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Enter the Amazing World of Natural Colors!

Belinda Carli – Feb 9, 2018

TAGS:  Natural/ Organic     Decorative Cosmetic   

World of Natural ColorsConsumers are increasingly looking for natural products - but don’t want to compromise on performance. And nowhere are they less likely to compromise than when it comes to color products.

In the past, some really bright pinks, traffic stopping reds and dance-floor blues and purples just weren’t possible (or stable) without using synthetic colorants. But that landscape has changed with the many natural colorants now available.

Are you also looking out for some natural colorants? Find out here!

Enter the amazing world of natural colors - review the natural colorant choices available in the market along with their limitations for your truly natural formulations.

Let's get going...

Colorants from Natural Extracts

The use of natural colorants is generally unrestricted in personal care products. However their performance is often not as predictable or as stable as other types of colorants.

As a result, whenever using natural colorants in personal care products - be sure to extensively test the product using accelerated and real time stability tests. This will give you an indication of their performance over time.

Take a look at the table below summarizing the colors and sources of natural colorants:

Color INCI Designation Usual Source
Crocin Saffron
Curcumin Turmeric
Annato Annatto
Capsanthin Paprika
Carotenoids Carrots, Algae
Anthocyanins Red berries
Betanine Beetroot
Cochineal, carmine Coccus cacti
Green Chlorophylls Lucerne grass
Brown Caramel Sugars

Let's understand their properties in detail:


The yellows include crocin and curcumin:

  • Crocin:
    • Obtained from saffron, producing a bright yellow color
    • Water soluble
    • Very stable to heat
    • Unstable to light

  • Curcumin:
    • Obtained from turmeric, producing a bright, strong yellow dye
    • Oil soluble and also available in water dispersible forms
    • Very stable to heat and best used in an acid pH range
    • Unstable to light and Sulphur dioxide


The oranges include annatto, capsanthin and carotenoids:

Seeds of Annatto Bush 
  • Annatto:
    • Obtained from the seeds of the annatto bush, producing an orange color
    • Often used in combination with curcumin to ensure consistency of color
    • Partially oil and water soluble
    • Stable to heat
    • Unstable to Sulphur dioxide, hard water, low pH, light and oxidation
    • Oxidative stability can be improved when used in combination with ascorbic acid in formulations

  • Capsanthin:
    • Obtained from paprika, producing a bright orange/red color
    • Oil soluble oleoresin
    • Stable to heat and changes in pH
    • Unstable to oxidation

  • Carotenoids:
    • Obtained from carrots and algae, producing an orange/yellow color
    • Oil soluble but may be available in water dispersible forms
    • Stable to heat, pH and Sulphur dioxide
    • Unstable to light and oxidation
    • Oxidative stability can be improved when used in combination with ascorbic acid in formulations


The reds include anthocyanins, betanine and cochineal (carmine):

  • Anthocyanins:
    • Obtained from red berries, producing red and purple hues
    • Water soluble
    • Stable to heat and light particularly when sourced from grape skins
    • Unstable to pH; must be used in products where pH < 4.5

  • Betanine:
    • Obtained from beetroot, producing a deep red color
    • Water soluble
    • Unstable to heat, light and Sulphur dioxide

  • Cochineal (carmine):
    • Obtained from the insect Coccus cacti using aqueous alkaline extraction and mixed with aluminum lake, producing a bright, strawberry red hue. This material may be an issue with some natural / organic certifiers and vegans because of its starting source
    • Water soluble
    • Stable to oxidation, light, Sulphur dioxide, heat and water
    • Unstable in low pH conditions
Red Berries 
Beet Root
Coccus Cacti 


Natural green shades are obtained by using chlorophylls:

Chlorophyll Extract 
  • Chlorophylls:
    • Obtained from grass, producing a green to blue green hue
    • Oil soluble
    • Can be ‘coppered’ to obtain copper chlorophyllin with improved stability and brightness of color
    • May be blended with curcumin to yield lime green hues
    • Stable to heat and light
    • Unstable to acid conditions


Natural brown shades are obtained by using caramel:

  • Caramel:
    • Obtained from caramelized sugar, producing a deep brown color
    • Water soluble; it can make products feel ‘sticky’ if used in large quantities
    • Stable to heat, light and pH
Caramolized Sugar 

Suppliers of Natural Colorants

Inorganic colorants are available from multiple suppliers. The suppliers with iron oxides typically also have pearlescent and coated materials for luster effects.

To name a few, key suppliers include:

Develop your Natural Color Cosmetic Product Today!

When it comes to extract colorants, there are fewer choices:

  • Omya: Provide a variety of the natural plant extract colorants
  • Campo Research: Provide Siddha Medico-Colors, which are based on Indian herbal extracts and plant phytochemicals. Their range provides multiple material choices, available as single extracts or mixtures of plant extracts with an intensity and stability of color that challenges the bright and bolds of synthetic materials.

Working with color is one of the most creative and fun developments we can have as Cosmetic Chemists. Now, with a whole new world of natural colorants at our fingertips, creating natural color cosmetics to please even the most discerning consumer is possible.

Happy formulating!

2 Comments on "Enter the Amazing World of Natural Colors!"
Belinda C Jun 20, 2018
Hi Kelly, Please note that iron oxides are from natural sources but then go through synthetic processing to purify them to make them of a suitable purity to use in personal care products. They are the strongest opaque colour modifiers and needed in most colour cosmetics to bring bold colour; especially in natural cosmetics. They are permitted in natural cosmetics because of their starting natural source, their function in colour cosmetics and because of the purity criteria they must attain to be used in personal care. Without them, we couldn’t even create foundations! Because of their purity, safety and permission to be used in personal care (and need to be used to achieve certain product types) as well as their acceptance by natural and organic certifiers, they have been included in the list of natural colourants, although not entirely natural.
Kelly D Mar 28, 2018
I'm curious why you have listed inorganic colorants, as per US FDA specifications they are synthetically derived. Naturally derived iron oxides, for example, cannot be purified to make them safe which is why they were not included in the FDA regulations. They can be certified of natural origin but they are not completely natural.

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