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Color Additives in Cosmetics: How to Tell the Good From the Bad

color additives in cosmetics

Deciding what color additives are safe in your makeup can be tricky. At Sacred Child Beauty, we believe everyone has the right to know what’s in the products they’re using. We’re dedicated to educating our readers so they have the information necessary to decide if a product meets their health standards. Color additives are just a few of the many different ingredients that help classify a product as safe or unsafe. Without further ado, let’s get into it.  

Color Additives

There are two categories of color additives: organic and inorganic. Organic colorants are made of carbon atoms and carbon-based molecules while inorganic colorants are made up of mineral compounds. The three different types of organic color additives are synthetic dyes, lakes, and botanicals. The mineral compounds that make up inorganic color additives commonly include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Unlike groceries, the term “organic” for color additives does not mean they’re safer for you. In most cases, it’s actually the opposite. Mineral compounds have no reported adverse health effects when used in cosmetics, while certain synthetic dyes/pigments are linked to irritation when applied to the skin and in serious cases, cancer. It is difficult for companies to avoid all questionable pigments and dyes without sacrificing the quality of the color, which is why they are so commonly used. 

Organic Color Additives

Synthetic Dyes & Lakes

Colorants in this category are synthetically produced from petroleum oil and coal tar derivatives. You can spot these dyes by looking for D&C or FD&C on ingredient lists. While they are known for the bright color they produce, they are carcinogenic and linked to organ system toxicity. 

Lakes are produced from FD&C colors and are accompanied by the same health risks that synthetic dyes pose. These pigments tend to have good stability and deliver strong color payoff when used in cosmetics. Certain lakes are more harmful than others depending on the way they’re derived. When synthetically derived and tested for safety, lakes can be included on an ingredient list and still be considered “clean.” 

Beet root botanical color additive


Botanicals are naturally derived from plants. Some common examples include turmeric, beetroot, and spirulina. While botanicals are the safest and most natural color additives, they don’t perform well in most makeup products. They are difficult to mix, stain easily, and have an unpleasant smell.

Mineral-Based Color Additives

mica color additive in cosmetics


Mica is responsible for the shimmer you see in highlighters and bronzers. While Mica is a safe ingredient, it’s usually harvested from child labor. Luckily, Mica can be synthetically produced in a lab to avoid involvement with an industry that harms and exploits children. At Sacred Child Beauty, we use synthetic mica in our highlighter and bronzer to ensure our products are humanely sourced.


Oxides include iron oxide, zinc oxide, tin oxide and titanium dioxide. These materials are often produced in a lab to remove any heavy-metal contamination. They are gentle on skin and safe for use anywhere on the body.

Here at SCB, we follow Credo Beauty’s strict standards for clean makeup. We use a combination of synthetic and natural ingredients in our products to ensure that all ingredients (especially color additives) in our makeup are sustainably and humanely sourced. 






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