ingredient profile: ultramarines, oxides and micas

This is the beginning of a new series of posts I'll be doing that explain the ingredients I use at Dot & Lil and why I choose to use them. Watch out for a series of video blog posts coming in 2011 on this subject, too.

Today I wanted to talk about the colorants I use in Dot & Lil products.

ingredient: ultramarines, oxides and micas
name in INCI as listed on our ingredient list: oxide, mica, ultramarine
commonly known as: mineral-based colorants, pigments
found in Dot & Lil's: soap
why it's there: to give the soap various colors and create patterns, like in our Honeysuckle soap pictured below.
usage rate: less than %5 of any formulation

Dot & Lil soaps are colored using oxides, micas and ultramarines. So, what are these? They are mineral based colorants that are designated as safe for body care applications. They are also used in a wide variety of industries from glass manufacturing to electricity and paper. I chatted with a potter over the holidays who uses them to color her ceramics. They are among many cosmetic ingredients that are lab-recreated or lab-altered from their original existence in nature. Iron oxides, for example, are natural--but they naturally contain so many toxins that it is safer to mine iron salts instead, and convert those into iron oxides in a lab. And micas, which we use to color most of our soaps, are natural but are often processed somewhat in a lab to make them safe and free of contaminants. Lab environments are, of course, controlled, predictable environments while nature is anything but!

Some people choose to think of oxides, ultramarines and micas as natural. Others, because of the lab-altering or lab-recreating, feel that these are no longer natural materials and should be categorized as synthetic. One thing that becomes clear the more you research skin care and ingredients is that everyone defines natural differently! In this case, the lab processing is what makes this ingredient extremely safe and purer than it could be in it's original state in nature.

So, what are the alternatives as colorants and why did I choose to work with mineral colorants? There are two main alternatives.

Coloring only with herbs, flowers and organic materials such as annatto powder, cocoa powder and indigo. I choose not to go this route as I appreciate the wide range and selection of aesthetic options provided to me by the mineral colorant palette. Herb-obtained colors are often lovely, but they are also less consistently achievable, and do frequently fade out of the final product. Indigo and chlorophyll can provide some beautiful soap colors but they won't remain permanently. The palette offered by natural colorants is quite earthen and while that's a beautiful look, it's not Dot & Lil's! Some of my soaps are colored with these, though. The Chocolate soap and the Sugar & Spice soap are colored with cocoa, for example.

The other option is synthetic dyes, usually FD & C colorants (Food, Drug & Cosmetic). These are the same dyes used in foods. Besides any health concerns some people may have about synthetic colorants used in food or cosmetics, these colorants "bleed" in soap and so are not great for the swirly and layered patterns I love so much! In my honeysuckle soap, for example, the color layers would bleed into each other. There are also D & C colorants, which are much the same but are not approved for use in food.

Are there health concerns surrounding the use of micas, ultramarines and oxides? The only issue here is occupational hazards involving long-term inhalation of small particles. I wear a mask whenever dealing with micas, oxides and any other small particles (like mixing the dry ingredients for Dot & Lil milk bath).

If you have any questions, please ask!

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xoxo, Anne + the Dot & Lil Team