For Zaida Saleh, like for many observant Muslim women, manicures have long posed a religious problem. With prayers five times a day and a pre-prayer ritual that requires washing the hands and arms, fingernail polish has been mostly off limits because it stops water from touching the nails.
A new “breathable” nail polish by Polish company Inglot is changing that. The company and some Muslims say the polish is the first of its kind because it lets air and moisture pass through to the nail. A craze has built up around it with Muslim women in recent months after an Islamic scholar in the US tested its permeability and published an article saying that it complies with Muslim law.
“It’s huge,” said Saleh, a 35-year-old who had not polished her nails in many years, but immediately went out and bought the product in five colors.
The news of Inglot’s polish has spread quickly from woman to woman and over the Internet. It also has given Inglot a boost in sales of the product, called O2M for oxygen and moisture.
The nail polish now stands as one of the final life achievements of Wojciech Inglot, a Polish chemist and entrepreneur who developed it to create what he billed as a healthier alternative to traditional nail enamels, which block the passage of moisture and oxygen to the nail. He died suddenly yesterday at the age of 57 from internal hemorrhaging.
Inglot has been the recipient of several business leadership awards for taking an enterprise that he started in 1983, when Poland was under communist rule, and turning it into an international success. A Polish award he received last year praised him for “proving that Poland is a country where innovative technologies go hand-in-hand with beauty.” Today, his company has shops in almost 50 countries.
Though the Muslim holy book, the Koran, does not specifically address the issue of nail polish, some Islamic scholars have said that water must touch the surface of the nail for the washing ritual to be done correctly.
Some Muslim women might put nail polish on after the last prayer of the day and take it off before dawn prayers. They can also wear it during their periods, when they are excused from the prayers, but some find it embarrassing to do so because it could signal that they are menstruating.
“It was a big headache for me to put it on only for five days, so I didn’t wear it for a long time,” Saleh said. “This was a huge breakthrough for me. We are supposed to cover up, but nowhere does it say: ‘Don’t be fashionable.’”
Nobody was more surprised by the splash it made with Muslims than Inglot himself.
“I don’t think there is a single Muslim living here,” Inglot said in an interview nine days before his death at his factory in Przemysl, Poland.
Inglot began about four years ago to develop the formula for the breathable enamel, which uses a polymer similar to that in the newest generation of contact lenses.
Inglot said the formula is “tricky” and “quite expensive” to produce, and that the profit margin for O2M is not high. However, he said he was determined to develop the product because consumers are more focused on health than ever before and would welcome a breathable varnish.
He said the enthusiastic Muslim reaction to the product began after Islamic scholar Mustafa Umar published an article on his blog in November last year declaring it permissible. The result was a “serious increase in the sale” of O2M, Inglot said. He added that the company was unable to immediately meet all orders, but that the phenomenon was so fresh he did not yet have any figures on sales.
Umar, director of education and outreach with the Islamic Institute of Orange County in California, said he decided to study the matter because Muslim women had been discussing the product in online forums. There was uncertainty over whether it would be ritually compliant and they were not getting any answers.
“So I decided to go ahead and write an article on this because I know how important it is for Muslim women around the world,” Umar said.
The research involved putting the O2M polish and a standard polish on coffee filters, letting them dry and then putting water drops on top of each to see if moisture seeped through. In the case of the traditional nail polish it did not, but it went through the O2M polish.
Umar said he has gotten an enthusiastic reception to his opinion from women and not only because they are reveling in the chance to accessorize with colorful varnishes.
“Usually when men give a religious ruling or verdict, they tell women that something is not allowed,” Umar, 31, said. “They felt so good that someone was finally telling them: ‘You are allowed to do this.’”
However, there are still some questions about how breathable the nail polish is when multiple coats are used, as is common practice for manicures.
Before his death, Inglot was working to answer this question and gathering more data on the product. The company’s managers plan to continue his efforts. Inglot had insisted on having more data before he felt he could responsibly promote the varnish as being compliant with Islamic law.
Islam has many schools of thought and no figure like the Roman Catholic pope to issue final rulings on religious legal interpretations, so it is unclear if all Islamic scholars will agree on O2M’s permissibility.