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Recipe & instructions for how to naturally color soap pink using cochineal. This unusual natural color begins as red, changes to purple, brown, & then dusky pink
Cochineal is probably the weirdest natural soap colorant I’ve ever used. So much so that I thought the experiment was a complete failure until a week after I made the batch. By then, the murky yellow-brown of the finished bars had morphed into a dusky pink! That’s not even the weirdest bit — the color started off scarlet-red before it changed to deep purple when it reacted with the lye. Then it instantaneous changed to brown when the soap hit ‘trace.’ Natural soap making can sometimes be very surprising.
Cochineal is a natural red colorant
Though you might not have heard of cochineal, you’ve probably eaten it before. It’s the natural red color used to tint all sorts of foods from powdered drinks, cough medicine, red velvet cake, smoothies, candies, and so much more. You can find it on ingredients lists as Carmine.
What you might not know is that this widely used color isn’t Vegan. It’s not even Vegetarian. Cochineal is a traditional red colorant used to tint food and also dye fabric and wool, but it’s also an insect. Just be aware that if you do use this color, you can’t label your soaps as either.
Cochineal Soap Recipe
454g / 1lb batch — makes 6 bars with a 5% superfat. 35% Lye solution
For the Cochineal Infusion
- 8g (0.25oz) Cochineal
- 175g (175ml or 5.9 fl. oz) distilled water
For the Soap
- 70 g (2.48oz) Sodium Hydroxide (Lye)
- 130 g (4.59 oz) Cochineal infusion
- 150 g (5.29 oz) Coconut oil
- 250 g (8.82 oz) Olive Pomace oil*
- 50 g (1.76 oz) Sunflower oil
- 25 g (0.88 oz) Castor oil
- 25 g (0.88 oz) Shea Butter
Special Equipment needed
* You can use extra virgin olive oil, but the color of that oil is much deeper. I’ve not tried it yet, but it could affect the final color of your soap. All the oils I’ve chosen for this recipe are either white or light in color.
Step 1: Make the Cochineal Infusion
Cochineal should arrive in a dry form, and it looks like small dark pellets. I tried infusing it into the oil first, and it did not take at all. Infusing it into water is another matter! Although it probably needs less time, I simmered the cochineal with the water on low for 30 minutes. This creates the cochineal infusion.
The cochineal can be used again, so once I strained the liquid through a cheesecloth, I set the colorant aside to dry. I successfully used it a second time, and the color was just as vivid.
Step 2: Make the Lye Solution
Allow the cochineal infusion to cool and then measure it. You need 130g (130ml) of the cochineal solution for this next step. If you don’t have enough after making the cochineal infusion, make up the difference with distilled water. Wearing goggles and gloves and in a well-ventilated place, pour the Sodium hydroxide into the cochineal infusion. The scarlet water will quickly turn purple. It will also get very hot so stand it in a shallow basin of cold water to help it cool down.
Step 3: Melt the solid oils
On very low heat, melt the coconut and shea butter until it’s just liquid. Take it off the heat and pour in the other oils — castor oil sticks, so make sure to scrape it out with a spatula. Give it all a stir, and then take the oil’s temperature and that of the colored lye solution. You want them both within a few degrees of 120°F (49°C). Use the basin of water to cool the oils down if you need them to cool quicker.
Step 4: Mix the oils & lye solution
When the temperatures are right, pour the lye solution through a sieve and into the oils. Place your stick blender in the pan and use it as a spoon at first — mix it all together well. Now turn the stick blender on for a few pulses, then stir again. Repeat until the mixture thickens to the consistency of warm custard. This is called ‘trace’. Don’t panic if you see your mixture turning brown. This is what it does!
Step 5: Add your optional extras
If you’d like to scent your soap beautifully, I suggest rose, patchouli, and a hint of lemongrass. Stir the oils in when your soap thickens to trace.
Step 6: Mold and insulate
Pour the soap batter into your silicone mold and then insulate well. You can put a layer of cling film over the top and then wrap it with a layer of towels. Leave the soap insulated for 24 hours before you take the towel off.
Step 7: Cure your naturally pink soap
This is a very soft soap, to begin with, so I’d recommend you leave it in the molds for at least a couple of days. After that, gently pop them out and set them someplace airy and out of direct sunlight or heat. Leave them there for 4-6 weeks to cure. Basically, to dry out and harden. Your bars will begin a kind of weird yellow-brown color but, after a week or so, will transform into a soft and pretty pink. For full instructions on how to cure handmade soap, head over here
Making Pink Colored Soap
There are several ingredients that you can use to achieve a naturally pink soap. Madder root is one of my favorites, but there’s a host of others listed in my piece on naturally coloring soap, including pink clay, sorrel, and lady’s bedstraw.
If you’re new to making handmade soap, you might also want to check out my four-part series on natural soap making. It gives a good introduction to what to expect from ingredients, equipment, recipes, and how to combine everything together to make soap.