I’m often asked about different ways to naturally colour lotions, so I conducted a fifteen-week experiment testing out ten different natural colourants to see what worked, and what didn’t.
Why ‘lotions’ specifically?
Formulations that contain water—like lotions—are a lot harder to colour naturally than anhydrous formulations (formulations without water). Because water is present, the emulsions are susceptible to microbial spoilage, which is something we don’t have to worry about with products like balms, salves, and anhydrous body butters. This spoilage potential can limit our colourant options as colourful ingredients can also be challenging to preserve. I’ve also found that natural colourants can fade and oxidize much faster in hydrous formulations than anhydrous ones.
- How do ten different natural ingredients perform as colourants for an emulsion at 1%?
- How does the inclusion of a chelator (Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate at 0.5%) change that performance?
I began by making two big batches of my Easy Natural Lotion for Beginners. Each batch was short 1% to allow room for adding different colourants. One batch was made as written, and one batch included 0.5% Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate—a natural chelator. The pH of each lotion was around 5.4–5.5.
I portioned out 29.7g lotion into glass prep cups and added 0.3g colourant ingredient to each: 99% lotion + 1% colourant ingredient.
Each colourant was added to a chelator’d and non-chelator’d portion of lotion, hand whisked to combine, and then decanted into a labelled plastic condiment cup. This resulted in 20 little cups of coloured lotion + 1 wee cup of control (the emulsion without a chelator).
I then left those wee cups in a box on a shelf in my studio for 15 weeks to see what happened.
Want to watch this project instead of read it?
I tested 10 different natural ingredients, choosing ones that would impart some colour, and generally trying to test ingredients that are somewhat readily available and/or I’m asked about often.
- Activated charcoal
- Alkanet root powder
- Australian pink clay
- Black goji extract
- Carmine (ground powder)
- Coloured mica (Coho Shimmer)
- Hibiscus powder
- Indigo powder
- Sea Buckthorn fruit oil
- Turmeric liquid extract
Several of these colourant ingredients definitely would’ve fared better with a different usage rate or if turned into some sort of an infusion first, but I wanted to 1) keep the experiment as consistent as possible and 2) try a variety of ingredients and formats. I’m also frequently asked about adding powdered botanicals to formulations as colourants, so I wanted to show what happens when you do.
Click the images to enlarge.