Halacha Date: 14 Iyar 5772 May 6 2012
Answer: The Torah states (Vayikra 21): “You shall not put a tattoo in yourselves, I am Hashem.” The Rambam elaborates: “The tattooing mentioned by the Torah refers to scratching one’s skin and filling the scratch with sand, ink, or any other colorful dyes which leave a mark.”
Based on this, it would seem that permanent makeup should be prohibited, for color is inserted under the skin in order to place color around the eyes, above the lips, and the like, and this is tantamount to tattooing. Indeed, several authorities indeed forbid this. Additionally, this was the ruling publicized in the name of Maran Harav Ovadia Yosef Shlit”a who prohibited having permanent makeup done. Many authors of Torah literature in our generation have likewise attributed this ruling to Maran Shlit”a.
Nevertheless, Maran Harav Shlit”a has since published his work Taharat HaBayit, Part 3, and there he discusses the issue of permanent makeup and he concludes by ruling leniently because of several doubts regarding the essence of the prohibition in this scenario: Indeed, several Rishonim rule that the only tattooing prohibited by the Torah is when one inscribes an idolatrous name on his skin, for this was the practice of idol-worshippers who would inscribe the name of their deity on their skin through tattooing in order to show their attachment to the idol. Additionally, other Poskim rule that the Torah only prohibits tattooing letters or complete figures onto ones skin. This is surely not the case regarding permanent makeup which is neither an idolatrous name nor letters. Although halachically speaking it seems that tattooing is forbidden even if is not in the form of an idolatrous name or letters, nevertheless, regarding permanent makeup, there is another reason for leniency, for it is not so “permanent” since the marking disappears after several years because it is not inserted so deeply into the skin; rather, it is only inserted under the top layer of skin and in such a situation there is room for leniency. Thus, Maran Harav Shlit”a writes that after delving deeply into the words of the Poskim regarding this matter, it seems to him that even a woman who does this even for aesthetic purposes has on whom to rely and is not transgressing a prohibition. If a woman does so to cover up a scar or in order to fill the appearance of her eyebrow, she may be lenient and do so even preferably.