Color Me Clean: Colorants in Soap and Cosmetics

Sara WagnerTips, Tricks & TutorialsLeave a Comment

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!

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