Natural Colorants in Soap Making

Natural Can Be Wonderful

A mound of activated (or active) carbon powder (also called activated coal or charcoal) from a water filter.
Ken Brown/E+/Getty Images

While color may be a purely aesthetic feature of soap, it adds great interest and variety and is a place for you to show your crafting creativity.

There are micas, liquid dyes, oxides and natural colorants as well. Though usually not as vibrant as synthetic colors, natural colorants can be just as lovely.

Many of the ingredients can be found in your kitchen, your grocery, or from soap making suppliers.

Many of them are already used to color common foods and drugs. (Annatto is what gives macaroni and cheese its orange color. Cochineal is used to color Hawaiian Punch.)

Here are some of my favorite options, and the color they impart:

  • Activated Charcoal - usually made from bamboo, gives a gray to deep black color depending on use. Great for dramatic contrast, or subtle lines
  • Alfalfa – medium green
  • Alkanet – steep in oil first - deep purple to muted blue
  • Annatto Seed – steep in oil first - it makes a yellow/orange - (it's the color of "macaroni and cheese")
  • Beet Root – muted pinkish beige to muted pinkish dull brown
  • Bentonite clay - off white to a light ivory-green
  • Black walnut hull - speckled purple-brown
  • Ground Calendula Petals - yellow - speckled throughout
  • Carrots, shredded or ground - yellow to orange
  • Carrot juice (black) - light pinkish brown
  • Ground Chamomile – yellow-beige
  • Chamomile (German) essential oil - light pastel green
  • Chlorophyll - medium greens
  • Cinnamon - tan to brown – can be an irritant
  • Cloves, ground – brown
  • Cochineal powder – light to deep red depending on amount used
  • Cocoa powder– brown
  • Coffee/coffee grounds - brown to black
  • Comfrey Root – light milky brown
  • Cornmeal, blue - purplish-blue-brown
  • Cucumber – bright to pale green - peel can be used in a more speckled way
  • Curry powder - yellow
  • Elderberries – steep in lye solution – light brown
  • Green tea powder - brownish-greenish - speckled
  • Henna, ground - olive to deep drab green - brown
  • Indigo root - deep blues - caution, can stain
  • Jojoba beads - come in many colors, and add exfoliation too
  • Kaolin Clay - white to off-white
  • Kelp/seaweed - green
  • Madder root - rosy red - purple
  • Milk (goats or cow's) - tan to brown, depending upon sugar & fat content
  • Morrocan Red Clay - Brick Red
  • Olive leaf powder - warm ochre/brown color
  • Orange juice - used in place of water for lye solution - nice pastel orange/beige
  • Paprika – light orange peach to orange-brown - can be an irritant
  • Poppy Seeds - Blue-grey to light black specks
  • Pumice, ground - grey
  • Pumpkin, pureed - lovely deep orange
  • Rattanjot – light lavender-brown to deep purplish chocolate brown
  • Rhassoul clay - a light speckled gray-brown
  • Rose Pink Clay - Brick red
  • Rosehip seeds, ground - light tan to deep brown
  • Safflower Petals- yellow to deep orange
  • Saffron - yellows
  • Sage - green
  • Sandalwood powder (red) - deep purplish brown - nice speckles
  • Spearmint - greenish brown
  • Spinach – light muted green
  • Spirulina/Blue-Green Algae – light pastel green to blue-green
  • Titanium Dioxide - bright white

Note: Unless you've used this colorant before, or are following someone else's recipe, it's important to do some simple tests before you throw a bunch of carrots or seaweed into your soap.

Check out Testing Natural Colorants in Soap for more information.