Coloured Mica

What is it? Coloured micas are a very wide category of ingredients. Basically, coloured micas are mica that has been laminated/blended with a variety of pigments and other ingredients that can create iridescence, colour shifting, etc. Coloured mica is never a single ingredient; your supplier should provide a full INCI that shows exactly what is in each mica they sell.
INCI Mica + a wide variety of other possible ingredients
Appearance There’s almost no end to the variation here! Generally speaking they are colourful, sparkly powders.
Usage rate Up to 100%
Texture Super fine powders to almost glitter-like flakes.
Scent None
Solubility Insoluble, though some of the added pigments may be oil or water soluble.
Why do we use it in formulations? Micas contribute colour and shimmer to our products. They easily incorporate into products without the need for extensive mixing or grinding (grinding is generally discouraged as it can dull the shine of the mica).

In low amounts the add visible colour and a bit of shimmer that is visible in the product, but does not carry through to the skin.

In higher concentrations they can be used as the primary colourant and shimmer agent in products like eyeshadows and highlighters.

Do you need it? Coloured micas are a very important part of creating makeup; if you don’t want to (or can’t) use them you will be limited in the sorts of cosmetics you can create.
Strengths Coloured micas are an easy to work with, shimmery colour option for cosmetics. They produce stunning end products!
Weaknesses Micas are not as strongly pigmented as pure pigments like iron oxides, and they are very shimmery so they aren’t a great option if you want a matte product.

Because coloured micas are such a wide category there is a lot of variation. There are many different shades of every colour you can imagine, which can create problems if you are trying to re-create a colour and a mica is discontinued. You’ll likely be able to find something similar, but there are so many available that you may never find the exact same one again depending on how unique it is.

If you are allergic to mica you should avoid coloured micas.

Alternatives & Substitutions For colour/pigmentation you can look to pigments like iron oxides, lake dyes, and carmine. You will need a fraction of the amount as pigments are significantly more potent than coloured micas. It is hard to replace the shimmer; glitter can give some sparkle, but it’s not the same.
How to Work with It Generally speaking you’ll want to stir in micas after the grinding part of a recipe is over. They usually are not heat sensitive, but make sure you’re checking the INCI of each mica as some pigments (like carmine or FD&C red #7) can be pH sensitive.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, coloured micas should last indefinitely—but you should always double check with your supplier given the wide variety of ingredients that can be used in coloured micas.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks If you are vegan or a soap maker be sure to check the pigment lists for non-vegan pigments (carmine) and pH sensitive pigments that might shift during saponification (carmine, ferric ferrocyanide).
Recommended starter amount 10g (0.35oz) or less per colour until you know you love it! The ~6g samplers that TKB Trading offers are fantastic.
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon. TKB Trading has an incredible selection!

Some Formulations that Use Coloured Mica


What is it? A highly potent red-pink pigment that is derived from the cochineal beetle.
Appearance You can purchase it as a brightly coloured fine powder or pre-dispersed in castor oil as a liquid dye.
Texture Fine powder.
Scent Nothing noticeable.
pH stability Not great—it will discolour in extreme pH situations, so it’s not useful for soaps. Check this out for more info.
Solubility Water, but the powder version is so fine that it can also be easily dispersed in oils and used in lipsticks and the like.
Why do we use it in formulations? Its incredible colour is unmatched in hue and potency in the natural world. Swoon!
Do you need it? If you want to make cosmetics and you like bright reds, purples, corals, and pinks, you need either carmine or a similarly hued FD&C red.
Refined or unrefined? Refined—some readers have purchased a version much closer to beetle form, and I have no idea how you’d work with that!
Strengths Incredible colour and potency.
Weaknesses Not vegan, and it’s fairly pricey (though so potent that it works out fairly well in the end).
Alternatives & Substitutions There are many lake dyes that are similar in hue to carmine. The potency is also quite similar, and you likely won’t notice any difference. Be sure to watch the maximum allowable lip concentration + solubility of each dye and make sure that is compatible with the formulation you are following.

You can also use red iron oxide in most places where you aren’t counting on the carmine to dissolve in water, but that will only work if you don’t actually care about the colour of the final product as they are very different colours. So, SO different! Carmine is a bright, cool pink-red, while red iron oxide is a brickish brown-red. A colour blend for purple that uses carmine will be brown if you use red iron oxide. Ditto for a colour blend for any sort of bright coral. Red iron oxide is really muddy and, well, not the same colour. At all.

I’ve made several videos that show the differences between carmine and the things people usually ask me about using as alternatives—watch ’em! That way you’ll get to see carmine and the other pigments in action and get a better understanding of what I’m talking about. The most relevant ones are the Scottish Rose Salve (carmine vs. red iron oxide) and the Snow White Lip Stain videos.

How to Work with It I love it in tinted lip balms, lipsticks, lip glosses, powdered cosmetics, and lip stain. In short, it’s amazing anywhere you want a bright red/pink, clear purple, or eye-catching coral hue.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, carmine will last indefinitely. The stuff that has been pre-dispersed in castor oil will go off whenever the castor oil goes rancid, which will likely be in the 1 to 2 year range.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Carmine has been used as a pigment by the Aztecs, and was brought to Europe in the 16th century. You’ve also likely eaten carmine—it’s often one of the “natural colours” used in foods.
Recommended starter amount 10g (0.35oz)
Where to Buy it  In the USA, TKB Trading is a fantastic choice. In Canada, the UK, and the EU, The Aroma Shoppe is a good option. They ship out of The Netherlands, but the stuff I ordered arrived (in Canada) quickly, and shipping was cheaper than it would’ve been if I’d ordered from within Canada. The price also cannot be beat!

Some Formulations that Use Carmine

Titanium Dioxide

What is it? Titanium dioxide (TiO2) is the naturally occurring oxide of titanium.
Appearance Bright white powder
Texture A dry, dusty, relatively fine powder.
Scent Nothing remarkable, perhaps a bit dust-like
Solubility You can purchase both a water dispersible and an oil dispersible version, with the oil version being significantly more useful for most DIY applications (especially cosmetics).
Why do we use it in formulations? It brings wonderful opacity and brightness, and helps boost adhesion in cosmetics.
Do you need it? If you want to make cosmetics, absolutely. Zinc oxide will not do!
Refined or unrefined? You’ll want non-micronized oil dispersible titanium dioxide.
Strengths Its opacity, coverage, and adhesion are unrivalled. It’s very versatile in cosmetics.
Weaknesses It’s a bit difficult to blend into oil bases without pre-grinding it.
Alternatives & Substitutions None, in the vast majority of circumstances. If a soap recipe calls for a bit of titanium dioxide to whiten it you can probably get away with zinc oxide instead, but in any sort of cosmetic application, if titanium dioxide is what the recipe calls for, use titanium dioxide.
How to Work with It It’s a must-have in cosmetics, and great for making white soap. As with all fine powders, use a dust mask when working with it to avoid inhaling it.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, the shelf life of titanium dioxide is indefinite.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks It’s a key ingredient in many sunscreens, but DO NOT make your own sunscreen!
Recommended starter amount 100g (3.3oz) or less. If you’re just making makeup you could probably get away with half that—you’ll use more for soap.
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Titanium Dioxide

Iron Oxides

What is it? Potent powdered mineral pigments.
Appearance Fine powdered pigment available in brick red, yellow, black, and brown.
Texture Fine, light powder.
Scent Nothing noticeable.
Solubility Insoluble
Why do we use it in formulations? For colour—especially colour that we want to be strong enough to carry over to the skin (cosmetics).
Do you need it? If you want to make cosmetics you absolutely need iron oxides.
Refined or unrefined? The only versions you can purchase are synthesized and refined; while iron oxides do occur naturally there are heavy metal contamination concerns, so the wild-harvested variety is not legal for sale. Learn how they’re made by watching this video.
Strengths Because they’re so strong, only a little is needed (I recommend grabbing Precision Scale and/or a set of these tiny measuring spoons to measure them out accurately).
Weaknesses They’re only available in a handful of very earthy colours—no classic red lipstick shades here, sadly.
Alternatives & Substitutions You can look at synthetic FD&C/D&C lake dyes as an alternative, though those colours are usually significantly brighter—iron oxides are where it’s at for more natural hues (they’re especially necessary for foundation). Dyes are also dyes and will stain the skin. Sometimes this is desired (lip stains, for instance), but sometimes you really don’t want it (eyeliner that stains the skin).

Natural plant powders (ground botanicals, spices, etc.) are not a good alternative to iron oxides; they are far less pigmented and can oxidize over time.

Chromium oxides perform similarly and are available in green and turquoise colours. Ultramarines also perform similarly and are available in bright blue, lavender, and pink. This sampler pack from TKB Trading includes an excellent selection.

How to Work with It As with all fine powders, be sure to wear a dust mask around it if they’re going to become aerosolized (like if you’re whipping it up in a coffee grinder).
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, iron oxides have an indefinite shelf life.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Start with less than you think you need and work your way up to it! I once accidentally made leg lipstick while trying to make a tinted body butter bar. Also, because iron oxides are insoluble they will settle out of liquid concoctions—this means you’ll want to stir oily concoctions to keep oxides suspended until the oils have cooled and thickened enough to support the weight of the oxides.
Recommended starter amount 10–30g (0.35–1oz)
Where to Buy it Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon. If you’re in the USA (or don’t mind paying international shipping), TKB Trading is an amazing source for pigments.

Some Formulations that Use Iron Oxides