Color is one of the most versatile ingredients in soap making. You can tint your soaps in lovely solid colors or use advanced techniques to swirl soap colors to create beautiful works of art. While many choose to use dyes and pigments, natural colors derived from herbs, botanicals, and other vegetable matter and clays can produce some vivid or muted colored soaps.
Natural colorants require a little more experimentation in achieving a desired color, but once you have the right color, the effect can be duplicated rather easily by following the formula you created. Be aware that some colorants will scent your products. You can work around this by using smaller amounts, combining it with other natural colorants, or incorporating it into a scent blend.
Some colorants will stay true in hot process soap but morph into a completely different color when allowed to go through the saponification process of cold process soap. Some colors are more vivid if allowed to go through the gel process in cold process soaps. Some colorants work great in melt and pour soaps, while others have a less than satisfactory result. Although herbs, botanicals and clays can be tricky, it is worth the effort of using them in your soaps. Testing and experimentation is all part of the fun.
How to Use Natural Colorants
First let’s take a look as to how you can add natural colorants to soap. When using powdered herbs and clays, you can add the colorant to warm oils or to the lye water or at light trace. For powdered or whole herbs, botanicals and clays, you can make an oil infusion and incorporate the final colored oil into your recipe. If you add the powdered herbs without making an infusion, it may give soaps an exfoliating property, which can be either desirable or undesirable depending on the outcome you wish to achieve.
To make an oil infusion there are two different methods that work well – the hot oil method and the cold oil method. To add the infusion, you can either add a very small amount of highly concentrated colored oil to your soap oils or at trace, or you can replace an oil in the recipe with a less concentrated color infused oil. For example if your recipe called for 8 ounces of olive oil, replace it with 8 ounces of infused olive oil.
Dried herbs in hot oil – The crock pot works best for hot oil infusions, unless you can obtain a heat diffusing mat or simmer mat. These mats can be purchased online or in kitchen stores that carry specialty products. Stove top temperatures are too high for proper infusions and will cook your herbs, depleting them of their properties. A double boiler can be used at low temperatures as well.
Place your herbs in the pot. Add enough oil to just cover the herbs. As a starting point, try 1 part dried herbs to 2 parts of oil. This is just a starting point, you can add more herbs to make a more concentrated infusion. Allow to heat at a temperature of 120-130 degrees. The “warm” setting on the crock pot should achieve this temperature, but as brands vary, you’ll need a thermometer to be safe until you’re sure of your crock pot’s settings. Remember, we do not want to cook the herbs. Simmer at this temperature for 2 – 3 hours. Once the oil has cooled, strain the herbs out of the oil using a couple layers of cheesecloth, which can be purchased at kitchen or craft stores. You can then use the infused oil in place of any oil in your recipe. Note: To avoid having to strain the herbs, try placing them in a heat sealed tea bag sold by many soap suppliers.
Dried herbs in “cold” oil – The cold infusion method is one of my personal favorites. It involves steeping the herbs and oils in the sun, which results in lovely jars full of infusions on the windowsills. The drawback to this method is that it takes weeks.
Sterilize a mason jar, or something similar. This can be accomplished by placing the jar in boiling water or by running it through the “antibacterial” cycle on your dishwasher. If you have ever canned food before, you will be very familiar with this important first step. You can either pack your jar with herbs and then pour the oil over the top or, for smaller recipes, use 1 part herbs to 2 parts of oil. Again this is just a starting point, you can add more herbs to make a more concentrated infusion. Seal the jar tightly with a clean lid. Place the jar on a windowsill with lots of sun for 3 – 4 weeks. Give the jar a quick shake once daily. The object is to keep the jar warm as the herbs steep in the oils, so if you live in a cold climate, take that into consideration. Once finished steeping, strain the herbs and botanicals from the oil. Note: To avoid having to strain the herbs, try placing them in a heat sealed tea bag sold by many soap suppliers.
Now that you know how to add the natural colorant to your product, let’s see what you can use as a natural colorant tomorrow.