Plant-based and natural ways to color handmade cold-process soap. Includes natural soap colorants listed by hue, ingredient, and how to use them.
Natural soap making is an exciting craft that anyone can do from the comfort of their own kitchen. Here on Lovely Greens, I share many small-sized cold-process soap recipes for beginners, and after making a few simple batches, you might be interested in unique ways to scent and color your bars. What you’ll find is that the soaping world is filled with colorful and exciting design inspiration. Vibrant reds, swirls of sparkles, and layers of every color imaginable. But what if you want to keep your soap 100% natural?
The guide below gives you different options for naturally coloring handmade soap. They are all plant-based or use natural substances like clay and sugars. I’ve collected the ideas from around the web, and when I’ve tried one out and liked it, I’ve shared a link to the recipe in the chart. Though the color guide is for cold-process soap, you could also use the ingredients in hot-process and sometimes in melt-and-pour. Shades, amounts, and techniques will vary.
Mineral Pigments and Dyes
First off, let’s chat about mineral pigments. They include oxides and ultramarines and using them can give you absolutely beautiful soap colors. I use mineral pigments myself and am happy with their level of skin-safety and color — they are, after all, the basis for mineral-based make-up. Even though cosmetic minerals are perfectly safe to use, and identical to minerals found in nature, they aren’t considered natural. Natural minerals are often contaminated with heavy metals so the ones you can purchase for cosmetics are man-made to be ‘nature identical’.
Micas are even less natural than ultramarines and oxides. Each type is different, and though they do have a mineral-based component, they are often dyed with synthetics. Again, micas are skin-safe and can create amazing colors, but they are not natural. Some micas can also misbehave in cold-process soap and give you unexpected colors. I don’t use micas in my soap recipes.
Soap dyes, such as lab colors, are entirely synthetic. Though they are considered skin-safe, they are not natural and are not used in natural soap making. Glitter is also not natural and should be avoided in naturally coloring soap. Even the so-called bio-degradable stuff is not natural.
Naturally Color Handmade Soap
Listed below are various ingredients that you can use to naturally color your soap. Categories are based on the final color and the INCI and brief notes are listed beside each listing. Unless otherwise stated, the maximum amount you should use in your soaps is 5%. Some of the best colors come from roots and seeds like turmeric, annatto, alkanet, gromwell, and madder. If you’re interested in learning how to mix more than one color together, check out these tips for swirling soap with natural colors.
If you use any of the clays, mix it into your lye-solution, or with three times its volume in distilled water and add at trace. For example, mix 1 tsp clay with 3 tsp of water. Clay can cause soap to crack (imagine a face mask) without dispersing it properly and adding extra water. If you mix the clay into the lye-solution, add the extra water into it too.
Making Natural soap
If you want to use natural soap colorants, I’d advise using a soap recipe that makes pure white bars. Soap recipes that include dark or golden oils create soap that that is also dark or golden. This natural color of the soap bars will interfere with any additional soap colors that you add. For example, mix woad with a castile soap recipe and you might get green bars. For those new to making soap, please have a look through my four-part soapmaking series listed below to learn how you can get started.
Soap making instructions and what they mean
- Add to liquid oils: mix with liquid oils before pouring them into your melted hard oils.
- Add at trace: add the natural coloring ingredient after the oils and lye solution in your recipe are mixed together.
- Infuse with oils: add the material to oils that are liquid at room temperature. Either allow them to infuse for two to four weeks, or heat gently in until the natural color has been released into the oils. If you’re choosing the longer and room temperature method, make sure to shake your container every day.
- Puree: soft plant material that is blended into a puree with a small amount of distilled water. Some plant material, such as carrots, will need to be cooked or steamed first. Others, like avocado, are ready to be mashed up without cooking. Add at a light trace
- Water infusion: infuse the material into water and use the infusion to mix into your dried lye. This is essentially a tea.
Natural Yellow Soap Colorants
The natural soap coloring world is your oyster when making yellow soap. Use pumpkin or carrot puree (or juice), goldenrod, turmeric, or annatto to achieve everything from a soft pastel shade to electric yellow. Many of the shades listed for orange can give you shades of yellow if you use less of the ingredient.
|Annatto Seeds Bixa orellana||Color: Buttery Yellow to pumpkin orange. Usage: Infuse the seeds in liquid oil and then use a small amount of the strained oil to color soap yellow. 1 tsp PPO is recommended.|
|Carrots, puree Daucus carota||Color: Yellow to yellow-orange. Usage: It’s possible to use either carrot juice or puree in/as the lye solution or to add the puree at trace. See the Carrot Soap Recipe|
|Curry Powder||Color: Light to deep yellow. Usage: Add 1/4-1 tsp powder PPO mixed in a little oil at trace. Be aware that it can add an exfoliating/scratchy texture. You can also infuse liquid oil with the powder and use the oil as part of your soap recipe.|
|Daffodil flowers Narcissus tazetta||Color: soft pastel yellow Usage: only use the yellow petals, since all green parts of the plant and the sap can be a skin irritant. Create a pureed water infusion and use it for the ley solution as you can see in this Daffodil Soap Recipe|
|Goldenrod Solidago virgaurea||Color: Pale to buttery yellow Usage: Create a pureed infusion like you would for the daffodil soap recipe above. Use it as the water ingredient for your lye solution.|
|Lemon zest Citrus limonum||Color: Pale to dark yellow Usage: add 1/2-1 tsp finely grated lemon peel, either fresh or dry, after trace.|
|Red palm oil Elaeis guineensis kernel oil||Color: Yellow to pinky-orange to deep orange Usage: For yellow, add as a small part of your solid oils, and 1-10% of the total soaping oils. Ensure that you’re using sustainable palm oil.|
|Rudbeckia Petals Rudbeckia Hirta||Color: Pale to sunny yellow Usage: Add direct to the lye solution or create a pureed infusion like you would for the daffodil soap recipe above. Use it as the water ingredient for your lye solution. Rudbeckia is also called Black-Eyed Susan|
|Safflower Carthamus tinctorius||Color: Yellow to orange-yellow. Usage: Add 1-2 tsp powder PPO at light trace. Mix the powder into a Tablespoon of reserved liquid oil and mix thoroughly before adding to avoid clumps.|
|Saffron Crocus sativus||Color: Soft to vibrant yellow. Usage: This is an expensive ingredient so do be aware. You can either infuse the saffron into liquid oil before soap making or add it directly into the lye solution. A pinch PPO is all that you’ll need.|
|Turmeric Curcuma longa||Color: pale yellow to pink-yellow to burnt orange. Can also cause an attractive speckle to your finished soaps but this can be controlled. Usage: add to lye solution or at trace. Use 1/32 tsp PPO for a soft yellow and premix it in a little oil before adding. Does not disperse well in water.|
|Weld Reseda luteola||Color: Soft to muted yellow. Usage: Add up to 3 tsp of dried weld at trace.|
|Yarrow Achillea millefolium||Color: Muted yellow. Usage: Infuse dried yarrow leaves and flowers into a liquid soaping oil or add the powder direct to soap at trace.|
Natural Orange Soap Colorants
Bright vivid orange is very easy to get using natural soap colors. You can add specks of orange using pieces of calendula flower petals or go all out for an almost luminous all-over orange. The best orange in my experience is created by annatto seeds. Used in Indian cooking, you infuse the dark seeds into a light oil before soaping.
|Annatto Seeds Bixa orellana||Color: Buttery Yellow to Pumpkin Orange. Usage: Infuse the seeds in a liquid oil such as in this annatto seed soap recipe|
|Buriti oil Mauritia flexuosa fruit oil||Color: Light yellow to deep orange Usage: Add oil after trace|
|Calendula Petals Calendula officinalis||Color: Ranges from yellow-orange to pink-orange Usage: Infuse in liquid oils, add directly to soap (for colored petals throughout), or infuse in lye solution. Check out this Calendula Soap Recipe|
|Carrot Daucus carota||Color: Yellow to yellow-orange. Usage: It’s possible to use either carrot juice or puree in/as the lye solution or to add the puree at trace. See the Carrot Soap Recipe|
|Orange Zest (peel) Citrus aurantium dulcis||Color: Sunny yellow to orange Usage: Use finely grated zest/peel at about 1/2 to 1 tsp per pound of soaping oils as in this Orange Soap Recipe|
|Paprika Capsicum annuum||Color: Peach to light orange to orange-brown Usage: The best way is to infuse paprika in liquid oils, strain, and discard actual spice or your soap will be scratchy. Adding the spice direct will also result in less vibrant hues.|
|Pumpkin Cucurbita pepo||Color: Yellow to light orange shades, depending on the pumpkin or squash variety. Usage: Stir in as a puree in at light trace.|
|Red palm oil Elaeis guineensis kernel oil||Color: Yellow to pinky-orange to deep orange Usage: For orange, add as a large part of your solid oils|
|Tomato Solanum lycopersicum||Color: Light to medium orange Usage: Stir in as a tomato paste at light trace using 1-3 tsp.|
|Turmeric Curcuma Longa||Color: pale yellow to pink-yellow to burnt orange. Can also cause an attractive speckle to your finished soaps but this can be controlled. Usage: add to lye solution or at trace. Use 1/32 tsp PPO for a soft yellow and up to 1 tsp PPO for burnt orange. Here’s one way to use turmeric to color handmade soap.|
Natural Pink Soap Colorants
Pink is quite an easy color to achieve with natural ingredients, and any of the ingredients used for purple and red can also produce pink. Of the colorants listed below, you can get one of the loveliest botanical pinks from madder root. You can either infuse the larger pieces into a light oil before soaping or add powdered madder to your soap at trace. Gelling (insulating) your soap after it’s molded will intensify the pink.
|Hibiscus flower Hibiscus sabdariffa||Color: Dried flower powder can be added to melt-and-pour soap for a soft pink. Color does not often survive CP/HP soapmaking.|
|Lady’s Bedstraw Galium verum||Color: Coral pink Usage: Infuse the dried roots in liquid oils.|
|Cochineal Cochineal/Carmine||Color: To get a dusky pink you can use an infusion of raw cochineal in your cold-process soap recipes. Please note that this is not a vegetarian or vegan ingredient.|
|Madder root powder Rubia tinctorum||Color: Range of pinks to mauve Usage: Infuse dried roots or powder in liquid oils or add powder direct at up to 3 tsp PPO.|
|Rose Pink Clay Kaolinite (Rose Clay)||Color: Pink to Brick Red. Usage: Use 1/2-2 tsp PPO. Add directly to your lye solution as in this recipe or mix with a Tablespoon of distilled water and add at trace.|
|Sorrel Rumex acetosa||Color: Warm to salmon pink Usage: Infuse the dried roots in liquid oil and use as one of the main soaping oils in a recipe.|
Natural Red Soap Colorants
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to get a true red when using natural soap colors. Most plant-based colorants will be closer to deep pink, reddish-brown, and mauve, with the exception possibly being Himalayan rhubarb. It’s more of a vibrant pink-red in my experience, though some soapmakers have reported getting a scarlet red with it.
|Cochineal Cochineal/Carmine||Color: Orange to pink and red – Add powdered to liquid oils or at trace. You can also use an infusion of raw cochineal in your cold-process soap recipes. Using this recipe you can get a lovely dusky pink this way. Please note that this is not a vegetarian or vegan ingredient.|
|Moroccan Red Clay Kaolin||Color: Warm-brown to brick-red. Usage: 1/2 to 2 tsp PPO. Pre-mix in a Tablespoon of water before adding to your main soaping oils or at trace.|
|Rose Pink Clay Kaolinite (Rose Clay)||Color: Pink to Brick Red. Usage: For deeper colors, use 2-3 tsp PPO and premix with 1-2 TBSP of distilled water before adding at trace. You can also simply add the clay to the lye solution.|
|St Johns Wort Flowers Hypericum perforatum||Color: Red. Usage: Infuse fresh flowers in liquid oil and use the strained oil as whole or part of your soap recipe.|
Natural Blue Soap Colorants
You can get pretty shades of sky blue to denim-blue with natural soap colors including indigo, clay, and small amounts of activated charcoal. One of my favorites on the list is woad since it’s a plant that you can grow and harvest color from yourself. I’ve done it myself in the past and you can learn more about that process here.
|Activated charcoal Carbon||Color: soft denim blue when used at 1 tsp activated charcoal PPO in conjunction with EVOO in this recipe|
|Blue Chamomile oil Azulene||Color: Blue Usage: Add a drop or two at trace. Blue Chamomile is extracted from German Chamomile flowers.|
|Cambrian Blue Clay Lilite||Color: Shades of soft gray-green to gray-blue depending on the color of your soaping oils. Mix in water before adding to your soap-making oils or lye solution. Use 1-2 tsp per pound of oils and premix in 1 TBSP distilled water if adding at trace. See this Cambrian Blue Clay Soap Recipe|
|Indigo Indigofera tinctoria||Color: Dark blue or green to light blue or green Usage: There are several ways to add it including at trace, to the lye solution, or with an infused oil. Methods explained here. Used traditionally to dye fabrics, Indigo is what gives blue jeans their distinctive color. Be careful when sourcing Indigo since many of the dyes today are synthetic versions and not suitable for soap.|
|Woad Isatis tinctoria||Color: Green-blue to grey-blue Usage: Add 1-2 tsp powder PPO to the lye solution or mix a small amount of liquid oil or to and add at trace. You can also infuse liquid oils with woad powder and use as whole or part of your soap recipe. See how to color soap using woad.|
Natural Purple Soap Colorants
You can get some lovely shades of pastel to bright and vibrant purple using natural ingredients. I highly recommend alkanet from this list though. You infuse the dried, shredded roots into a light oil such as olive oil. After a few weeks, use that oil as a main soaping oil to get a soft, natural purple soap. A note on alkanet though — I’ve had quite a few orders of it turn up recently that was of very poor quality. If your alkanet-infused oil isn’t a vibrant red at the time of soaping, then your final soap bars will not turn purple. They’ll turn out more of a light warm gray.
|Alkanet root Alkanna tinctoria||Color: Pink to purple Usage: Infuse the dried root in liquid oils such as in this recipe for Alkanet soap. You need at least 20% of your soap recipe to include the infused oil to achieve good purple color. Anything less and it will come out pink to grey. Use light-colored oils as well — extra virgin olive oil in the recipe will contribute its green color to the final product. Sometimes mislabeled as Ratanjot in Indian cuisine, however, true ratanjot comes from the related plant Onosma echioides and doesn’t give as vibrant a hue as Alkanna tinctoria.|
|Gromwell root Lithospermum erythrorhizon||Color: Natural purple Usage: Similar in shade and usage to Alkanet root. Cold-infuse 30g dried root or powder into every 454g (1lb) oils for one month. Strain and use the oil as part or all of the soap recipe. You need at least 20% of your soap recipe to include the infused oil to achieve good purple color.|
|Red Sandalwood Pterocarpus santalinus||Color: Muted purple, burgundy to mauve, and brown. Usage: Add 1/4-1/2 tsp powder PPO at trace after premixing in a little oil. Can be very scratchy if you use more than this.|
|Brazilian purple clay Kaolin||Color: a soft gray-purple when added to soap at 1 tsp PPO. Premix in 1 TBSP distilled water and add at trace. Alternatively, add the clay powder directly to the lye solution.|
Natural Brown Soap Colorants
There are many ingredients that you can use to get soft beiges to chocolate browns in soap. One I use regularly in my own soap is honey. Add a teaspoon of honey to your lye solution and the heat will immediately caramelize it. Not only does it tint soap a rich fudge brown but it smells delicious too.
|Beet root Beta vulgaris||Color: Warm to dull brown. Usage: Add as a powder, juice, or infuse dried material in liquid oils. Unfortunately, beets do not color CP/HP soap red.|
|Black Walnut Hull powder Juglans nigra||Color: Deep brown. Usage: Add powder at trace|
|Chamomile (Roman) Anthemis noblis||Color: Yellow-beige to light brown. Usage: Infuse flowers in distilled water and use the strained liquid to make the lye solution|
|Cinnamon powder Cinnamomum zeylanicum||Color: can add speckles of brown color but can also be scratchy in feeling. Usage: Add only to exfoliating soaps and it’s not recommended to use more than 1/4 tsp PPO. Premix in oil before adding at trace.|
|Coffee Coffea arabica seed extract||Color: Medium to dark brown Usage: Use brewed coffee instead of water to make the lye solution and/or add up to 1 tsp PPO spent coffee grounds at trace.|
|Comfrey root Symphytum officinale||Color: Light brown, though this is not one I’ve yet tried. I’ve only found the vaguest reference to comfrey in soapmaking. When working with comfrey in skincare we only use the leaves though.|
|Cranberry Vaccinium macrocarpon||Color: Red-brown with specks Usage: Add up to 1 TBSP puree PPO at trace. You can also add dried cranberry seeds as a botanical decoration or up to 1 tsp PPO if you wanted to mix them in at trace.|
|Green Tea Camellia sinensis||Color: Brown-green. Usage: Infuse in hot distilled water then cool before using the liquid to make the lye solution. If unstrained, the soap will have speckles of tea leaves.|
|Henna, powder Lawsonia inermis||Color: Green-brown Usage: Add 1-2 tsp PPO at trace after premixing in oil.|
|Honey||Color: Light to dark brown Usage: add 1/2-1 tsp to hot lye solution as described in both this Honey Soap Recipe and this lighter and darker one.|
|Milk (cow, goat, generically mammal)||Color: Light to dark brown Usage: 1-3 tsp per pound oils and added to the lye solution. Milk can scorch and create an unpleasant scent in your soap if you use too much.|
|Molasses Saccharum officinarum||Color: Chocolate brown Usage: Add at trace or add to the lye solution. Use 1/2 to 1 tsp PPO.|
|Olive leaf powder Olea europaea||Color: Warm brown Usage: Add the powder at trace. Not an ingredient that I’ve used before.|
|Peppermint Mentha piperita||Color: Beige to beige with dark specks if the leaves are left in Usage: Infuse 1-2 tsp leaves PPO in warm distilled water, strain (optional), cool, then use to make the lye solution.|
|Red Moroccan Clay Red Kaolin Clay||Color: Milk chocolate brown Usage: use 1/2 tsp to 1.5 tsp PPO added direct to the lye solution, or premixed in 1 TBSP distilled water and added at trace. You can see the color in this recipe for Natural Cinnamon Soap|
|Rhassoul Clay Moroccan lava clay||Color: Brown. Usage: 1/2-2 tsp PPO. Premix in 1 TBSP of distilled water before adding to your main soaping oils.|
|Rose-hips (ground) Rosa canina or Rosa rugosa||Color: Tan to brown speckles Usage: Up to 1 tsp ground rosehip powder PPO and stirred in at trace.|
Natural Green Soap Colorants
There are many natural green soap colors, however, plant-based greens tend to be fugitive. That means that they fade relatively quickly, especially when exposed to light. Natural green soap colors can give you anywhere from pale pastel to vivid grass green and come in a range of plants and clays. My top pick would have to be French green clay which gives a soft and natural gray-green.
|Alfalfa Medicago Sativa||Color: Medium green. Usage: dried powder or juice|
|Avocado puree Persea Gratissma||Color: Shades of yellow-green. Usage: Use up to 3 tsp puree PPO and stir in at trace.|
|Burdock leaf Arctium lappa||Color: Natural green. Usage: Infuse dried leaves in liquid oils|
|Cucumber Cucumis sativus||Color: Bright Green. Usage: Add as a puree at light trace.|
|Dandelion leaf (powder) Taraxacum officinale weber||Color: Natural green Usage: Stir in as a powder at light trace|
|French Green Clay Montmorillonite||Color: Some have the experience of soft, natural, green. I’ve seen it turn out more of a light tan tint. Usage: Use 1-2 tsp PPO. Pre-mix in a Tablespoon of distilled water before adding at trace. You can also stir the powder into the lye solution.|
|Grass (Barley) Clippings Hordeum vulgare||Color: Green. Usage: Infuse fresh clippings in distilled water, strain, cool, and use in lye solution|
|Kelp, powder Fucus versiculosus||Color: Dark green. Usage: Add to liquid oils or at trace at up to 3 tsp PPO. Pre-mix in an equal amount of distilled water before stirring in.|
|Nettle leaf (powder) Urtica dioica||Colour: close to Lime-green Usage: Premix with oil and add powder direct at trace or you can also infuse oils with the leaf, strain, and use as a main soaping oil.|
|Parsley Spirulina Spirulina maximaCarum petroselinum||Color: Green – I’ve come across instructions to add to liquid oils or at light trace and to use fresh, powdered, or in dried flakes. However, when I tried using parsley in cold-process soap making the green color faded from the bars within days. The best way I’ve found to use parsley as a natural soap colorant is in this rebatch recipe.|
|Sage Salvia officinalis||Colour: muted green. Usage: Premix the powder with oil and add at trace. Use 1-3 tsp PPO.|
|Spinach||Color: Light green. Usage: Use as a puree or powder and stir in at light trace. Up to 1 TBSP PPO.|
|Spirulina Spirulina maxima||Color: Light green – Stir in as a powder at light trace or infuse into oils. More on using spirulina in soap|
|Wheatgrass Triticum aestivum||Color: Deep vivid green. Usage: Use a full replacement of wheatgrass juice for distilled water when making the lye solution|
Natural Black Soap Colorants
Black soap looks incredible and in some cases can add skin benefits. Activated charcoal is said to have cleansing and purifying properties and can tint soap a light grey to dark black. You’ll need to use quite a lot of it to achieve darker shades though. Using smaller amounts give you blue.
|Activated Charcoal (powder)||Color: Deep black. Usage: add up to 3 tsp PPO to liquid oils or to soap at light trace. You have to use quite a lot of it to get darker shades of gray and black. Mix with a small amount of liquid oil before stirring in.|
|Black Brazilian Clay Kaolin||Color: grey to black depending on how much is used. Usage: 1-3 tsp clay PPO added to the lye solution or premixed with 1-3 TBSP distilled water and added at trace.|
|Coffee Grounds Coffea Arabica seed||Color: Black specks. Add fresh or used coffee grounds to your soap at trace. A teaspoon per pound of oils is plenty.|
|Dead Sea Mud (powder) Maris limus||Color: Grey – Mix with a small amount of liquid oil first and add at trace|
|Poppy Seeds Papaver somniferum||Color: Blue-grey to black specks. Add about a teaspoon per pound of soaping oils and stir the seeds in at trace. A lovely speckled effect as you can see in this Gardeners Hand Soap recipe|
Natural White Soap Color
If left un-colored, most handmade soap takes on a creamy shade. That’s because it’s picking up on the original soaping oils’ color. If you’d like a bright white soap, use white or clear soaping oils like coconut oil and less yellow oils.
Another way to keep your bars as light as possible is to make soap at low temperatures — between room temperature and 100F. Refrigerating soap afterward will stop gelling from happening and also help to ensure your bars are as white as possible.