Picture, for a moment, semi-transparent bar soaps with big colored chunks in the middle. There’s a chance you’ve been given soap like this as a present. There’s a further chance the reason for the gift was your affection for natural soap. You’ve probably guessed. Almost none of these soaps are natural.
No More Big Colored Chunks?
Colorants are always an issue with soap. In truly natural soap, colors are derived from natural sources – herbs, plant extracts, and clays. The good news is, what you’ve heard about natural colorants is wrong. You’re not automatically limiting yourself. Natural doesn’t mean dull or restrictive. It doesn’t mean your soaps can’t have big bold colors.
The Natural Place to Start
There are three natural ways to add color to soaps: (1) essential oils, (2) herbs and clays added directly to the mix, and (3) herbs that have been steeped and concentrated before adding. Each method has its benefits and challenges. Here are brief descriptions of each.
Essential Oils As Colorants
You’re right if you’re thinking essential oils are normally used for scent. Some essential oils – citrus oils among them – also have their own color, and essential-oil color can be just what certain soaps need. The drawback to using essential oils is that certain color/scent combinations simply aren’t possible. You can’t, for example, make a pale yellow soap that‘s scented with cloves, because clove oil is dark.
Direct Addition of Colors
This is the easiest way to control the color of soap. Near the end of the mixing process, herbs, clays, or a combination are added to achieve the desired color. In general, the color of the dried herb or clay is a good predictor of the color of the soap. There are always exceptions, though, and exceptions should always be part of your research.
Steeping Herbs to Extract Colors
Some herbs have colors whose richness won’t come through by direct addition. In these cases, color needs to be extracted by steeping the herbs in oil. The best examples of steeping success are
organic annatto seed, wildcrafted alkanet root, and madder root powder.
You’ll Love the Results
Steeping is the most complicated method of coloring soap, but the result is more vivid colors. Steeping involves adding a pre-measured amount of a colorant to a small quantity of pre-heated base oil blend. Depending on the color you’re after, the amount of herbs and the steep time will vary. Steeped herbs are strained from the herb-oil solution, leaving only colored oil, which is then added to the general soap mix. If you make your own soap, steeping can require some trial and error, but the results are worth the effort.