Explaining the Difference Between a Pigment and a Dye and their Use

Choosing the right colour for the right product can be a little bewildering and we have put together this brief overview to help you to understand the differences between the types of colours.

Australian regulatory Authorities regard soap as a "Cosmetic Product" and this means the colour you choose should not be a Technical, Industrial or Commercial Grade, but of cosmetic standard. Many colours from the USA are NOT permitted to be used in soap in Australia, the EU and UK.  "Soap safe" does not mean skin safe in Oz, it just means you can mix them into soap!
All the colours we sell are of the correct Australian standard cosmetic quality.


The Groups:

  • Ultramarines:  These powdered pigments are primarily used for soap colour, and are also used in regular and mineral makeup. These are NOT suitable use in lotions.  Hydrate these powders in some water or oil prior to adding to soap to avoid speckling.  Because these are pigments, they won't bleed when used in your soap.

  • Oxides:  These are strong, powdered pigments.  Cosmetic oxides are highly refined pigments and purified to make them suitable for use on the skin.  They are processed, refined and cleaned which distinguishes them from the oxides used for pottery and paints, and this allows them to be approved for use in cosmetics.  Suitable for soap and Mineral Make Up.  Hydrate these powders in some water prior to adding to soap to avoid speckling.  Because these are pigments, they won't bleed when used in your soap.

  • Lakes:  These colours are made by absorbing the dye on a substrate of pigment.  This means they will bleed less in your soap, but will still bleed a little. These include some FD & C colours, but not all.  Lakes are less prone to fading than regular FD & C colours, and bleeding is also slightly reduced.

  • FD & C Colours:  These letters stand for: Food, Drugs & Cosmetics - and are approved for use in those products.  These are dyes, and are suitable for soap as well as cosmetics and lip balms. These colours will bleed in soap products, and also fade.

  • D & C Colours: These letters stand for: Drugs & Cosmetics, (but NOT foods) - you can see the theme!  

  • Ext. D & C Colours:  As the name implies, for use in Externally applied Drugs & Cosmetics that DO NOT come in contact with mucous membranes.  They are suitable for soap.

  • Inn addition to these, we stock some specialty cosmetic colours.  These are the Brite Colours.  The Brites are concentrated, liquid form Pigments in "Neon" colours.  We stock a range of cosmetic fluorescent liquid pigments for Cold Processed Soap and Melt & Pour Soap as well as powdered Neon Pigments.  All are suitable for soap and are approved for cosmetics.

  • Our stunning cosmetic Micas and Glitters are high grade, cosmetic colours.  Some are pure pigments, some a mixture of pigments and dyes.  Glitters are not metal based, and so are suitable for water based products, including soap.  All these colours should be used in clear soap only if you want the sparkle, or on top of white soap and Cold Process Soap.  Due to the dye content of some micas, they may bleed or morph in high pH products, so be sure to check the website for details before use.

  • Candle Colours are usually solvent based dyes, and MUST NOT BE USED ON THE SKIN AT ALL, ever.  As they are not to be used for cosmetic or personal care products they are not regulated here or in the USA - beware.  Pigments are not always suitable, especially at high concentration in wicked candles, though we have used a number of our micas and had no issues in all our trials.

Of the above listings, some of the FD & C, D & C and Ext D & C are used in pharmaceuticals, baby products, bath products, oral products, hair products, makeup, fragrance and nail products - but not all from each group are permissible in all categories.  For instance, FD & C Blue No. 1 is permissible in each category, as is F D & C Yellow Nos. 5 & 6, but FD & C Red No. 4 is NOT allowable in pharmaceuticals, bath products & oral products, but IS allowable in baby products.

This is very confusing to begin with, but we have included the above paragraph to illustrate the complexities involved in Colour regulation in Australia.

To add to the confusion, is the fact that depending on the application, the same pigment or dye can give amazingly different results. Further considerations are the colour of your base, pH and method of production. A colourant can be a dye in one medium and a pigment in another (ie FD & C Yellow No. 5 is a dye in water and a pigment in oil). So even though we have tested and tried ALL the colours we sell, we still urge you to sample test before using in an important or large project.

"Pigments are insoluble in the medium in which they are used." The term pigment with reference to our colours refers to colours that will not bleed or mutate in your MP or CP soap. If the word "Pigment" is in the name and description, this won't bleed in your soap.

"Dyes are soluble in the vehicle in which they are used - ie dissolved in alcohol, glycerine, water, oil." Dyes tend to be more vibrant, "in your face" colours, but are not the "Neon" colours (Brites).

Lakes are very stable in Melt & Pour Soap and we have had only a little bleeding or colour migration. Pigments are the best for Melt & Pour, no bleeding. Creative projects do sometimes require the migration of colour, so each does have its place.

As a general rule dyes will be much more likely to migrate or bleed in Melt & Pour Soap and are also more likely to be affected by pH of Cold Processed Soap. We have chosen the most stable FD & C dyes to stock.

Can I Mix Pigments and Dyes Together?

YES!  There is no problem mixing dyes with pigments to make the colour you desire.  But remember, if you add a dye, to a pigment, the dye component of that blend may have a tendency to migrate in Melt and Pour Soap.  The graphic below uses both liquid and powdered colour.

Suggested Usages and Rates:

  • Liquid Melt & Pour Colours:  Depending on the depth of colour, we suggest you start with about 10 drops per 500g of Base and work up from there. Our colours are all concentrated and application and personal likes and dislikes will guide your usage.  The Brites will get *bolder* as you add more colour, and eventually true fluoro at full strength, and the pigments get deeper and stronger.  Remember by adding an opacifier such as Titanium dioxide or White Pearl Mica that this will affect the amount of colour needed to gain the shade you desire.

  • Dry Dyes:  Approximately 1/4 to 1 teaspoon of powdered colour will colour between 2 and 4 kg of soap - depending on depth of colour.

  • Dry Pigments:  Approximately 1 to 3 teaspoons of powdered pigment will colour between 2 and 3kg of soap

  • Ultramarines versus Oxides:   We have personally found that we use 1/3 the quantity of Oxides in comparison to Ultramarines - we have found them to be very strong (particularly Red oxide). However, for a gentle colour there is nothing to stop adding Titanium Dioxide or White Pearl Mica to your oxides to make a more subtle shade.

  • Micas:  We mostly recommend the micas for Melt & Pour Soap and body products and dusting on Cold Process Soap.  However good results have been achieved with Cold Processed Soap, particularly when a swirl technique is used.  Micas need light to be reflected to be seen at their best. If you wish to high light your colour, just add White Pearl Mica and it will pearlise any of your colours. 

Will they keep?

If you purchase a powdered colour, it will keep indefinitely if kept in a sealed opaque or dark container.  If it is in a translucent container, just pop it into a cupboard.

If you mix your colours in water, (please use distilled water) be aware this will grow bacteria (like a lotion without a preservative) eventually.  If suspended in oil or glycerine, the normal shelf life of the medium applies. If stored for a period of time without use, liquid colours will need a good shake or stir as they may settle.

If you purchase our liquid colours, most have a shelf life of 2 - 3 years.

© Aussie Soap Supplies® 2014