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How to Use Infused Natural Colors in Soap Making

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Yes...it's true...adding color to your soap - whether in the form of a dye, mica, oxide or natural colorant - is purely aesthetic. The soap will work just as well with or without it.

But one of the things that sets our handmade natural soap apart is the soap maker's creative use of colors. Whether you make a bar with one solid color throughout, a standard swirl, a layered effect, or any number of other swirling/coloring techniques, it's your own personal touch that makes it wonderful.

Part of what attracts people to making their own soap, however, is being able to make it as naturally as possible. Lucky for them, there are many different choices of natural colors to use in making soap. Most colorants are just added at trace, but there are some that work best if they are infused into the base oils before making the soap. Here is information on how to use four of my favorites, with instructions how to use them, and links to examples of what they look like in the finished soap.

Generally, there are two methods of infusing the botanicals into the oil:

  1. cold infusion - adding the botanical to the oil and just letting it sit for a few weeks, shaking/stirring every few days (a sunny kitchen window is great for doing this)
  2. warm infusion - where you add heat either in a crock pot or warm water bath. This method infuses the color in just a few hours. (How to make an herbal oil infusion.)

1. Alkanet Root

A powder made from ground alkanet root will give you a range of colors from a deep purple to a muted blue-gray depending on the blend of oils and the pH of the soap. It can be added to soap in two ways:
  • at trace - add up to 1/2 tsp. per pound of oils - but beware, it is really hard to incorporate and tends to give a speckled look
  • infused in the base oil - works much better and gives a more even color.
How to infuse alkanet
In a mason jar, add about 1 tbsp. to 1 cup of olive oil. Stir it well and let it sit for a week or two, shaking the jar every couple days or so. After the color has been infused into the oil, pour the oil through a coffee filter or strainer to get the leftover powder out. Then use the oil in your soap recipes as you normally would. Depending on the amount of olive oil in my recipe, I'll use half to all of the infused oil as the olive oil in my recipe. This results in between 15-30% of the total oils in the recipe being the colored/infused oil.

Note - as the soap cures, the color will change. This is due to the colorant being sensitive to the changes in pH.

Photo of alkanet root used at trace
Photo of alkanet root used infused in oil

2. Annatto Seeds

David Fisher
Annatto is used in many foods for color - the most popular probably being macaroni and cheese. It's one of the few natural colorants that you can't (shouldn't) just grind up and add in at trace.

To get the nice yellow/orange color, you need to infuse the seeds in your oil using either the warm or the cold method.

Use 1 tsp. of seeds in 16 oz. of oil to get a nice pale yellow. Use 2 tsp. for a richer, darker color. Strain the annatto seeds out before using the oil in your soap. Depending on how strong an infusion I've made, I generally will only use annatto oil for half of my olive oil - it's a pretty strong colorant.

For the soap pictured here I made a half batch with normal olive oil, and a half batch with annatto infused oil, and then swirled the two batches together (with some poppy seeds, a wonderful natural exfoliant)

3. Spirulina

David Fisher
Spirulina gives a nice green color. It can be added either at trace, or infused into a steeped oil.

To infuse the oil, steep it in your olive oil just like the alkanet - about 2 tbsp per cup of olive oil. Let it sit for 1-2 weeks and strain out the powder before using.

4. Turmeric

Turmeric gives a light warm brown color. It can be added either at trace, or infused into a steeped oil.

To infuse the oil, steep it in your olive oil just like the alkanet - about 2 tbsp. per cup of olive oil. Let it sit for 1-2 weeks and strain out the powder before using.

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