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What are the differences between a Dye, a Pigment, a Lake and a Mica?


A color additive is any dye, pigment or substance that can impart color when added or applied to a food, drug or cosmetic, or to the human body. Color additives may be used in foods, drugs, cosmetics and certain medical devices such as contact lenses.


  Dyes Color additives which are soluble in the medium to which they are added (e.g., water, alcohol, glycerin or oils). Example: food dye used to stain Easter eggs.
  Pigments Color additives which are insoluble in the medium to which they are added. Example: think of sand in the ocean.
  Lakes Lake colors are a blend of dyes and pigments. They are made by taking a pigment substrate (calcium, barium, aluminum or sodium) and dying it with one of the various dyes. For example, FD&C Blue #1 Alum Lake is made by taking aluminum and dying it with FD&C Blue #1 dye.
  Mica A silvery or amber colored mineral which is used to provide shimmer and shine. Mica is often sold as a 'colored mica' meaning that it is mica which has been colored with various dyes, pigments or lakes. For example, Antique Copper Mica is mica which has been colored with iron oxide.

Click here to see examples of each of these color additives as used in soap


The following table shows the advantages and disadvantages to the various color additives

  Dyes Pigments Lakes
Brightness. Very Bright Tend to be deeper in hue, however synthetic pigments have been created which are very bright (such as the TKB Trading Neon pigments). Very Bright

Bleeding. This is a concern in a multicolored soap such as the one the left. The yellow bits were colored with pigments and are behaving nicely. The purple and red bits, however, were made with dyes and are bleeding into the surrounding white soap.

Bleeding can also be a concern with products like lipsticks where the colors can migrate into the edges of the lips, emphasizing wrinkles.

In painting, bleeding is typically not desired, unless one is working in watercolors.

Strong Bleeders Do not bleed. Reduced bleeding

Transparency. In a clear soap, you may want a jewel-like transparency. In a product like a foundation, you often want opacity and coverage, while in a blush you may want a little more transparency. Very Clear Opacifying Somewhat clear; also somewhat opacifying


Tinting Strength. Pure dyes are often very intense, with just a few grains of powder shading a large amount of product. This can make them messy and hard to work with in their pure form.

Pigments vary in their tinting strength. For example, a small amount of red iron oxide will tint your lipstick very well, but yellow oxide as a much lower tinting strength. If you were attempting to make a peach-colored lipstick using these two oxides, you would want to start with yellow and then add a little red to it until you got to the shade you wanted. If you did it the other way around, you might waste a lot of material trying to make the red more yellow.

Intense Moderately intense, with variations color by color. Moderately Intense

Designed by Kaila Westerman, 2000

Natural. The Food and Drug Association (FDA) is the arm of the federal government which regulates the use of color additives in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics. "Natural" color additives are classified by the FDA as colors coming directly from plants or animals. The cosmetic grade natural colors are: annatto, carotene, carmine, caramel, henna. These natural colors are all dyes. There are also plenty of natural dyes which are not approved for use in cosmetics (but are fine in soap) such as turmeric, or chlorophyll. Could be a Natural Dye derived from plants or animals, or could be a Coal Tar Dye, which is not natural.

Coal Tar Dyes have been shown to cause cancer in animals, and they are an irritant to some people.

Iron Oxides, and similar mineral pigments are not, by FDA standards, "Natural", because they are not directly from plants or animals. Instead, they come from minerals.

While considered "natural" by consumers, cosmetic-grade pigments are all man-made in order to meet FDA approval.

Lake colors are always derived from the Coal Tar Dyes and therefore are never considered Natural.

Staining. Staining can be a negative in things like soaps or lotions (if the color is too strong), but it in small amounts a staining color can be very beautiful in these projects.

Also, even if a color is non-staining does not necessary mean it will not be a problem. For example, if you color your bath salts with pigments because you want them to be non-staining, you will find a ring of color around the tub when the water drains out. This is because the pigment does not dissolve in water and so clings to the side of the tub instead of going down the drain.

Staining colors can be a plus in things like lipsticks where you want a "long-lasting" color. This is achieved by actually staining the lips.

Strong stainers No or low staining Moderate stainers

Stability. Dyes are notorious for being fragile when exposed to light. They can also react to salt, which is why we developed our Salt Dyes from the hybrid Lake colors. Can be unstable Tend to be very stable Moderately stable


Morphing. Similar to the issue of stability, some colors, particularly dyes, are sensitive to the acidity or alkalinity (what we call pH) of the product.

In the first photograph, we see FD&C Blue #1 added to Melt and Pour soap. The bottom shows the color in a white soap base, and the upper bar is a clear soap base. FD&C Blue #1 is a common additive for soap and toiletries.

However, FD&C Blue #1 is very sensitive to high pH. In this second photograph, we see the same color additive in a Cold Process soap bar.

What is the difference? Melt and Pour soap base is "premade" and has a pH of around 8. In making Cold Process soap, however, the base oils are added to the highly alkaline lye (sodium hydroxide) and the product does not reach the "neutral" pH of 8 until after several hours. During this time, the color "morphs" to what we see at the left.

Can be unstable Tend to be very stable Moderately stable


Separating. If your product is not solid like a bar of soap or thick like a hand cream, then there is a possibility that your color will not stay suspended.

In this photo we colored liquid soap with glitter. Instead of glitter, we could have used any non-water soluble color such as ultramarine blue pigment or cosmetic grade clay. When the glitter was first stirred into the soap, it colored the entire bottle. If we set the bottle down for a few minutes, however, the heavier glitter begins to fall to the bottom. Eventually, it completely separates from the liquid soap.

Separating is typically only a problem when you are working with thin media such as liquid soap or bubble bath. If you are trying to developing a "matching product line" which includes bar soap, lotion and liquid bubble bath with glittery blue color, you would run into problems. The bar soap would look fine, the lotion -- if it is thick enough -- would keep the glitter in suspension, but the bubble bath would disappoint.

What colors separate? If the color does not dissolve into your medium, but rather suspends in it, then it may separate over time. Typically, dyes (which are water soluble) work well in all media while pigments (which are not water soluble) tend to separate out of the thinner media.

Dyes will not separate, because they dissolve into the medium. Heavy, and will separate over time. The pigment portion of the color will separate out, while the dye portion does not.

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What colors may be used in Tattoos?

TKB Trading, LLC sells Cosmetic Grade pigments and dyes, many of which are suitable for use in Tattoos.


  The information below is reliable but the reader should do their own research. TKB Trading, LLC takes no responsibility for the reader's use of this information.
People have been tattooing themselves for a long time. So, over history, just about anything has been used. Even today, tattooing is unregulated and no testing has been done to prove that the colors used are absolutely safe. However, custom and practice over the years has resulted in a generally accepted list of colors which are expected to perform well and to be safe and non-allergenic. Following is a table which shows pigments which are commonly used in tattoo inks. We have indicated in Bold Face type those colors which our company sells.
Color Pigment Name Pigment Type
Black Iron Oxide (FeO) Inorganic
Black Carbon Black Inorganic
Brown Ochre (Oxide) Inorganic
Red Cadmium Red Inorganic
Red Iron Oxide (Fe2O3) Inorganic
Red Napthol-AS pigment Organic
Red D&C Red #22 Aluminum Lake Organic
Orange disazodiarylide Organic
Orange Napthol-AS pigment Organic
Orange disazopyrazolone Organic
Yellow Cadmium yellow Inorganic
Yellow Curcuma yellow Inorganic
Yellow Iron Oxide Yellow Inorganic
Yellow Chrome Yellow Inorganic
Yellow disazodiarylide Organic
Yellow D&C Yellow #10 Aluminum Lake Organic
Green Monoazo pigment Organic
Green Cu/Al phthalocyanine Organic
Green Chromium Oxide Inorganic
Green Ferrocyanides and Ferricyanides Inorganic
Green Cu-phthalocyanine Organic
Blue Pigment Blue 15 Organic
Blue Azure Blue Inorganic
Blue FD&C Blue #1 Aluminum Lake Organic
Blue Cobalt Blue Inorganic
Violet Manganese Violet Inorganic
Violet Quinacridone Organic
Violet Dioxazine/carbazole Organic
White Titanium dioxide (TiO2) Inorganic
White Barium Sulfate (BaSO4) Inorganic

In the color industry, pigments can be purchased which are "cosmetic grade" or not. For example, cosmetic grade Iron Oxide Black is used in makeup (e.g. mascara) and non-cosmetic grade Iron Oxide Black is used in such things as paint.

Cosmetic grade pigments are further refined than their non-cosmetic grade cousins in order to remove or reduce known hazardous elements such as lead, arsenic, etc. Cosmetic-grade colors are more expensive.

Surprisingly, the federal government does not regulate the colors used in tattoos. Color additives used in food, drugs and cosmetics are highly regulated. However, tattoo pigments have never been regulated or controlled by the federal government in any way. For this reason, it is not uncommon for tattoo inks to be made from non-cosmetic grade color additives.

Because the industry is unregulated and the dyes are sold to tattoo artists and not "retail consumers" there are no requirements placed on the manufacturers of colors to label the product in any way. Inks are usually sold by "brand name" and not by chemical composition. One company's "red" might be Napthol-AS in an alcohol/glycerin base or it might be Cadmium Red in a propylene glycol/wax base. You have no way of knowing and the company is not required to tell you.

The commonly used tried and true tattoo "dyes" (as they are often called) are usually made from pigments suspended in some kind of Carrier Base. The Carrier Base which a pigment is suspended into depends on the manufacturer. Common bases include blends of such things as: vodka, alcohol, glycerin, propylene glycol, demineralized water and perhaps waxes and acrylic polymers to keep the pigment suspended in the bottle.

For example, one manufacturer does provide the following list for their colors: organic pigments, alcohol, demineralized water, glycerin.

If you plan to mix your own pigments, we suggest that you talk with other tattoo artists rather than rely on information at this website. We are not tattoo artists and have no direct experience in the matter. This being said, the general steps to working with any pigment are as follows:

1) Always where a face mask and gloves when handling powdered pigments. Inhaling or ingesting pigments is a health hazard. Similarly, do not smoke, eat or drink while handling pigments.

2) Examine the pigment. If it seems coarse, ground it down to a finer powder using a mortar and pestle. (This step should be unnecessary in a high quality pigment).

3) Place a measured amount of the pigment in a clean container and then add your alcohol/distilled water blend (ex.: Vodka and Glycerin) in amounts recommended by the industry. In our experience, we recommend that you then place the mix in a covered and clean container for 24 hours while the pigment "slakes". Slaking allows the pigment to absorb the carrier, and to be absorbed in it.

4) After 24 hours, stir the pigment and test for consistency. Place a little of the slaked pigment between your fingers and rub together. It should feel creamy and smooth, without any grittiness. If the slaked pigment is too thick, slowly add additional alcohol/distilled water mix until you get to the consistency you wish.

5) Store your color in a tightly closed container. If your color thickens over time, thin it with witch hazel or alcohol. Water -- even distilled water -- will eventually grow bacteria as it is exposed to the air. If you use water in your blend, we suggest you use the product immediately and do not store it for any length of time.

As you begin to mix your own colors, you will discover that every pigment has its own character. For example, pigments need more or less solution. In the case of Titanium Dioxide, you need very little to wet it down because it is a fine and readily dispersible color additive. Pigments also have different strengths. For example one ounce of Iron Oxide Red will go a long way, as red oxide is a very intense color. One ounce of Chromium Oxide Green will go significantly less far.

Finally, some colors are relatively transparent and need to be made more opaque by the addition of white. Other colors stand alone just fine, and the addition of white would make them too pastel.

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What Colors Do You Recommend for Bath Salts?

  Ours, of course! But let's dig in a little deeper as to why . . .
  Use A Dye   We first suggest that you stick with using a dye (not a pigment or a mica) for coloring salts which will be dissolved in water. This is because a dye is something which will dissolve in water, and therefore go down the drain with the water (think: food dye for coloring eggs). If you use a pigment or mica, you run the risk of the matter sticking to the side of the tub or lingering on the bottom. This requires you to get on your knees and scrub after a relaxing bath. Yuck!

If you are making a potpourri or some kind of product that will not be used in water, then you can use any color additive you want, however the dyes will give the most jewel-like tones.

  Use a Lake Dye   We offer several liquid dyes which you could use, and which people use all the time. (Specifically: Bright Red, Bright Blue, Bright Yellow, Bright Green, Bright Purple, Bright Orange, Warm Yellow and Teal Blue). However, our salt-making customers have advised us that these colors can be unstable in light (especially the purple). Through experimentation, they have determined that a preferred option is to use a Lake Dye.

A Lake Dye is kind of a hybrid between a dye and a pigment. We love 'em and offer them in several different forms:

1) As a powder (Look in our Lipstick section, under "Powdered Lip Dyes")
2) Predispersed in Castor Oil (Look in our Lipstick section, under "Liquid Lip Dyes")
3) Predispersed in Vegetable Glycerin (Look in our Soap section, under "Salt Dyes")

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