August 26, 2012 by thesoapalchemist
Many of us, for a variety of reasons have made a commitment to use only natural colorants in our soaps and cosmetics. We’ve attracted customers who seek out natural alternatives to synthetic content. For them, we artfully use herbal infusions, dried botanicals and clays to show just what can be possible by using natural ingredients, and also how good the resulting products can be.
How do you get brighter colors in natural soap?
When I see flashier colored soaps made by other natural soap crafters it obviously attracts my attention. In my hunt for a brighter blue and a bolder green than my natural options can provide, I’ve emailed a few of these crafters, asking if they’d share what they used for color. The answer I get is always mica, ultramarine blue, or oxide, along with a description of how natural each is.
Cosmetic mineral colorants are synthetic, but “chemically identical” due to safety issues.
Unfortunately, the FDA’s stringent guidelines concerning cosmetic minerals practically require them to be synthetically produced. I looked into the FDA guidelines and discovered that the ingredients needed to make the colorants can be synthetic as well. I decided to ask my suppliers about the “naturalness” of their mineral colorants, hoping perhaps they were at least lab created using natural ingredients. Each responded via email, explaining that while “chemically identical,” the FDA requires cosmetic mineral colorants to be synthetic for safety reasons. Synthesizing these colorants in the controlled environment of a laboratory eliminates problems with impurities and heavy metal contamination. Synthesis is also relatively inexpensive compared to the high cost of purifying naturally obtained minerals. And, mineral colorants that are particularly rare in nature can be made in abundance synthetically (similar to the reasons for making synthetic sandalwood (endangered!) and jasmine ($1900/lb!!) fragrance oils).
Should you be told if the diamond you’re purchasing is a lab created, “chemically equivalent” cultured diamond or a naturally occurring diamond?
The suppliers all stated that the synthesized pigments were “chemically identical” to what’s found in nature. That’s true. And the heightened safety of the product is a wonderful benefit. However, “chemically identical to natural,” doesn’t mean “natural.” Cultured diamonds are chemically identical to natural diamonds, yet they are simply not the gift from nature that natural diamonds are. I would be outraged to discover the natural diamond I purchased was in fact a synthetic diamond. Likewise, marketing soaps as “natural” when they are colored with ingredients having synthetic components, is simply dishonest.
Here are some resources you might find interesting, regarding the manufactured nature of these minerals.
Iron Oxides; including Yellow, Orange, Red, Brown, Black
The FDA regulations specify “synthetically prepared oxides” and not simply “oxides” as colorants. Further, an explanation is given as to how the synthetically prepared oxides are to be created, stating that the ingredients can be from either natural or synthetic sources. The colorants are exempt from certification, but NOT exempt from regulation. Iron oxides must meet FDA standards to be used in cosmetics.
Source: FDA 21CFR73.2250 specifies “Synthetically Prepared Oxides” http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=73.2250
Ultramarine Blue Oxide:
The FDA color additive regulations specify that “The color additive ultramarine blue is a blue pigment obtained by calcining a mixture of kaolin, sulfur, sodium carbonate, and carbon at temperatures above 700 deg. C. Sodium sulfate and silica may also be incorporated in the mixture in order to vary the shade.” Ultramarine blue oxide is also exempt from certification, but it is not exempt from regulation. The FDA regulations outline how the regulated color is synthetically produced (as opposed to naturally occurring), but does not specify whether natural or non-natural raw ingredients can be used. Synthetic versions of all the ingredients listed are available. Was your Ultramarine Blue Oxide made with the synthetics, or the naturals? Can your supplier tell you? If you don’t know, is it right to use it and call your product “all natural?”
Chromium Green (Chrome III Oxide, Viridian), and also Chromium Cobalt Aluminum Oxide
Due to the rarity and expense of naturally occurring chromium, synthetically produced hydrated chromium oxide is the form in general use as a pigment. A similar colorant, Hydrated Chromium Green, is lab created from naturally occurring ingredients. http://www.naturalpigments.com/detail.asp?PRODUCT_ID=427-15S, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromium%28III%29_oxideSee FDA 21CFR73.2326. Another similar colorant, Chromium Cobalt Aluminum Oxide is a blue-green pigment approved for use in drugs, and can be created from naturally occurring or synthetically produced ingredients. See FDA 21CFR73.1015. SO, is your “Chromium Green Oxide” the synthetically made of synthetic ingredients Chromium Green, or the “Hydrated Chromium Green,” which contains natural raw ingredients but is synthetically made, or is it “Chromium Cobalt Aluminum Oxide,” which could have been made from all natural ingredients or maybe not? Does your supplier know? How natural is your “natural green oxide?”
Mica and Mica-based Pearlescent Pigment
See FDA 21CFR73.2496 (cosmetic mica) and FDA 21CFR73.1496 (Mica) and FDA 21CFR73.1350 (mica-based pearlescent pigment). Mica-based pigments are exempt from certification, but not exempt from regulation.
White powdered mica is obtained from a naturally occurring mineral called Muscovite Mica. However, the colorful mica “pigment powders” approved for cosmetic use are lab created using either naturally occurring or synthetic ingredients by “depositing titanium salts onto mica, followed by heating to produce titanium dioxide on mica.” Do you know if your mica pigments were made from natural raw ingredients, or with chemically equivalent synthetic ones? If you don’t know, is it right to use them and call your product “natural?”
With my chemistry background, and belief that through science, our world is a better, safer place, I am hardly the person to put down lab created materials or products. Synthetic does not equal bad, nor does natural equal safe. However, I market my soaps as being colored “naturally.” Since the synthetic content of “chemically equivalent” cosmetic minerals is unknown or not disclosed, I will not use Ultramarines, Oxides or Mica’s in my “naturally” colored soaps.