Unpacking 'Safe Synthetics' in Cosmetic Colorants

In the personal care product industry, the term ‘safe synthetics’ is quickly becoming as commonplace as terms like green, clean and natural. And while this new term may not be intended to replace the others, it certainly has added to consumer confusion. We see this as an opportunity to educate - not hate. We recognize that there is a place for ‘safe synthetics’ in cosmetics.  We also agree that not all synthetics are harmful, just as not all naturally derived ingredients are safe. 


We as a brand have made the choice to stay away from any synthetic ingredients that aren’t completely necessary in our formulations. In our bases, you will find only naturally derived, ethically sourced ingredients because we have found that many commonly used synthetic ingredients just aren’t necessary to create a safe, effective and luxurious product. We have been able to source naturally derived, plant based alternatives for any/all of the commonly used synthetic ingredients found within the formula of most commercial cosmetics. 


However, when it comes to cosmetic colorants, this is a different story. 


There are many different cosmetics colorants - dyes, pigments, minerals, lakes, botanicals, etc… the list goes on. Today we want to get into the nitty gritty of what cosmetic colorants we use in our products, why we use what we do, and the colorants you will never find in our products.


Let’s start with the colorants we avoid and why.


LAKES + OTHER DYES:


These bold and bright colorants are typically listed with “FD&C” or “D&C” in their name on the ingredient panel along with a color and number. These dyes are created from petroleum-oil or coal-tar derivatives that contain toxic heavy metals that are harmful to the human body, even though they are completely legal in food, drugs and cosmetics in the United States according to the FDA. On top of being harmful to your body, they are also harmful to the environment. During manufacturing, about a tenth of all dye products are discharged into the waste stream. Most of these dyes escape the wastewater treatment process and will remain in the environment, contaminating lakes, rivers and ponds and causing harm to the plants and animals that live there. 


At Au Naturale, being safe and clean means more to us than just what goes into a product. It is about the entire lifecycle from start to finish - how our products and ingredients will impact people, our process and the planet. Because of this mission to have positive human rights and environmental impact with our choice of ingredients, you will never see dyes and lakes in our products. 


ANIMAL BASED INGREDIENTS:


This colorant is typically listed as “Carmine” on the ingredient panel. Carmine is an organic colorant that provides the quintessential red coloring you picture when you think of a red lipstick. It’s a very bright, unique red that is hard to replicate with any other cosmetic colorant. Carmine is made from the dried, pulverized bodies of the female cochineal insect - a cactus-eating bug native to South America. Besides the fact that wearing lipstick made of bugs on your mouth is kind of gross (at least in our opinion), it takes about 70,000 insects to make just one singular pound of cochineal aka carmine. 


Au Naturale has been, and continues to be 100% cruelty-free and vegan. We are both PETA and Leaping Bunny certified. There are many animal-derived ingredients in the personal care product industry, however when it comes to our formulations we will always find sustainable plant based alternatives. 


So what colorants do we use?


MICAS:


Mica is an inorganic material that provides the shimmer, sparkle and shine in cosmetic products. These micas are mineral pigments found in nature that are mined straight from the earth. Even though micas are a naturally derived material, they can never be considered “organic” because they were never alive. Micas are an excellent option for cosmetic colorants because they produce beautiful colors that do not cause any harm to the body or the environment. 


It’s important to note that not all micas are naturally derived (mined from the earth). Micas can also be synthetically made (in a lab setting) to be nature identical. This is important because mica is a very controversial topic in the beauty industry. The corrupt reality of illegal mica mining is no secret to those in the industry, however in recent years the issue has been brought to light for brands, consumers and government leaders to see and understand.  In the mica mining industry, about 25% of mica comes from illegal, unethical mining operations in India that are known for utilizing child labor. 


Because of the atrocity of child labor, Au Naturale only partners with mica suppliers that provide complete transparency and own, audit and operate their supply chain from start to finish. This ensures that the micas that we use are mined ethically, purely processed, distributed clearly and provide resources and fair compensation for the impoverished communities from which they are mined.


Until now, we at Au Naturale have only used naturally derived micas from our trusted vetted suppliers. However, after doing our research and in alignment with our mission to continue to create positive human rights and environmental impact with our products, we have decided to open our portfolio of products to include synthetic mica pigments. 


We believe that it is okay to have a change of heart upon listening, reading and learning and want our consumers to know why we have made this change. 


Synthetic colorants have a very important place in the beauty industry. There are many cosmetic colorants that are required to be synthetic in order to be used in cosmetics according to the FDA (which we will talk about in a bit), and there are cosmetic colorants (such as synthetic micas) that aren’t required to be synthetic, but also make a positive impact on people, process and planet. 


Synthetic micas do just that. Because they are created in a lab setting to be nature identical, there is no risk of high heavy metal contamination. This ensures that the colorants are safe for people to put onto and into their body. This is important for the cosmetic industry where products are applied topically to your largest organ (your skin!) or sometimes even ingested (hello lip products!). Synthetic micas also make a huge impact on the process piece of the product life cycle. Because they are created in a lab setting there is absolutely no risk of using unethical child labor. 


Going forward, Au Naturale will use a combination of natural and synthetic mica. This will allow us to continue supporting the impoverished communities where natural mica is mined through our suppliers that enforce ethical labor standards and practices, but it will also allow us the flexibility to use brighter, more vibrant synthetic pigments when we cannot verify where our natural micas are being sourced. 


OTHER MINERAL PIGMENTS:


Besides mica, there are other mineral pigments that we use as cosmetic colorants. These include: Titanium Dioxide, Iron Oxides, Tin Oxide and Zinc Oxide. These minerals are inorganic substances that are naturally derived and mined from the earth. However, after much research it has been found that these mineral pigments are not safe when taken directly from the earth. Natural oxides frequently are contaminated with heavy metals that are not safe for the human body. Because of this, the FDA requires that all oxide pigments used in cosmetics must be synthetically made. 


Au Naturale, of course, complies with the FDA regulations and only uses synthetic oxide pigments. On top of being FDA compliant, our oxide pigments are also both ECO and COSMOS certified ensuring that we are sourcing the safest, purest and highest performing ingredients available to create our incredible products. 


TL/DR:


The world of cosmetic colorants is complex and sometimes hard to understand, but any brand with nothing to hide will be transparent about their ingredients and upfront about their sourcing practices. We are committed to creating safe, clean, quality products that positively impact people, process and the planet. To uphold that mission, we recognize that not all synthetic ingredients are bad, just as not all natural ingredients are safe. At Au Naturale, we use a combination of naturally derived and synthetically created cosmetic colorants to ensure that you as the consumer are getting the highest quality, best performing and safest products on the market. We urge you to keep asking questions, demand clear answers and hold any brand you choose to support accountable to their actions and words. We appreciate and thank our consumers who continue to help us grow by engaging in constructive dialogue and look forward to an ever-evolving sustainable beauty industry.


xo Au Naturale Cosmetics

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SOURCES:

FDA Color Additives and Cosmetics: Fact Sheet

FDA Color Additives Permitted for Use in Cosmetics

The Basics: Dyes, Pigments and Lakes

Science Daily: Harmful Lakes and Dyes...

Encyclopedia Britannica: Cochineal (Carmine)

Vogue Skincare Alphabet: M is for Mica

BASF Sustainability

EMD/Merck Sustainability

Sensient Technologies Sustainability

COSMOS Certification

ECOCERT 

Cosmetics & Toiletries: Natural vs Mineral Based Colorants

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