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Medicines and Cosmetics for Pesach

By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt, principal of Yavne Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. and Magid Shiur of a daily Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.

reprinted with permission from Torah.org
Copyright © 1999 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Project Genesis, Inc.


A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of Vayikra. For final rulings, consult your Rav.

Thirty days before Pesach the halachos of Pesach should be reviewed (O.C. 429:1).

With the abundance of Kosher for Passover foods on the market today, it has become relatively easy to stock one's kitchen for Passover. But when it comes to inedible items such as medications and cosmetics, there is still much confusion about what is permitted and what is not. In the following review, we will attempt to clarify some of the principles which govern the Pesach laws for such items:

It is a Biblical prohibition to keep any edible chametz item in one's house over Pesach. Even an item which contains only a small admixture of chametz is prohibited(1). One must either get rid of it before Pesach or sell it to a non-Jew together with the rest of his chametz.

"Edible" is defined as an item which is fit for consumption by a dog. If an item becomes so spoiled that even a dog will not eat it(2), it is not considered chametz any more and it may be stored over Pesach. [Chametz items which a dog would eat but are not fit for human consumption, are generally considered prohibited chametz(3).]

It is permitted, therefore, to store and use all types of ointments, hand lotions, nail polish or medicated drops (for the ear or nose), etc., even if they contain an active chametz ingredient. These items are not fit for consumption and as the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch write, 'nifseda tzuras ha-chametz,' they have lost their chametz "form"(4). Similarly, certain cosmetics (eye shadow, eye liner, mascara, blush and rouge) and foot and face powders may be stored and used during Pesach(5).

Although, as stated, an item which is not fit for consumption and has lost its chametz "form" may be stored and used on Pesach, it still may not be eaten. By eating it, its status is elevated from "inedible" to "edible"(6). This re-classification is referred to by the poskim as achshavei, lit., an "elevation", or an upbringing of this item's halachic status. For instance: One is not required to get rid of a charred piece of bread, since it is no longer fit for consumption. One is not, however, allowed to eat it since by doing so, he is "elevating" it to the status of "edible".

There is a debate among the poskim if the prohibition of achshavei applies to items like foul-tasting pills or unflavored liquid medications. Some poskim(7) hold that although these items are not fit for consumption, it is still forbidden to eat them because the person eating such medication elevates their status to "edible." But many other authorities(8) maintain that achshavei applies only to food items which have become unfit and are now being re-classified as food by the person eating them, such as the piece of charred bread previously mentioned. Achshavei does not, however, apply to medications or drugs. The person taking those medications does not intend to reclassify the item as edible; rather he is treating his pain or sickness with something which is inedible. While many poskim are lenient, it has become common practice that whenever possible, only chametz-free medications are ingested in deference to the poskim who are stringent(9). When a chametz-free, foul-tasting medication is not available, a sick person may take the medication, but only under the guidance of a rav(10).

Flavored lipstick, coated tablets, flavored medications, pleasant-tasting cough syrups and the like are generally considered items which are fit for consumption. Unless one is dangerously ill, they may not be taken on Pesach unless it is determined that they are completely(11) chametz free(12).

There are certain items on the market which, at the time of purchase are not fit for consumption but could be "fixed" and made fit, either by cooking (distillation) or by adding certain ingredients to them. The poskim debate as to how the halachah views the status of these items: Do we consider them as "unfit," since presently that is what they are, or do we view them according to their potential to become "fit"?(13) The majority of contemporary poskim rule stringently on this question(14). Accordingly, pure grain-based alcohol - which in its raw state is unfit for drinking - is prohibited to keep on Pesach since, by undergoing a physical change - distillation - it will become fit for consumption.

Many products use denatured alcohol as an ingredient. Denatured alcohol is alcohol which is mixed with small quantities of various chemicals or substances. Some of those products can be restored to their original "fit" status, which in the opinion of the many poskim listed above classifies them as "fit for consumption" even though presently they are not. While not all items containing denatured alcohol can be restored to "fit" status, especially not products using completely denatured alcohol (CDA), it is difficult to judge the potential status of every single item. Accordingly, whenever possible, items containing denatured alcohol should be sold with the chametz and not be used on Pesach.

The issue of restorable denatured alcohol applies only to products which are in a pure liquid state. Some possible examples include cologne, hair spray, deodorants and shaving lotion. Items like creams, hand lotions and ointments do not present a problem. Certain other liquid products, such as shampoo(15), ink(16) and paint are also not restorable to their original alcoholic state and they may be stored and used on Pesach even though they may contain chametz ingredients.

Note, of course, that not all alcohol is chametz. Methanol and Isopropyl alcohol have no chametz components and even ethyl alcohol (ethanol) is not always derived from grain but is sometimes synthesized from chemicals. Only a true expert in these matters can advise one about the exact nature of all these items. Experience has shown that even the manufacturers themselves do not - or cannot - always give reliable, up-to-date information.

A word fo caution about perfumes, since the "base" product is "unfit" but the scent added to it may be a "fit" chametz derivative: Some poskim maintain that since the entire purpose of perfume is to exude a fragrance, and the fragrance is "fit", the perfume cannot be classified as "unfit"(17). While many other poskim do not agree with this opinion(18) since, after all, the perfume base itself is not fit for consumption, still it is proper to be stringent and use only such products that contain no fragrance derived from chametz.

[Medications which contain kitniyos may be consumed on Pesach when needed. Toiletries and cosmetics which contain kitnyios may be used on Pesach.]

In conclusion, the leniency of "unfit for consumption" is not a blanket heter to use any medicine or cosmetic on Pesach. Although many products do fall into this category(19), there are other factors to consider before an inedible product can be permitted for use on Pesach. Products which contain alcohol that can be restored to "fitness" and products which are scented with a chametz derivative are examples of items which should not be stored and used over Pesach, even though, upon superficial examination, they may appear as "unfit for consumption".


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