they sometimes contain grain alcohol or other ḥametz derivatives, leading to queries about their status on Pesaḥ.
Some say that applying an ointment is equivalent, by rabbinic enactment, to drinking. Therefore, even if the ḥametz in these products is not fit for a dog’s consumption, it retains the status of ḥametz because it is suitable for anointing, and thus it is forbidden to use them on Pesaḥ. Accordingly, one must use soaps, shampoo, and creams that are kosher for Pesaḥ.
Others maintain that the Sages only equated the application of ointment to drinking with regard to Yom Kippur and anointing with oil consecrated as teruma (priestly gifts). All other Torah prohibitions relate to eating alone, not anointing. Although it is forbidden to derive benefit from ḥametz, the ḥametz in these products was rendered unfit for a dog’s consumption even before Pesaḥ began and thus lost the status of ḥametz. It is therefore permissible to derive benefit from them and apply them to the body during Pesaḥ.
Since this dispute relates to rabbinic law, the halakha accords with the lenient opinion, and meticulously observant individuals act stringently. We must distinguish between four gradations of products containing ḥametz, of which the middle two are subject to dispute:
- Toothpastes must be certified kosher for Pesaḥ because they are flavored and thus like any other food product.
- Creams that are absorbed into the skin, flavorless lipstick, and perfumes that contain alcohol need not be certified kosher for Pesaḥ, in keeping with the lenient opinion, since they are not fit for consumption and generally do not contain ḥametz Nonetheless, many choose to be stringent and buy creams and perfumes that are certified kosher for Pesaḥ.
- Soaps and shampoos warrant even more room for leniency because they are designed to clean, not to be absorbed into the skin. Nevertheless, some are stringent.
- Detergents, shoe polish, and the like do not require any kosher certification. Even dishwashing detergents need no certification because their taste is foul. Even if these substances were mixed with ḥametz, its taste was befouled before Pesaḥ and it is no longer considered ḥametz.
Occasionally uncertainties and concerns arise when ḥametz is found in various products, like paper cups, tin foil, baking sheets, and paper tablecloths. However, there is no need to be concerned, as they have no discernible taste. Unfortunately, these doubts arise for reasons of economics and marketing, not because of any halakhic reasons.
In reality, the vast majority of cosmetic products produced in Israel do not contain wheat-derived alcohol. Even most products from abroad do not contain wheat-derived alcohol, since it is more expensive than potato-derived alcohol. However, a few products in fact contain wheat-derived alcohol, and according to the stringent views one should not use them on Pesaḥ. Still, when one has a product and is not sure whether it contains wheat-derived alcohol, even if he is normally stringent he may be lenient, based on a combination of several uncertainties and doubts.
Another issue arises regarding the use of products that contain wheat germ oil, which is a source of vitamin E, since it is unclear whether liquids exuded by wheat are considered ḥametz. According to Rav Kook (Oraḥ Mishpat, p. 129), even if these liquids are forbidden, they were already batel be-shishim before Pesaḥ and are not ḥozer ve-ne’or on Pesaḥ. Moreover, many authorities maintain that even if this liquid was considered ḥametz, since it is not fit for consumption it loses its status as ḥametz. Another issue arises regarding lotions, although it is not certain that wheat starch-based lotions are considered ḥametz, and moreover they are inedible. Therefore, in practice, one may be lenient and use any cosmetic product not fit for consumption.