Soap Colorants & Fragrance

Written by penny luna
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  • Introduction

    Soap Colorants & Fragrance

    Centuries ago, soap was made by the householder using basic, natural ingredients. Today, soap can be found in an ever-expanding range of colours and scents. Once dyed from plants and scented with flowers, soap has become a carrier of a variety of colourants and fragrance, both natural and artificial. Synthetic dyes and fragrant oils have become the latest and greatest soap ingredients, and it seems that our saponified creations hardly resemble the soap of yesteryear.

    (lavender soap. spa image by joanna wnuk from

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    Fragrance Oils

    The first synthetic fragrances appeared in the late 1800s, and due to "trade secret" laws, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is limited in its authority over the ingredients used in these chemically created scents. Made from synthetic ingredients, fragrance oils were produced to simulate essential oils, as well as nearly any other scent a person could think of. Fragrant oils, predominately made from fabricated chemicals, may smell good but they usually don't measure up to high-quality oils.

    Most soaps today are synthetically scented (fragrances image by pgm from

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    Essential Oils

    Natural oils have been used in soap for more than 2,000 years. Derived from individual plants and flowers, essential oils not only give soap a wonderfully natural fragrance, they also share their medicinal properties through aroma therapy. Essential oils are more potent than fragrant oils, leaving a longer-lasting scent. Traditional oils used to fragrance soap include lavender, patchouli, sandalwood, rose, pine and jasmine.

    Lavender is a traditional scent still used in soap today (bumblebee image by Ruben Enger from

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    Organic in composition, pigments are what give something its colour. Used as a colourant for soap, many pigments are prized for their reliability, durability and blending qualities. Pigments used for soap colourants were once made from natural oxides found in minerals, but since 1970 they have been created within a laboratory. Some examples of pigments that are used as colourants are iron oxide, ultra marine blue made from powdered lapis lazuli, and Indian red created from ferric oxides.

    Once made from natural oxides, most pigments used in soap today are created within a laboratory. (pigment image by Allyson Ricketts from

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    Liquid Dyes

    Food and fabric dyes reside in this category. These colourants include the vast array of FD&C and D&C colourants used in many products today. Derived from coal tar and sometimes tested on animals for their safety, they are widely used in soap products to produce the array of coloured soaps that you can buy to coordinate with your bathroom decor

    Artificial dyes are easy to use and allow for unlimited colour possibilities in soap. (Blue ink in the water on a white background image by Nadezda Kraft from

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    Natural Botanical Colorants

    Natural plant dyes do not produce the vibrant or consistent colours that artificial colourants do, and they can be more expensive to use. Dyes made from plants are natural, safe and not tested on animals. The chemical composition of soap makes some plant dyes difficult to use, but there are a couple that remain stable in the saponifying process, such as turmeric and paprika. Other natural colourants include cocoa powder, beet juice, annatto and saffron.

    Plant dyes were the first colourants used in soap. (les épices image by lucastor from

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