Natural Colorants for Cosmetics

Did you know that in the United States it is not permitted by the FDA to just add any old ingredient into your cosmetic for the purposes of changing color? In fact, of all the ingredients in cosmetics colorants are the most highly regulated. This is most likely because historically colorants have also been the most dangerous.

Anyway, the only colorants you are allowed to use in the United States are laid out by the FDA and you can find a list of approved cosmetic colorants here. If you are a “natural” formulator there are only a few on the list of approved colorants that you would be allowed to use. They are as follows.

Annatto
beta-Carotene
Caramel
Carmine
Chlorphyllin Cu complex
Guaiazulene
Henna
Guanine

Annatto

This is a yellow to orange colorant derived from a shrub that grows in a number of places in the southern hemisphere. It can be used in the US, EU and China.

beta-Carotene

Another yellow to orange pigment that can be used for cosmetics around the world. It’s derived from a fungus and exhibits good stability.

Caramel

A brown colorant that comes from the burning of sugars like sucrose, dextrose, malt syrup, molasses, etc. It’s highly stable and can be used for formulating products around the world.

Carmine

This is a bright, red colorant which has a bluish shade. It is derived from female conchineal beetles that are collected primarily in Peru. The color can be used in cosmetic products around the world. It was traditionally used to dye textiles. Carmine is also one of the brightest of all natural colorants.

Chlorophyl Cu Complex

This is a green colorant obtained from alfalfa. To get the final product it is reacted with copper to replace the naturally occurring magnesium found in the molecule. It is approved throughout the world.

Guaiazulene

This ingredient is a blue colorant that is derived from the chamomile plant. It is legal in the US but is not allowed in products in the EU or China.

Henna

This is a brown dye derived from the Henna plant. It primarily comes from India. This natural colorant is allowed in the US but not in the EU or China. However, it is specifically prohibited for use in coloring eyelashes and eyebrows due to its known ability to cause irritation.

Guanine

This colorant is derived from herring fish scales and has a purplish color. It is used in all types of cosmetic products. It is approved for use in the US but not in EU or China. This is primarily because it hasn’t been economically feasible to go through the testing to get it approved in these countries.

Outside the US

While the colors listed are the natural colorants allowed in the US for cosmetics, there are a number of ones approved outside the US so if you are a natural formulator in these markets you might be able to use some of the following.

Lycopene – reddish / orange color derived from tomatoes
Vegetable Carbon – Black color derived from burnt vegetable matter
Curcumin – Yellow color derived from the spice turmeric
Capsanthin / Capsorubin – Orange color derived from sweet red peppers. Commonly known as paprika
Canthaxanthin – yellow – red color derived from mushrooms or shrimp.

There you have it. The color choices for a natural formulator are limited but you do have some choices.

4 thoughts on “Natural Colorants for Cosmetics

  1. Avatar
    Jaslyn says:

    Thanks for the information, I have been wondering what are the safest color additives for my homemade cosmetics, and I know a lot of people use titanium dioxide and mica minerals, but they have the possibilities to harming our bodies, but then again..what doesn’t these days? It’s hard to decide what is safe and what’s not because everyone says different things.

    • Avatar
      Perry Romanowski says:

      For colorants, the governments around the world have made a list of what is safe. If you stick to the legal colorants you won’t have a problem.

  2. Avatar
    nichole says:

    Hi, this is a conflicting statement. Many places say that you can use fruits and such for natural cosmetics. There are many business that do this that are popular. “Fruit pigmented makeup” How are they getting away with this if it is not legal?
    Thanks,
    Nichole

    • Avatar
      Perry Romanowski says:

      Because they are breaking the law and not facing any consequences…yet. There are plenty of people who go around speeding and breaking traffic laws. Often they get away with it. Sometimes they get tickets and fines but then they still go back and speed again. The practice of using “fruit pigments” for coloring your products is illegal & people who do it are breaking the law. Whether they get caught or not, that’s another story.

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