What makes up the color in your cosmetics?

Ever wonder where the color in your cosmetics comes from? Back in the day, the ancient Egyptians got their reds from digging up tinted clay in the ground and yellows from henna. Now, cosmetics colorants are a bit more manufactured and differ in how they’re produced and the amount of toxins they contain.

There are three kinds of colorants used today: organic, inorganic and natural. Organic colorants are those made with carbon (not “organic” like how it’s used for food or USDA certification). Inorganic colorants are compounds that are not carbon-based. Natural colorants typically come from botanical, plant-based sources. While minerals are considered natural in the most common definition of the word, they’re considered inorganic colorants because they have to be treated in a lab to make them safe for human use.

Organic compounds are the ingredients you see on labels that follow the formula “Color + Number”, like “Yellow 6” or “Red 4.” Sometimes, they’ll be followed by the term “lake.” These synthetic colors are called FD&C’s (colorants approved for Food, Drugs & Cosmetics) and D&C’s (colorants approved for Drugs and Cosmetics). One note, Red 4 is the same as carmine, the infamous deep-red colorant created from crushed bugs.  

Then, there are inorganic colorants like mineral-based ingredients iron oxide and zinc oxide. Finally, in the natural colorant category are plant-based pigments like beetroot and pink carrot pigments. The natural plant-based ingredients in HAN’s products, like beetroot and carrot extract, function primarily as skincare ingredients with antioxidant properties which incidentally lends itself to providing natural and healthy color.

Through the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t approve cosmetics products before they hit the shelves, the FDA does have approval power over colorants. All color additives have to go through the FDA before they can be used as cosmetics ingredients. Still, there is much left desired in the FDA’s oversight and regulation of toxins in colorants.

Each category differs in the amount of heavy metals they typically contain. Organic compounds like the FD&C and D&C colorants typically have higher percentages of heavy metals, while inorganic and natural pigments are less likely to contain heavy metals, or at much lower incidental levels. The most exposed we are to heavy metals, the greater their impact on our health.

By using plant and mineral-based colors instead of FD&C’s and D&C’s, HAN aims to develop safer and healthier cosmetics that reduce our exposure to toxic chemicals.