Colorants in Soapmaking

updated 12 August 1999

Colorants in Soapmaking

Coloring soap might be viewed as one of the more "fun" parts of the project. Since soapmaking involves a chemical reaction, there is always room for error along the way. For this reason, it is best to perfect soapmaking techniques before "muddying" the water with colors.

Why add color?
Adding color to your project is another peg in soap sophistication. Besides eye appeal, it can enhance the overall effect you are striving for. A soap scented with lavender might be nicer if a lavender color carries out the theme. A peach scented soap might be more effective in a peachy shade rather than green. Color is also an easy way to tie in your soaps with bath or kitchen decor.

Subtle = Natural
A good rule of thumb is to keep the soap color subtle if you want to achieve a natural look. However, if you're trying to coordinate for special holidays like Christmas or Valentine's Day, brighter colors might be more in keeping. You'll know too much colorant has been added if the finished soap doesn't lather with white bubbles. Colored bubbles may stain your skin and towels.

Natural tendencies
OK, assuming you've mastered the basics of soapmaking, it's time to begin experimenting with color. Depending on the ingredients used to make the soap, the mixture will have tendencies toward a certain color. For example, soaps containing cinnamon, clove, vanilla or nutmeg will have brown tones. Cornmeal will give soap a pale yellow color while kiwi and rosemary will yield green tones. Paprika will turn soap peach. Fats and oils will contribute their own characteristics too. Adding herbs, rose petals, bran or oatmeal will give the soap its own unique colorings as well as textures. Rather than swim upstream, it might work best to enhance, brighten or deepen a soap's natural color.

If your plans are to market these soap products, you'll need to see what is required by law in your particular country for acceptable "cosmetic grade" products. Product labeling would also need to be investigated.

So many colors, so little time!
There are as many opinions on color and coloring agents as there are on scents. If you want to maintain an "all natural" product, your best bet would be plant products, seasonings or natural pigments.

Coloring with Spices
If you plan to use seasonings as your coloring agent, add enough water to the powdered spice to make a thin liquid. Add all of the colorants listed below along with scents, right before pouring soap into their molds unless directed differently by the recipe. Stir until completely mixed unless a marbled effect is desired.

Like with most scents, do not use artificially colored soap on infants.

Coloring With Spices
Color in Soap
Color in Soap
Light Brown

Begin with 1 tablespoon of spice in enough water to liquify. Add to soap. If more color is desired, repeat. A note of caution when using spices... make sure to use a little common sense. Even though Chili Powder and Ground Chilies produce a lovely peach color, they might not be too pleasant in a bath!

Liquid Dyes - Cheap and Easy
Rit is probably the best known fabric dye in the industry. Their dyes are liquid, come in a wide color selection and are readily available at grocery and discount stores. Because they are liquid, they do not need to be dissolved prior to adding to the soap mixture. They are also quite economical and allow for custom blending. A little of this dye goes a long way. To begin, use approximately 1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml) of dye per 3/4 pound (340g) of soap. Curdling can result if too much is used due to the sodium content.

If powdered dye is used, it must first be dissolved in hot water.

Candle Dyes
These are also a good choice. They can easily be obtained from craft and hobby shops, as well as some discount stores that sell craft items. Candle dye is concentrated in small blocks of wax which must first be melted. To use, melt one block of dye in two tablespoons (30 ml) of vegetable oil. Any excess dye stores easily in a sealed container.

Pigment are simply natural colorants made from rocks ground into powder. Perhaps they are best known as coloring agents for artist's paints. Many of their names are recognizable from my mom's oil painting days. They made oil paints quite expensive 30 years ago, but are now very reasonable. For example, a less expensive substitute has been found for blue pigment which formerly was made from lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone.

Amounts to Use and Costs
I have only priced pigments through The Coloration Station and they are very reasonable. These pigments come in two varieties: the Natural-Pak and the Un-Natural Pak, each with 10 colors. The Natural Pak contains about 1 tablespoon, which is enough for 6-12 one pound batches, (amount depending on desired color intensity). Cost is $12 for her Natural Pak.

For her Un-Natural Pak, the cost is $16 for 10 colors, each 1/2 tablespoon. This should be enough pigment for up to 40 one-pound (1/2 kg) batches of soap. Shipping is figured into these prices, but you would need to email her to see about cost outside the continental U.S. All colors can be purchased individually in her Jarres.

Pigments vary widely in intensity from color to color that a set ratio of pigment to soap will not work. Generally speaking, begin with 1 or 2 tsp. (1.9 - 4 g) for 3/4 pound (340g) and increase as desired. Before using pigments, read Lori's comments "
How Do I Use Colorants".

Pigment Pros
Besides being a good price choice, pigments are stable colorants. Instead of reacting chemically, they are suspended within the ingredients, reflecting and absorbing light so their color does not alter with time.

Pigment Cons
The two drawbacks with pigments is a more limited color range and "what you see is not always what you get." By this I mean, because a pigment has a certain color in powder form does not mean that's what you'll see in your soap. According to The Pigment Lady " the FD&C Blue #1 and FD&C Green #3 yield a shade of purple - not blue nor green as you might expect... Be forewarned, in my experience, this black dye does not produce black soap. If your objective is black soap, you'll achieve the best results using Black Oxide." If you have further questions regarding her pigments, you can email her at:

Unusual Choices: Crayons
There are some methods of soap coloring that fall into the unorthodox category, but have proven quite successful. One such method is crayon. They are inexpensive, come in a wide color assortment, are either already around the house or extremely easy to locate. Since Al Durtschi has successfully used this method, the information comes from him. For every one pound (454g) of fat, use 1 inch (2.54 cm) from a 1/4" (6.35 cm) crayon. Prior melting before adding to the soap is not necessary.

The FDA has not approved crayons as soaps colorants, but they are perfectly acceptable for personal use. Like food dyes, Al notes that color from crayons can "shift" or change over time. If you can live with this, here is a cheap source of soap colorant.

Last Resort: Food Dyes
Food Dyes are probably the least wise choice for colorants. The liquid variety comes in four basic colors: blue, yellow, red and green. Any other choices would need to be mixed. Because these are a much weaker color strength than fabric dyes, it requires more to achieve certain intensities. Another drawback is light which will fade the soap's color with exposure. Since these dyes are FDA approved, there is no problem using them in soaps.

Last Resort: Natural Dyes
Natural Dyes are also not the best choice. There is nothing wrong with them except they require more work to obtain and the chemical reaction in soap can adversely affect their color. When there are so many easier and inexpensive choices, why reinvent the wheel?

Fun Stuff: Put a Little Sparkle in Your Life!
Want to put a little glamour in your soap? Why not some sparkles? Lori, The Pigment Lady, has researched and found FDA approved, cosmetic grade mica particles. She sells them for a reasonable cost on her site. The mica is packaged in two ounce (by weight) quantities which is approximately 9 tablespoons and is available for $8.75 plus shipping. The currently available colors are Copper, White, Gold, Jade and Crimson Mica. Personally, I can't wait to have a play with this! See The Coloration Station under Links for Soapmaking Supplies.

What is mica?
Remembering back to Geology 101, mica schist is metamorphic rock formed from heated and compressed shale and other minerals. Mica schists easily separate into sheets of fragile, suncatching layers. If you hold them in front of light, they are fairly transparent. From rock collecting days around the U.S., micas were nearly always the first rocks to snag my attention with their beauty. Their colors range from clear to shimmering silver, yellow to green and black depending on the minerals involved. For several decades, micas have been incorporated into cosmetics pearlizing and frosting lipstick, nail polish, powder and lotion as well as paint. So why not soap?

Colorants - a BIG Subject!
If one had the time, an entire book could be devoted to colorants, how they react with different fat and oils, how to extract plants dye, which are best suited to soapmaking. Since there are so many variants involved, it will require your own experimentation as even altering the ratio of certain fats can change the soap's color. How long your color is in the soap before pouring into the mold will also affect the color.

Keep a Record
Even more important than when using scent, it is a good idea to make notes regarding what and how much of a coloring agent you used and in what recipe. Also note if you were pleased with the outcome. Unfortunately, coloring will be a lot of trial and error, but it won't affect the usage of soap unless you end up with colored bubbles which should be discarded.

To Color or NOT to Color...
Some folks are sticklers whether or not a product is "all natural". If you fall into this category, you may be just as happy with no added color in your soap. Another point to keep in mind is that because something is "natural" does not mean it can't product allergic reactions. If you give your soaps as gifts, be sure to enclose an ingredients list.

Like many other skills, soapmaking is a craft that requires practice, but there is a lot of satisfaction to be gained from saying "I made it myself!" Happy experimenting!
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