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Q.: Does the Bible allow or prohibit the use of makeup?

A.: The Bible specifically mentions several times, in passing, the use of makeup. One of those passages can be found in 2 Kings 9:30, stating that the evil and wicked queen Jezebel hoped to seduce King Jehu. We read, “Now when Jehu had come to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; and she put paint on her eyes and adorned her head, and looked through a window.”

A similar passage can be found in two prophecies about Israel’s and Judah’s future enemies, in Jeremiah 4:30 and in Ezekiel 23:40. Jeremiah 4:30 speaks figuratively about the modern nation of Judah in this way, “And when you are plundered, what will you do? Though you clothe yourself with crimson, Though you adorn yourself with ornaments of gold, Though you enlarge your eyes with paint, In vain you will make yourself fair; Your lovers will despise you; they will seek your life.” Ezekiel 23:40, addressing the modern houses of Israel and Judah, states, “Furthermore you sent for men to come from afar, to whom a messenger was sent; and there they came. And you washed yourself for them, painted your eyes, and adorned yourself with ornaments.”

Some have concluded that these passages prohibit the application of makeup in any manner, shape or form. Although the use of makeup would clearly be wrong if used for an improper purpose, these passages do not condemn its use in general. Note that it says, figuratively, in Ezekiel 23:40 that Israel and Judah adorned themselves with ornaments, painted their eyes, and washed themselves for powerful men they sent for. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with washing ourselves (compare Ruth 3:1-3). In addition, God Himself adorned Israel, as we read in Ezekiel 16:10-14, and Christ tells us to “anoint your head and wash your face,” when we fast (Matthew 6:17). We also read in 1 Peter 3:1-6 that the wives’ adornment should not “merely [be] outward” (verse 3).

The problem is that Israel and Judah, as well as Jezebel, were doing all of these things for their powerful lovers. Israel, like Queen Jezebel, prostituted herself to buy the conquerors’ favor. The Bible clearly condemns the motive and intent, not the mere act of washing or wearing jewelry or applying makeup. In fact, Ezekiel 23:41 goes on to say that Israel and Judah misappropriated God’s incense and God’s oil for the occasion.

Note, too, that ancient Egypt was and remains famous for its use of cosmetics. Even the lower classes of Egypt wore makeup — both men and women. Yet, none of Israel’s detailed statutes given upon leaving Egypt speak about the use of makeup.

It is also interesting that righteous Job, after he had learned his lessons and was tremendously blessed by God, named one of his daughters “Keren-Happuch” (Job 42:14). The German Elberfelder Bibel comments that the literal meaning of this name is “rouge-pot” or, more generally, “makeup.” The Soncino commentary states that the literal meaning is, “horn of eye-paint.” If God condemns make-up in every case, it would be hardly conceivable that Job, after his genuine repentance (Job 42:6), named one of his daughters “makeup.”

Some have said that every woman who wears makeup is doing it because of vanity. This is simply not true. Even when the use of makeup was officially prohibited in the church, it was always recognized that the use was appropriate in certain circumstances. It is true, on the other hand, that the wearing of makeup by women would be wrong, if done for the purpose of vanity or vainglory, or, of course, for improper motives. To paint one’s face in such a way so that one looks like a circus clown or a prostitute would most certainly not fall within God’s parameters of decent and modest conduct. However, as is the case with the acknowledgment of birthdays, the wearing of makeup is a personal decision. One must be honest with God and oneself, as to why one is doing the things that one is doing. In addition, if a woman, perhaps in order to follow the example of others, wears makeup in violation of her own conscience, it would constitute sin (compare Romans 14:23).