Color Me Clean: Colorants in Soap and Cosmetics

If you make your own soap and cosmetics, and especially if you make soap and/or cosmetics with bright colors and beautiful patterns, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “It’s so pretty, I don’t want to use it” more than once! While breaking the barrier between decoration and usable product is a challenge in its very own category, another challenge that Handcrafters face in formulation is finding  suitable colorants to perfect those stunning swirls and creative color combinations.

A Good Clean Art Form 

Your creativity shines through your product. Whether you are making brilliantly colored soaps or mineral makeup, choosing one of the approved colorants based on its quality and stability is tantamount to choosing your oils and fragrance! Using an improper colorant will likely result in a disappointing or unexpected final product; in this article, we will talk about a few of the colorants available today, and what they are best used in.

Types of Colorant 


Mica is a mineral mined from the ground. After it’s mined, it is then finely ground and colored with iron oxides or FD&C colors (which we will discuss later on in this article). While mica itself is considered a “natural” ingredient because it is mined directly from the earth and refined, it becomes a synthetic ingredient when it is colored with FD&C colorants. It is important to remember this when labeling your products; be sure that if you are using mica, you have done research on the specific color to find out if it is a naturally occurring mica color, colored with iron oxide (considered natural), or synthetically colored with FD&C colors.

If you plan to use mica for soapmaking, there are a few things to consider. Mica will retain its truest color and sparkle if used in a transparent melt and pour soap; however, in an opaque cold process soap, it may morph or disappear altogether, with no trace of the sparkle you’d see in melt and pour. It is strongly recommended that you color a small test batch first to make sure that your usage rate and resulting color are what you’re looking for!

Micas are very popular in makeup products, too! Due to its sparkly nature, it is perfect for lipsticks, eye shadows and blushes; just make sure to specifically buy micas that are considered safe for the eyes to avoid irritation or unwanted reactions to your finished product.


When you hear oxide or ultramarine, think pigments! These lab-created colors are not natural, but are considered as close to nature in composition as possible. Pigments are typically very stable and have a low risk of morphing in cold process soap, making them a safe choice if you are looking for vibrant colors.

Although many people shy away from lab created colors or products, keep an open mind with ultramarines and oxides. Synthetic in this case still means that the resulting product is kept as close to nature’s original contents as possible, and is still widely considered natural by many handcrafters. Although they can be a bit more prone to clumping than mica, they are very cost effective and safe due to FDA regulations.

FD&C Colorants

FD&C stands for Food, Drug and Cosmetic, and is the name for a group of synthetic, lab made colorants. These colorants are often used in processed food as well as soap and cosmetics.

FD&C colorants are relatively inexpensive, and are great in melt and pour soaps; many recommend steering clear of these colorants if you are using the cold process method, however.

Natural Colorants

Did you know that carminic acid extracted from female cochineal insects can be used to produce a beautiful red dye? It’s true! Natural colorants are all around us, and although the colors may not always be as vibrant as a lab created color, they are still gorgeous in their own way.

A few natural colorants include:


Madder root can be used to create a red shade, but be sure to test it first as it can also darken or shift to a more purple hue. Paprika can also be used to create red, but be mindful; it can also cause irriation. Moroccan red clay can also be used to create a rich, bold red.

Orange & Yellow 

Annatto is a popular natural colorant used to produce yellows or light orange. Beet root powder, calendula and carrot can also produce yellow and orange. Saffron is also used often to give a desired golden color.


Cholorphyll is one of the most popular natural colorants to attain a green hue. You can also use spinach or spirulina; keep in mind that spirulina may produce a more blue-green tint.


Indigo powder is one of the go-tos for a beautiful, rich blue color but beware-this powder stains easily! Woad powder is also used as a natural blue colorant, but carries the same risk of staining as indigo.


Alkanet root can be used to get a purple hue, while madder root can often produce a purple color too.


Activated charcoal is a popular choice for a black natural colorant. Finely ground coffee can also produce a black color.


You may use either instant or fresh, finely ground coffee to attain a medium to dark brown color. Adding chocolate as an ingredient to your soap will also produce a brown color (and a delicious smell!).

Final Thoughts 

There are many different colorants to consider, and although this may seem intimidating, it really presents the opportunity for unlimited combinations and designs. There are thousands of color combinations and possibilities available for your consideration. That’s an enviable palette for any artist, except your finished masterpiece will be good for the eye and body!

Need a little inspiration? Check out last week’s blog post, BAR-twork: Pencil Lines to learn how to incorporate elegant lines into your soaps!

BAR-twork: Pencil Lines

If you’ve ever used handcrafted soap, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen soap with a pencil line, or a thin line of mica or other colorant that separates the soap either in the middle, or even in a marbling pattern. What you may not know is that this is actually a very simple technique that can be used with any process of soapmaking, although there are certainly tricks to each; all you need is a tea strainer and some imagination!

Cold Process Pencil Lines 

Cold process soapmaking is a treasure trove of creative design opportunities when it comes to soap, and the pencil line is no different! To create the pencil line effect in your cold process bar, follow these easy steps.

  1. Measure approximately 1-2 tablespoons of your pencil line colorant into a tea strainer or other small strainer of your choice; be sure that whatever you are using will fit through the mesh. 
  1. Bring your tried and true recipe to trace and add any other colorants and fragrances as you normally would. 
  1. Pour half of your batter into your prepared mold and tap the mold gently to eliminate bubbles. 
  1. Hover the colorant-filled tea infuser over your half poured soap and gently tap the side of it, moving back and forth over the soap to produce an even coating of colorant. Avoid making too thick of a layer! If your pencil line is too thick, your soap will separate at the line. Think of it as a dusting instead of a blanket. 
  1. Using a towel or paper towel, wipe the inside walls of your mold just above your pencil line to avoid unwanted colorant getting on the top of your soap. 
  1. Pour the remainder of your soap into the mold by deflecting it with a spatula or spoon, and keep it close to the surface of the pencil line to avoid scattering the colorant. 

And that’s it! Cure your soap as you would any other time; we’ll discuss cutting it at the end of this article.

Hot Process Pencil Lines 

Doing a pencil line in a hot process soap can be a little more tricky, but it is still completely possible.

  1. Measure approximately 1-2 tablespoons of your desired pencil line colorant into a tea strainer or other small sifter/strainer and set aside. 
  1. Prepare your soap batter as usual, complete with colorants and fragrances if desired. 
  1. Fill your mold halfway with your batter, mindful to tap the mold when you have done so to create an even surface.
  1. Hover your strainer over the surface of the soap and tap the side of the strainer gently to produce a light, even dusting over top as you move it back and forth. Avoid layering the pencil line colorant on too thick, as this can cause your soap to separate. A light dusting will do the trick. 
  1. Clean the inside walls of your mold above the pencil line to avoid unwanted pencil line colorant mixing with your top layer of soap. 
  1. Carefully spoon the remainder of your batter into the mold directly and somewhat quickly; avoid spreading the soap with a spatula. Tap your mold once it is filled to be sure that it is completely settled. 

As with the cold process method, allow your soap to fully cool and cure.

Melt and Pour 

Melt and pour can be a bit more difficult when it comes to creating a pencil line, but it can be done. Although simple sprinkling a colorant on as we do with cold process and hot process will most likely make your soap break at the pencil line in melt and pour, you can also take a small amount of melt and pour batter and color it with the desired pencil line colorant for a similar effect. If you choose this method, be sure to deflect your pour with a spoon or spatula close to the surface of your first pour to avoid splashing and unwanted mixing. 

Too much colorant can cause your soap to split at the pencil line, not to mention a crumbly mess!

Time for the Cut! 

Your soap has cured and you are ready to see that pencil line! Before you cut your soap, tip it on its side; this will help any bleeding colorant to travel along the pencil line instead of mixing into your bottom layer of soap.

Final Thoughts 

Pencil lines can create symmetry or when used asymmetrically, can create a beautiful marbled look for your product. Experiment with colors and designs to incorporate this elegant method into your current line!

Common Scents: Sweet Orange

Welcome to our series, Common Scents! Common Scents is a series of articles exploring the history of commonly used essential oils, and how they became so popular in modern day soap and cosmetic crafting.

In this edition of Common Scents, we will take a look at the uplifting history of sweet orange, often referred to simply as orange or orange oil. Sought out for its cheery and mellow scent, sweet orange has a large variety of uses and an extensive history, too.


Ultimately, the word orange derives from a Dravidian language such as Tamil or Malayalem. Through centuries of filtering through different languages including Persian, Arabic, Italian and French, we have the current spelling.

The sweet orange is the fruit of the citrus species Citrus x sinensis, which is part of the family Rutaceae (there is also the fruit of the Citrus x aurantium, which is considered bitter orange). The sweet orange is actually a hybrid between Citrus maxima (pomelo) and Citrus reticulata (mandarin).

Although there doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer available regarding where oranges grow wild, it is thought that they originated in either southeastern Asia, southern China, or northeastern India. Oranges entered written history via Chinese literature n 314 BC, and were first cultivated in China around 2500 BC. The Chinese word for orange sounds very similar to the Chinese word for “wealth”, and (along with tangerines) is associated with an abundance of happiness and prosperity in Chinese new year celebrations. The dried peel of mandarin oranges has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries to treat colds, coughs and digestion/abdominal issues.

The orange was introduced to Spain (then called Andalucia), encouraging the construction of then-complex irrigation systems to help cultivate the orange orchards in the 10th century. The sweet orange specifically was unknown to most until the late 15th/early 16th century; both Italian and Portuguese traders brought the first orange trees into the Mediterranean area.

After its introduction to the Mediterranean, the orange attracted the eye of the wealthy. Private conservatories, called orangeries, were essentially orange orchards maintained by those with money and power, who considered the fruit a luxury!

The territory of the orange expanded rapidly as various expeditions brought the fruit to South America, Mexico, and Florida in the mid-1500s. Between 1700 and the early 1800s, orange trees were introduced to Arizona, San Diego, Los Angeles and Louisiana due to their popularity and edible nature. Citrus trees (including orange trees) were also planted by Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish sailors along trade routes to prevent disease.

Modern day Florida orange orchards came into existence around 1892, when farmers received seeds from New Orleans. The United States still produces a large amount of oranges today, third to Brazil and China.


Sweet orange oil is produced using a cold press method on the peel of the orange. This oil can be used for a multitude of products, including flavoring food and drinks, and as a fragrance. Orange oil is also used in furniture polish and many other wood conditioners as well as other household cleaners. It is also commonly used in aromatherapy and as either the solo scent or as a top note in fragrance blends. A few of the uses for orange oil traditionally and commercially:

Household cleaners, furniture polish, wood conditioner

Insect repellent

Said to treat: depression, inflammation, digestive aid, skin issues

Also used as a(n): antiseptic, cancer inhibitor, detoxifier

It is important to note: these observations and claims are made by those who have used orange oil. The FDA has not approved orange oil in a medical capacity, and we are providing this information strictly for educational and entertainment purposes. The HSCG does not make medical claims nor give medical advice.

Orange Oil in Soap and Cosmetics 

We all know the smell of orange; like any citrus, it has an upbeat and cheerful scent reminiscent of summer and warm weather. Considered a top note in regards to fragrance blending, orange blends well with warm scents such as cedarwood, juniper, clove, frankincense, lavender, sandalwood, and other citrus oils. Like many oils, sweet orange oil is available in natural and synthetic form; be sure to check with your supplier to make sure you buy the desired version.

Final Thoughts 

Sweet orange oil has a long history of bringing happiness and providing a warm, pleasant scent to those who use it in perfumes, soaps, lotions, and even household cleaners. What better way to beat the winter blues than to treat your customers to a fresh, pampering product that will make them feel (and smell) as fantastic as a warm summer day!

Need a little help with fragrance blending? Check out our article, “Fantastic Fragrances and How To Blend Them”, available on the HSCG How-To Library: