Article by: Perry Romanowski

To become a cosmetic chemist, you are going to have to learn to speak like a cosmetic chemist.  As in any industry, the cosmetic industry has a number of terms that are distinct to our industry.  Some of these terms may be unfamiliar while others may be familiar words with different meanings.  Go here for a list of cosmetic industry acronyms.

In this post we’re going to look at some of the jargon related to formulating color cosmetics.  Specifically, we’ll define terms related to the colors.

Color cosmetic terms

Dyes – These are color compounds that are fully soluble in the medium they are used.  They are typically transparent. For example, water soluble dyes used in body wash.

Pigments – These are color compounds that are insoluble in the medium in which they are used.  They are typically opaque.  This refers to compounds used in color cosmetics like foundation or eye shadow.

Lakes – A pigment made by dissolving a water soluble dye onto an insoluble, inorganic substance such as Aluminum Hydrate.

Toners – A pigment made by precipitating a water-soluble dye as a metal salt.

True Pigments – Water insoluble color compound.  Chemical structure makes it insoluble.

Extender –  These are compounds that are used to dilute out a color and help improve coverage.  Usually they are fillers made from talc, clay, silica or zinc oxide.

Bleed – This is a characteristic of a color additive which is slightly soluble in the vehicle used to deliver the color.  If the bleed is too high it can lead to staining of skin or nails.

Masstone – Refers to the ability of a color additive to improve the tone of a cosmetic product.  Most relevant when making dark colored lipstick.

Shade – This is the particular color that a color molecule can impart on a surface.

Strength – This refers to the intensity of the color additive.

Transparency – Property of color that allows light to be transmitted to the substrate (e.g. the skin).  To get good coverage you do not want high transparency.


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