Beetroot Red Lips: Natural Versus Synthetic Coloring in Cosmetics

Beetroot Red Lips: Natural Versus Synthetic Coloring in Cosmetics

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Blog : Beetroot Red Lips: Natural Versus Synthetic Coloring in Cosmetics

By : Marilyn Waite (Follow on Twitter @WaiteMarilyn) | Date : 2016-07-09

Beetroot Red Lips: Natural Versus Synthetic Coloring in Cosmetics

Part of traveling includes purchasing consumer products—often in the form of a souvenir or item viewed as unique to a particular location. Think of lava scrubs from Iceland or chocolate from Ecuador. In this article we will take a look at what constitutes sustainable ingredients for cosmetics so that you can better choose for your next purchase.


Many people would rather put on lipstick made from an orange peel than one made from a petrochemical. But when it comes to coloring in cosmetics, the choice is not always clearly presented. From large retail chains such as Mac and Sephora, to smaller boutiques and direct sales distribution chains such as Mary Kay and Avon, color is a key component of attracting customers. There are literally thousands of lipstick and eye shadow colors. The different shades can have cultural, activity-based, and even “era” significance. Bright red lipstick was popular in 2014 while dark red lipstick was popular in the 19th and 20th centuries. Halloween is a popular time in the United States to use darker shades of cosmetics to accompany costumes. Many make-up experts will recommend “day make-up” and “night make-up,” indicating that there is a correlation between daytime and nighttime activities and the suitable colors of one’s cosmetics. Some industries, such as the theatrical and media sectors, heavily depend on different colors and shades in cosmetics. Many items fall under the cosmetics category, including soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, sunscreens, coloring products and scented products. Under the umbrella of “coloring products,” one finds eye shadow, lipstick, nail polish and hair dye. We will take a closer look at make-up, primarily the omnipresent lipstick.


The basic ingredients of lipstick can either be petroleum-based or natural, or some mixture of both. Common natural constituents include beeswax and various oils (such as olive oil and castor oil). On the other hand, hydrocarbons such as petrolatum are also used. But let’s assume that the foundational elements of lipstick are from renewable, bio-based sources. In the end, the final and important step to the finished product is adding the color.


On the synthetic side, primary colors FD&C Red 40, FD&C Yellow 5, and FD&C Blue 1 (FD&C refers to food, drugs and cosmetics) are commonly used and mixed to produce thousands, if not millions, of shades. Producers often mix titanium dioxide and red shades to create pink lipsticks. Some sources of natural colors used in cosmetics include annatto, beet, beta-carotene from goods such as carrots, carmine (produced from scale insects), grape, paprika, saffron, and turmeric.



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About 70,000 insects are needed to produce a pound of carmine dye.


So why does the coloring source matter?


Some argue that synthetic coloring is more shelf-stable and lasts longer than the natural alternatives. On the other hand, synthetic coloring contributes to the unnecessary depletion of scarce resources such as petroleum. In addition, synthetic colors may be cancer-causing agents. Synthetic color or FD&C colors are mostly derived from coal tar; and according to Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Cosmetic Database, coal tar is a skin and respiratory toxicant (the European Union has banned it for use in cosmetic products). Both natural and synthetic coloring can provoke allergic reactions in some users (such as dry cheilitis on the lips).


Labeling depends on the jurisdiction and the cosmetic company’s marketing. Still, “natural” versus “synthetic” ingredients is not completely foreign to many consumers. In the United States, the addition of any color additive, whether natural or synthetic, implies that the product is artificial for labeling standards. Here are a few tips for deciding on color elements in cosmetics:

  1. Become familiar with the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI).
  2. Be aware that the word “organic” in coloring can sometimes be used to describe the opposite of an “inorganic” chemical composition and does not mean that the ingredient is natural or bio-based.
  3. The word “lake” is a term used for pigments or dyes that are precipitated with metal salts such as aluminum, calcium, barium, or others. Lake dyes may be derived from naturally occurring plant ingredients, but the majority of lake dyes are synthetically produced from coal tar or petroleum.
  4. Check out the brands that use natural coloring. Brands such as Burt’s Bees and Natura are known for using natural colors for their cosmetics.

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