Article by: Perry Romanowski

A makeup chemist is a cosmetic chemist who focuses on creating color cosmetics.  They face the same issues as personal care product formulators, but they need to know about slightly different ingredients.  Here are the main categories of cosmetic raw materials that you need to know before you can be an expert makeup chemist.

Makeup Colorants

These are the ingredients that give your formulas color.  In the United States, these ingredients are highly regulated by the FDA and there are only certain ones that are allowed.  This is also true in the UK and Japan.  Of all the cosmetic ingredients, colorants are the most highly regulated.  You can see this FDA Cosmetics page for the basics about color additives and their use.   But the regulatory stuff only helps so far.  Here is some specific science information that will be helpful to makeup chemists.

There are two primary types of colorants Inorganic (or Mineral) pigments and Organic pigments.  Here’s what you need to know.

Inorganic Mineral pigments

Inorganic pigments found naturally around the Earth are primarily composed of compounds from transition metals.  Color is a result of the outer electrons that can absorb visible light and get promoted to a higher energy level.  Here is a partial list of the more important inorganic colorants.

Iron Oxides – These include the colors Red, Brown, Black and Yellow which can be blended to make most any shade.

Chromium Oxide – This is a green color

Ultramarines – These can give you a blue violet or pink color.

Titanium Dioxide / Zinc Oxide – When you need a white pigment, these are the best.  It also provides some UV protection.

Inorganic pigments are generally more opaque and solvent resistant.  They are also not as bright as organic pigments.

Organic pigments

These ingredients are organic molecules that have a chromophoric group like N=N, C=O, or C=S.    They have different levels of solubility in various solvents.  The primary groups include the following.

AZO colorants – These are the basis for a number of Red and Yellow colors.

Triarylmethane – This is the basis for Blue and Green colors

Xanthenes – This material is a staining dye which can provide Red or Orange colors.

Anthraquinone – A green colorant

Natural Colorants – There are also a number of natural dyes that do not have the same regulatory restrictions as the Organic and Inorganic dyes.  These include things like Cochineal (beetle shells), Caramel, Cartenoids, etc.   The biggest problem with these types of dyes is that they have limited stability and can also exhibit strong odors.  They provide a great challenge to the “natural” cosmetic formulator.


Fillers ingredients (or filler pigments) have the primary job of extending the main pigments so you get the color and even coverage that you want.  Makeup would be awful if it were blotchy and unnatural looking.  Fillers can sometimes be in the formulas a higher percentage than the primary pigment.  The main fillers to know include the following.

Talc – A mineral found all over the world.  It’s also an ingredient that is much maligned as it’s been associated with asbestos.  Not to worry, the talc used in the cosmetic industry is high quality and there is no evidence that it is hazardous to health under normal use.

Mica – This is potassium aluminum silicate and is a bit more translucent than talc.  Sericite is a type of mica that has properties in between Mica and Talc.

There are other specialty fillers but you can get most formulas done using either Talc or Mica so you can focus on them.

Formulation finishers

There are a few things put in makeup that you’ll frequently find in other personal care products.  These include preservatives, fragrance, emulsifiers, claims ingredients, etc.  It really depends on the type of formula you are making and in a later article we will go through the specifics.

Creating makeup formulations pose a special challenge because color matching can be quite challenging especially since the pigments vary in shade from batch to batch.  Perhaps in a  future article we’ll have our resident expert color matcher give some of her tips.



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    Great information. Make up chemist needs to have an eye for color! which is not taught in any schools or colleges!!

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    Great info! How about using herbs as colorants for eyes, lips, cheeks (eg. turmeric, hibiscus, annatto, etc.) for commercial/business purposes, would FDA approve of that?

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    There is a brand that only uses fruit pigments in its color cosmetics. The colors are really vibrant! I called FDA and they said there is no problem to use fruit pigments? What is your opinion about it? Have you ever seen fruit pigments like raspberry, apricots ,…?

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    What do you suggest if we are trying to accomplish a high pigment eye shadow? I am currently bouncing around gathering information and I have yet to find anything that answers that question, would it just be talc or something else?

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      Perry Romanowski

      I’d suggest you post your question in our forum.

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    I’ve done a lot of reading and I’ve noticed that Blue Ultramarine is not allowed in lip products. Are there any alternate pigments or products I could use to replace the colour in lip products? Do you have any suggestions for other pigments I could use for cool-undertoned lip products? I’m just starting out with making my own cosmetics. Thank you in advance!

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    William Ah Kuoi

    What dye/colorant works best with coconut oil?

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      Perry Romanowski

      I don’t understand your question. What are you trying to accomplish?

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    Which ingredients makes an eyeshadow like a tablet can u plzz suggest some?? My eyeshadow after sometimes balls type shapes are made idk why

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    I don’t suppose you could help me, I’ve recently been signed off my work as a nurse with a severe back injury so am struggling to buy Christmas gifts and thought home make make up would be an inexpensive gift that most of my family and friends would appreciate. I’m trying to make like a sparkly eyeshadow pigment. So far I think I know the ingredients to use; mica, titanium dioxide, tin oxide, calcium carbonate, zinc stearate,kaolin clay, silicon dioxide, allantoin, magnesium myristrate, isopropyl myristate. But am not sure of how much of each ingredient I should use. I know it’s asking a lot but could you possibly give rough estimates?

    Thanks Sam

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    Hi, I would like to have a detailed discussion on cosmetic pigments. I have classified it based on application and region.

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    Is there a page or resource that can tell me the difference between cosmetic grade, food grade, and lab grade colorants? For example, cochineal is available in all three grades. I have searched and searched and can’t find the actual differences. The only thing I can find is that the lab grade is processed differently, but I can’t find the actual chemicals used that would contraindicate personal use or that would create a danger.

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      Perry Romanowski

      I doubt there is any difference between that one. The FDA website has a listing of allowed colorants for food, drugs and cosmetics.

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    i would like to ask, what ingredient or any specific raw material that can help eye shadow color from fading?

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      Perry Romanowski

      That really depends on what is in your formula. You haven’t provided enough information for me to answer.

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    jo-anna cassino

    Can you recommend a good source to find cosmetic grade pigments that are not petroleum based, that come from natural resources. Ideally I would love to find strong pigments for making lipsticks, but don’t want to use something synthetic. Thank you!!

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      Perry Romanowski

      Pretty much all pigments legally allowable in cosmetics are synthetically derived. Colorants are highly regulated by the FDA and they just don’t allow natural materials to be used for coloring skin and hair.

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    Hi! I want to start my own organic lipstick collection. I’ve been searching & reading about organic ingredients but I still can’t find one that I can trust. Do you know any site or company were I could buy good organic pigments?? Thanks for the post, it was very helpful. 🙂

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    If I want to made my own make up and have my own ingredients how can I describe the color for the chemist?? Like foundation and lip color?? Is there a chart of colors with code for every shade or what?? Really I have no idea and confused? ?how can I send hem the shades that I want??

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      Perry Romanowski

      The same way paint colors are chosen. The cosmetic chemist would be able to help you with color selection.

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    Do you recommend any makeup chemists in the southern California area to develop something? I need someone really good that specializes in products on and around the eyes.

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    The idea of using eyeshadow in vaseline for lipgloss is scary. My understanding is that the many of the green blue and purple pigments are not safe to use one the lips because they may be ingested. Am I wrong?

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      Perry Romanowski

      If the color is being sold in the US then the product is safe to use. The FDA verifies the safety of every batch of color put into cosmetics.

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    What other kinds of fillers are there besides talc and mica, please?

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    I saw a video where a lady was mixing eye shadow with vaseline to make lip gloss for her daughter. I watched another video where a Mom was mixing kool aide and vaseline. Are these methods safe to use as lip gloss? I have 3 girls and they desperately want to make lip gloss. I just want to be sure we are doing this quick and easy and also safe.

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      Mixing kool aide and vaseline should be safe as both ingredients are food grade. The eyeshadow mix should also be ok but it may not taste very good as eyeshadows are not meant to be ingested.

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        May I ask please? Normally chemicals in eye makeup is it safe for eyes ? and Can it harmful to the eyes or cause blindess?? Also if I wear eye makeup regularly is it safe? Thank you

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          Yes, chemicals in eye make-up are safe for the eyes. No, causing blindness is not likely. Yes, it is safe to wear eye makup regularly.

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            Is it safe in both short term and long term ? Thank you 🙂

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    Cool, thanks! I’m no chemist but I love makeup and the chemistry behind it and I’m going to memorize these!

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    great information to share with people when Im behind the chair!

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    Thank you!I will be starting my degree this September. Fortunately,my Uni offers B.S.C in Colour Chemistry. Would I still need to do some kind of cosmetic science diploma?

  22. Avatar

    Great information. Make up chemist needs to have an eye for color! which is not taught in any schools or colleges!!

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