At Credo we want everyone to feel good about their color cosmetics. We do our very best to keep up-to-date on the most current research. We learn as much as we can about the dyes and pigments used in the brands we sell.
Understanding Color Basics: How are cosmetics colored?
Originally, colors that were used for art and beautification were all naturally-derived, from plants, animals, insects and minerals. There is evidence of this in early cave paintings, and artifacts from early civilizations. Color was central to people’s lives, and people pulled and extracted them from all kinds of materials found in nature. But back in the early 20th century, it was discovered that some of the colors extracted from natural sources (mostly minerals) had trace amounts of lead, copper and arsenic - and people were getting sick. So chemists began artificially synthesizing colors from coal extracts and derivatives. But not long after that, coal, and its coal tar derivatives, were also found to be toxic, and soon became tightly regulated by the FDA.
Today, colors derived from coal tar are no longer approved or allowed by the FDA (or by Credo!) - so laboratory synthesized colors, used in food and cosmetics, are now derived solely from petroleum derivatives. And yet again, over the last few decades, these too have become cause for concern. In fact, every few years another dye is taken off the FDA approved list, while others become more tightly restricted.
Colors are divided into two groups, artificial (synthetic) and natural.
You can tell an artificial color because they are indicated by the letters F D & C, or just D&C, or sometimes just as the name of a color with a number, (like Red 40) and the word LAKE. If you see any of these names in an ingredient list for a lipstick, blush, eye shadow or bronzer, you will know immediately that the colors they are using are artificial and derived from petroleum.
What do the letters stand for? F D & C means that the FDA has approved these artificial colors safe for use in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics. When you see D & C, the dye is not safe to ingest, but safe for use in Drugs and Cosmetics (topically). And the word “LAKE” that follows the F D & C, along with the number code of the pigment, means that the particular dye is dispersed in an oil base, and not soluble in water. Lake colors tend to stay longer, and look more even and consistent, and that is why we often find them in cosmetics that are cream, wax and oil based.
Natural dyes and pigments are from plants, minerals (like iron oxides), insects and animals. However, naturally derived doesn’t automatically mean that they are totally toxic-free. Plant derived dyes, like from beets, are water-soluble and therefore require heavy duty preservatives in order to inhibit mold, yeast and bacteria proliferation. So, although the dye itself may be totally harmless, the other ingredients needed to help keep it stable end up making it more questionable.
In addition to the preservative issue, natural dyes and pigments also have challenges maintaining their longevity; they tend to fade and disperse much more quickly over time than artificial colors. Mineral colors, which you would see listed as mica, oxides and ultramarine, are generally regarded as much healthier alternatives to the artificial colors, however they too can also bring about concerns of heavy metal residue (like aluminum substrates for example) and toxicity, and the infiltration of nanoparticles into our organ systems.
How to navigate the color components on an Ingredient listing:
When deconstructing a cosmetic formulation, the color is always listed at the end. This means its percentage in the formula is often 5% or less. This is good news when considering the pros and cons of choosing make-up that has either artificial dyes, or natural pigments, because you can make a more educated choice about when and how long to wear the product. It’s also good to take a look at the other ingredients listed and see if there are any components that may enhance the penetration of the skin. If that’s the case, you may want to steer clear of the FD&C colors present in those products, as well as any mineral-based colors known to possess nanoparticles.
Credo carries gorgeously clean brands that practice sustainability and the use of non-toxic ingredients. Some brands make a very conscious choice to use artificial dyes, processed conscientiously with the best safety ratings at lower percentages. As the clean beauty movement continues to influence both consumers and manufacturers, we are seeing a diminished use of synthetic dyes. Shifting the paradigm of how we think about what we put on our skin, means we find ourselves in transition - an exciting middle place where real change is taking place; letting go of what we once thought about beauty and products, and grasping on to new ways of looking, understanding and defining “clean” beauty.
At Credo, we are proud to be leading this bold new movement and supporting brands we believe are making dramatic changes in the world of beauty. And we respect that in this remarkable and exciting time of transition, each brand is moving at their own pace.