Cosmetic colorants - the safest cosmetic ingredients

Recently we received a request from someone who wanted to make their own face paint for children.  Specifically, they wanted to know how to make homemade face paints using natural ingredients that would be safe for skin.  They also said they wanted to use plant derived pigments.   This sounds like a fun project, but I’m concerned about the focus on “natural ingredients.”  As we frequently say, just because something is natural doesn’t mean that it is safe.cosmetic colorants

Cosmetic Colorants

The part of this request that is worth discussing is the request about colorants.  In truth, you would be hard pressed to find any safer ingredient in cosmetics than the colorants.  On some level, it was colorants (specifically dangerous ones) that lead to the development of the FDA.  While there aren’t a lot of ingredient restrictions in the US for cosmetics, colorants and any other material put in the product to impart color, are the most strictly regulated of all cosmetic ingredients.

Here is a listing of important documents regarding the colors that can and cannot be used in cosmetics in the US.

Basic Requirements of colorants

Coloring your cosmetic product is not as simple as finding some plant or flower that has a pretty color, distilling that color and using it in your formula.  You specifically CANNOT do this.  Some of the approved colorants are plant derived but many are not.  Here are some basic facts about regulated colors in cosmetics.

  • All colors used in your formula must be approved by the FDA.  If it’s not on the approved list (no matter where it comes from) it can’t be used.
  • Nearly all colors must also be certified by the FDA.  For most colorants every batch of the color has to be inspected and approved by the FDA.  You can’t just make your own colors in the kitchen.
  • All colors must meet specifications before being used.
  • Colors are restricted in the ways and amounts in which they can be used.

Making edible color cosmetics

So if you wanted to make face paints that contained only colors that were edible you would limit yourself to food approved colorants.  Here is a list of food colorants.  There are some that are exempt from the certification requirements.  These would include things like Caramel, Annatto extract, Dehydrated beets, Fruit juice, Carrot oil, and more.  There are also food colorings that are allowed which require certification.  These are things like FD&C Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 3, Yellow 5 and a few others.

Basically, if you want to make a safe face paint that is edible stick to approved food colorings.  If you want it to be plant derived, stick to the food colorants that do not require certification.

I’ve always found it baffling that stories about Lead in Lipstick get so much traction and hype in the media.  NGOs use these type of stories to push for greater regulation.  But the reality is that colorants are the most highly regulated ingredients in the industry.  How much more regulation on colorants could there possibly be?

While there may be some ingredients that could concern you about cosmetics, colorants should not be one of them.


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