Have you ever wondered how long natural colors last in your homemade soap? It can be tricky to know the answer, especially since the longevity of natural colorants can depend on a variety of factors. In this blog post, we’ll answer the question: How long do natural colors last in handmade soap? We’ll also provide tips and advice for learning how to test and troubleshoot using natural colorants in your handmade soap. So, if you’re curious about making your own natural soap, keep reading!
What are natural colorants?
I define natural colors as anything we can extract from a plant. Some great examples are carrots, teas, roots (like alkanet and madder root), or even barks.
The Extracting Color from Nature Master Class series provides all of the nitty gritty details for extracting colors from botanicals, but the general premise for using any natural colorant is:
- Use oil or water to extract the color from the botanical
- Incorporate that extraction into your soap
Update: as I was writing to another soapy friend, I realized that I also consider milks, honey, and cochineal bugs (all of which are not plants!) as natural. In general, I consider it a natural colorant if it’s as close to what nature made without humans interfering in the process and still being safe to use.
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What about Mica, Oxides, or Clays? Aren’t they natural colors?
Micas and Oxides are lab made “nature identical” components. They are made in the lab to be safe for skin use, which is great! But, they are not natural. In their natural state they could cause issues with the soapmaking process and pose issues if used on the skin. So, if you’re focused on making a truly natural soap, skip the mica and oxides, and see what your garden can provide.
Clays post a bit of debate as to whether or not they are natural. I’ve seen so many clays that are for sure not what they claim to be that I’m always leery of clays in general. Many of them are a white kaolin clay with mica added. So, I keep things “for sure” natural and skip the colored clays when making naturally colored handmade soap.
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Why use natural colorants in handmade soap?
For each soaper, the reasoning for why they use natural colorants is a personal one. Many soap makers started making their own soap due to sensitivities or over sensitization to all of the “stuff” in the products we use on a daily basis. Some soap makers simply love the challenge and joy of working with plants.
Whatever your reasoning is (and it could be a simple as: because your customers are asking for it) you’ll quickly find that it’s thrilling to see nature work it’s magic! Whether it’s the first time you see alkanet change from mauve to blue to purple, or the delightful “how freaking cool is that!” when you make orange carrot soap, nature lends many joys to handmade soap colors.
Now, I’m not saying it’s all sunshine and rainbows at first. Learning to use natural colors has it challenges. Ranging from the misinformation available online, to conflicting techniques between different soap making methods, a soaper can spend thousands of dollars testing out just one colorant! That’s why I started Soapy Friends; so you can leverage all of my trial and errors to get a jump on the game and start coloring your soap with nature (while avoiding the many years and failed batches that I went through).
How long do natural colors last in handmade soap?
Now, here’s the real meat of this post, aka, the inspiration for this ramble 😊
When you mention natural colors to soap makers, they are going to tell you that natural colors fade. I personally know soapers who think natural colors aren’t worth it because they fade. We’ll I’m here to bust that myth (or rather, explain and justify it).
First, let’s talk for a moment about when the color has settled (or sometimes you’ll here me say bloom). By “settled” or “bloomed” I mean the point in time when the colorant has stopped reacting with the PH of the soap, and has settled into it’s “final” state. My three favorite examples to illustrate this are alkanet, indigo, and spirulina.
Alkanet: This beauty starts out as a murky gray purple-ish root, infuses into a lovely mauve oil, turns a magical blue when the soap is first made, and then starts to turn purple as it settles. About one week after the soap is cut, the purple is it’s final purple.
Indigo: Fermented indigo is rich dark blue powder that makes a lovely range of blue soaps. It can look way to blue when your soap is wet (like freshly died denim). It can also look gray when first cut. But, much like alkanet, about a week after the soap has been cut, the indigo finishes blooming into all it’s glory and your lovely blues have “settled” into their final state.
Spirulina: A lovely green powder, this colorants is often used to try to create green soaps. But you know what? It’s a tan colorant. Your wet soap, your cut soap, and even soap that’s been curing for a few weeks, may all be green, but they will settle down to a lovey khaki or green-ish tan.
And just for fun, let’s look at one more colorant… Carrots: these little gems are orange from the time you pull them out of the ground, and they stay orange for years after the soap was made. They settle almost immediately, but you will notice a bit of a change from the freshly cut soap to the cured soap.
Once a colorant has settled (it’s becomes the color that it will be for most of it’s lifespan), we can now start talking about fading. Fading is when the colors dissipate and our human eyes can no longer see lovely greens, blues, pinks, etc. We see creamy colored soap. Typically, this happens due to exposure to light and heat. It’s the same reason why leaves turn color in the fall, and why dead plants decompose. Nature is always looking for a way back to the soil so it can start to nourish the next cycle. Our soap is trying to preserve some of that color for a bit longer.
This photo shows all of the colors I created in my book, The Natural Soap Color Palette (also available in the digital edition) And the video is the same soaps 2 years later. You know what? Most of them are all still vibrant and lovely! The few exceptions are the “greens” (you know, the ones that are really khaki colorants like spirulina).
Back to our question: how long with natural colors last in handmade soap? So far, they are exceeding the 2 year mark (when kept away from light).
But, what, in my opinion, is even more important, is that most soaps are used up withing 6 months of being made. The ones that do fade are probably going to be used up before they fade! So yes, many natural colors will fade. Because, well, they are natural! If they didn’t fade, they wouldn’t be natural.
The next time you see a natural color fading, give yourself a pat on the back and know you did it right, and consider using more soap. 😂 The more soap you use, the more soap you can make!
Tips and advice for testing and troubleshooting using natural colorants in your handmade soap
My first tip (and a shameless promotion for The Natural Soap Color Palette and the Master Classes as Soapy Friends for sure… but with good reason) is to get the book, take the classes. You’ll learn more in a few weeks than I was able to learn on my own over many many years. You’ll save yourself oodles of failed batches, avoid the cost of raw materials from those batches, and be set up to learn so much more from the mistakes that are bound to happen when learning a new skill.
Once you’ve got a handle on getting the colors out of nature an into your soap, these tips will help you retain those settled colors and slow down the inevitable fading:
1: Store your soap out of direct sunlight. My favorite solution is a bag. Either a cotton bag, or a paper bag. And, one bag for each soap. This allows the soaps to have enough room around them to breath, keeps the light off of them, and the dust too.
2: Know when your soap is settled. By this, I mean, really test your colors. Test different amounts, and different exposure times. You’ll be surprised to see that some fade quickly at lower usage rates, but can retain much of their color if you add more colorant and let it “settle” to a lighter shade. I like to test new colorants for 4-8 weeks for a “settled” color and about 4-6 months to see if it holds or fades.
3: As mentioned in my book and in the master classes, know your base oils. Know your white, and own it! If you soap with milk, your base color or white will be much different than soapers who use water. To go ahead, make some uncolored soap and see how long it’s color lasts! You might also be interested in this short video chat on understand your base color.
4: Know if your colorants are water or oil soluble. You can start with my FREE botanical color chart which lists most of the common colorants for handmade soap, along with their solubility. I’ve seen many soapers asking why their purple soaps (or rather soap batter) settled to a gray (hint: Alkanet is oil soluble to get a staying settled purple).
5: Finally, understand your additives. Even small amounts of essential oils can really throw off the final settled color of your soap. A great example is orange or patchouli essential oils. They will morph your indigo blues every time. Here’s a great example (along with some cute rubber duckies) in this Wet Soap Wednesday replay.
Bonus tip: Join me and my Soapy Friends on Facebook! The Natural Soap Color Group is filled with soapy friends who have more information, tips, & tricks to share… and we’re all waiting to see your soapy pictures!