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Natural Colorants vs Micas/Oxides

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gigisiguenza

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In my browsing, both here and the web etc, I've seen a lot of people who swear by the natural colorants (herbs, spices, plant based etc) because they are "natural". And I've seen just as many who swear by the micas and oxides. Even though I plan on making predominantly naturally colored soaps because I really like the idea of it being as close to natural as I can get, I will still definitely be playing with the other colorant options too because they look like fun and I'd like to see what they can do.

What I'm currently curious about is why each of you, personally, prefer one over the other. (besides the obvious expanded color choices in the m/o category) and what successful experiments you've tried with the naturals that has improved their end color saturation and/or color blending of the naturals, or even mixing the two/three types of colorants to create a new color, or the different types of colorants in the same soap.

Yeah I know that's a lot of curiosity. But you guys are such a wealth of experience and experimentation that it's hard to resist picking your brains to see what wonders you've all discovered. Not to mention that soaping, the designing of it, and you folks have really fired up my imagination more in the past few months than it has been in a while. :)

Welcome to my ADD brain - where the wheels never stop turning and there are never enough answers for all the questions LOL.
 

The Efficacious Gentleman

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I'm not a big colourer of soaps, but as I understand it -

If you think about it, a lot of oxides are naturally occurring, as are micas - the difference is that the products used for soaping are factory-made versions which are cleaner. A naturally occurring version is likely to be tainted with some pretty nasty (but also totally natural) things such as heavy metals or harmful substances. So a factory makes the oxide manually to make sure it is only the oxide, not mixed with the bits that we really don't want.

As for the "natural" colours, they can also have things that we don't want. Not to mention that I am fairly certain that my paprika was processed in a factory, which then makes the difference between using paprika and a mica somewhat smaller. Just because it is plant based, does not mean that it is not heavily processed to get it to where it is used in the soaps.
 

gigisiguenza

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I'm not a big colourer of soaps, but as I understand it -

If you think about it, a lot of oxides are naturally occurring, as are micas - the difference is that the products used for soaping are factory-made versions which are cleaner. A naturally occurring version is likely to be tainted with some pretty nasty (but also totally natural) things such as heavy metals or harmful substances. So a factory makes the oxide manually to make sure it is only the oxide, not mixed with the bits that we really don't want.
I hadn't considered that, to be honest. I assumed that the micas and oxides were a combination of natural and synthetic. Are you saying that they take the oxides and micas in their natural state and process them to strip out the harmful elements of them? Or are they completely man made. Maybe I'm misunderstanding, if I am sorry. You have my brain constructing another web search to learn how they're made LOL.

As for the "natural" colours, they can also have things that we don't want. Not to mention that I am fairly certain that my paprika was processed in a factory, which then makes the difference between using paprika and a mica somewhat smaller. Just because it is plant based, does not mean that it is not heavily processed to get it to where it is used in the soaps.
That's true, they are factory processed. I suppose that in my head, and I'm sure many other people's as well, the fact that they originate as a plant or organic material makes them seem more "natural" because they are more closely tied to their original form. Not sure anyone would want to do the work it would take to produce their own paprika LOL. I'm sure someone out there has, but it isn't this woman for sure. Ya have me thinking about this too. Hmmm.

:)
 

TeresaT

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I think what TEG was saying with regard to the micas and oxides is there are two versions. The "natural" versions that are mined or found in the earth and the "man-made" versions that are created in a laboratory under strictly controlled conditions. Both are the same chemical compound; however, the one found in nature is mixed with other "stuff" that you don't want in your soap. Things like heavy metals, mercury, lead, pesticides -- whatever. It can't be helped. The world is a dirty place full of combinations of junk. So, in order to get the stuff out that you don't want in your soap and leave just the oxide or mica behind, it has to be processed. Unfortunately, processing is not 100% guaranteed to get rid of the "extras" that Mother Nature put in there. Natural products will never be as pure as their man-made equivalents. The lab is a controlled environment and none of those impurities found in nature will ever be introduced to the lab (or at least they shouldn't be).

And then you have synthetic things, which are completely made in a lab with no natural counterpart. You'd probably want to stay away from anything "synthetic" and just go with an "equivalent" or "man made" product. So, just because something is "man made" does not mean it is synthetic. Just because something is "natural" doesn't mean it is the best option available.

When I decided to make soap, I was only going to use organic, high-quality food grade oils and essential oils. Then I decided "natural" colorants would be ok (botanicals and spices). After doing more research on oxides and micas and fragrance oils, I decided they aren't necessarily bad, and if I'm going to use them, I'm going to use the lab ones to get the highest quality/purity. You just need to research for yourself and decide what is more important. I decided it was more important for me to have as pure a product as possible and that meant not going with a natural one. Others may completely disagree with my assessment of the whole thing, and that's cool. We can't all be vanilla. Someone's gotta be rocky road.
 

TheDragonGirl

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I too have decided I enjoy using nature-identical oxides, to be honest they're much safer, while still being a natural compound, but I also use alkanet, madder, turmeric, paprika, charcoal, and turkish ground coffee, I haven't experimented with any micas yet, an I've stayed away from the synths as a personal choice and nothing against synthetic colours, I just like the way the others look better, just like I'm finding I like the smell of EOs and EO blends more than I do most FOs, while I have nothing at all against FOs and do enjoy some of them a lot :)

I actually premixed and infused the alkanet and madder, but so far have only used the rest as powders.
 
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The Efficacious Gentleman

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Bear in mind that not all micas are synthetic- only those which contain synthetic colours. Some are as natural as an oxide would be - but not all, so it's good to check with the supplier
 

gigisiguenza

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TeresaT - Thank you for the explanation, and I'm finding myself going in a similar direction as you. I truly want to make soap that is as "natural" as possible, and in the beginning I thought that meant purely organic material. I'm learning, via research and you lovely folk, and am beginning to see that same thing you mentioned regarding safety and purity, vs natural. I've been reading on the web since TEGs post and I see both your points. Perhaps what I should be shooting for here isn't so much an "as natural as possible" soap as a "pure as possible soap".

I'm still gonna stick to my guns and see what kind of magic I can do with the organics because I love the way they look and their very comfy feel via using the organics :) But.... where months ago if you, if you had asked me if I would ever use micas and oxides, I woulda stuck my nose in the air, copped my best hippie elitist pose, and said "hell to the no! none of that synthetic crap for me!" I'm now realizing how ridiculously impossible and unnecessary that is.

I'm glad I asked this question/started this thread. I love learning about things and expanding my perceptions, and I'm happy to learn the difference between natural micas and oxides, vs man made. Especially if it means I can now play with all those lovely colors and still feel I am creating something very natural :)
 

gigisiguenza

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Dragon Girl - I love the colors I get from the organics... they're so soft and pretty :)

TEG - duly noted, I didn't think of that. Thank you :)
 

Obsidian

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As much as I like the idea of using natural colorants, I end up not really liking most of the colors once the soap has cured. I'm not crazy about the bits of herbs that can get into the soap either, even little bits scratch my skin and feel awful. Activated charcoal is scratchy too me, not sure if thats normal or if I am overly sensitive. I want smooth soap unless I'm purposely in need of something scrubby.

I'm not a fan of clays as colorants, they are too muted in most cases and I really, really dislike how most clays dry my skin.

I started using oxides and some I still really like but some I'm not so crazy about.
The green oxide I have is a terrible mossy green, not a pretty grass green like I want. The brown oxide gives a great color but even a tiny amount makes brown lather.
The blue and lavender ultramarines I have make great colors. You have to use quite a lot of the lavender to get a nice color but the blue, you only need a tiny bit unless you are going for a dark/bright blue.

I figure since I use FO's, I'm already adding chemicals to the soap so why would adding in un-natural colors hurt anything? I'm very fond of micas. Not only can you get a myriad of colors but they are super easy to work with, even added dry to the batter you don't get clumps.
 

gigisiguenza

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Obsidian - I've been researching for methods to eliminate or at least reduce the exfoliation factor of some of the natural colorants, but otherwise I really like the softness and the speckled. I am interested in trying the oxides and micas to see if I like them :)
 

TeresaT

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Gigi, when I started, I was a major snob. I only used EVOO, organic CO and free-range lard and tallow from local sources. Now, just four short months later, I'm using a 50# block of lard from Soapers Choice and OO from Costco. Research (and the wonderful people on this forum) is a beautiful thing. Dispelling (or verifying) preconceived notions through careful research is what makes this hobby/craft interesting and fun for me. One thing I will not use is palm oil. I know there is "sustainable" palm; however, MY research has not come up with a significant reason to believe that is true. (My issue is with deforestation as a whole, not just displacing orangutans.) Maybe some day I'll change my mind about palm just as I have about colorants, FOs and non-organic ingredients. But it comes down to the research we put into our raw materials and our personal beliefs about the impacts they make to the individual and to the environment.
 

gigisiguenza

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TeresaT - I feel the same. I've changed so many of my preconceived notions since I began this research project six months ago, and even more of them since I joined this forum just one short month ago. I'm falling in love with this hobby like I haven't been in love with a hobby since I discovered art and quilting. There's so much science and technical skill involved in the making of good pure safe soap, and so much artistry in the designing of recipes, styles, and packaging, that it has grabbed me by my creative guts and sucked me in.

I'm so glad I joined here. The knowledge and skills of the veteran soapers is a wealth of information; and the genuine encouragement, feedback, and support from people is amazing. How could anyone come here and not shed their naive snobbery in the face of that?

I first one am quite happy to have been enlightened and look forward to learning more.
 

tbeck3579

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I like using things that grow on my farm and I just finished using some mulberries for colorant. Mulberries look like black berries. I kind of knew before I used it the color was not going to be what I expected. It turned the soap a dark sienna. Typically sienna comes from a clay with iron oxide. The sienna will go nicely with my natural colors, and make a nice colored fall soap. I don't know if any of you have seen the pick below but its pretty interesting. The mulberries turned it a similar color to the blueberries in this pic.
 

gigisiguenza

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I've seen that pic tbeck and I love those colors. I wonder how they get them so saturated. I just read a pdf from another soaper who puts her powders in her lye water and let's it sit a few days. She claims she gets much more saturated color from her natural colorants this way. I'm curious to see if it works, but don't know yet how I would store the lye water for days.
 

tbeck3579

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I've seen that pic tbeck and I love those colors. I wonder how they get them so saturated. I just read a pdf from another soaper who puts her powders in her lye water and let's it sit a few days. She claims she gets much more saturated color from her natural colorants this way. I'm curious to see if it works, but don't know yet how I would store the lye water for days.
That is a good question. I wonder how long you can store lye water at room temp before it goes bad; loses the properties of lye? If it is indefinite, doesn't lose the ability to make soap, I would put it in a mason jar.
 

The Efficacious Gentleman

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That is a good question. I wonder how long you can store lye water at room temp before it goes bad; loses the properties of lye? If it is indefinite, doesn't lose the ability to make soap, I would put it in a mason jar.

We buy little bottles of 12% lye solution from the apothecary (for making Laugenbrot) and over time the glass is eaten away by the solution, even at so weak a solution. You end up with particles of glass like a cloud in the bottom of the bottle, which then makes it somewhat worthless for use on bread!

I would suggest never using anything glass for your lye solution, especially not long term storage.
 

tbeck3579

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We buy little bottles of 12% lye solution from the apothecary (for making Laugenbrot) and over time the glass is eaten away by the solution, even at so weak a solution. You end up with particles of glass like a cloud in the bottom of the bottle, which then makes it somewhat worthless for use on bread!

I would suggest never using anything glass for your lye solution, especially not long term storage.
Maybe a plastic cottage cheese/butter/sour cream container?
 

The Efficacious Gentleman

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A lot of people use old laundry detergent bottles - I have a couple of them set aside for that purpose.

I have to say, remembering the way the 12% solution is ruined reminds me of the disappointment when you take it out of the larder to make some tasty Laugenbrot and realise that it is unusable :(
 

gigisiguenza

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I didn't know that about the glass containers TEG. Old tide bottles hmmmm. Might work :)
 

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I master-batch my lye solution for long-term storage (@ 50% concentration) in re-purposed laundry detergent bottles made from HDPE #2 (recycle code), and it works just fine.

One needs to be careful what kind of plastic you choose as a storage bottle, though, because not all plastic is good for storing lye solution, such as PETE #1, for example. The first time I ever master-batched my lye solution, I used a re-purposed laundry softener container (Downey) made from PETE #1 plastic, and within 1 week my 50% solution had 'eaten' a hole through the bottom corner of the bottle and leaked onto the floor of my storage area (thankfully concrete). Also thankfully, I caught it in time before all the solution escaped to ruin the things stored next to it. That's the day that I learned that there are good plastics and bad plastics for lye solution.

From my notes:

Good plastics for storing lye solution: HDPE#2, Nalgene, PS#5, PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene)

Also, stainless steel is good.

Bad plastics for storing lye solution: PETE#1, PS#6, ABS, Polycarbonate, Nylon (polyamide), Acrylics (okay for very short term, but not for repeated use or long-term storage)

For what it's worth, my master-batched 50% lye solution lasts a very long time in HDPE without any diminished strength. By 'very long time', I'm talking at least a year, according to my experiments. It more than likely would last even longer than that, but a year is as long as I went with the experiment. Others who make a 50% master-batch solution report the same long-lasting results.

I should mention that I don't add colorants to my master-batch....but I do add silk and it stores just fine with that.

The Efficacious Gentleman said:
We buy little bottles of 12% lye solution from the apothecary (for making Laugenbrot)
You should try making your own (or else transfer the one you buy to a safe plastic container). I make and keep an HDPE#2 bottle on hand of 4% lye solution for my Laugenbretzel, which come out fantastic, but now you've got me wondering how they would turn out with a 12% solution. Hmmm.... I feel an experiment coming on!


IrishLass :)
 
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