Case Studies

Identifying natural alternatives of synthetic colorants for cosmetic compositions

Posted by | Fuld & Company

A Fortune 500 cosmetics company needed to identify sustainable solutions for its cosmetic products.


Artificial colors used in cosmetic products often belong to a mono-azo chemical class of colors. The most commonly used color of this class is FD&C Yellow No. 6, also known as Sunset Yellow FCF {Chemical name – (2-NAPHTHALENESULFONIC ACID, 6-HYDROXY-5-[(4-SULFOPHENYL) AZO]-, DISODIUM SALT)}.  

If used in cosmetic creams, this synthetic color can block skin pores and interfere with the skin’s natural oil balance, which might lead to blemishes. Further, it can get absorbed into the skin and release some toxic chemicals such as lead or arsenic into the bloodstream, which may have adverse effects if the concentration is above a threshold. Even though such kind of adversaries have not yet been reported, consumers at present are more inclined toward cosmetic compositions that have natural ingredients, especially actives and colorants, and those that can guarantee positive after-effects. 

Risks associated with the colorant under discussion: 

  • Low – Cancer risk 
  • Moderate – Allergies and immunotoxicity risk 
  • Low – Developmental and reproductive toxicity risk 
  • High – Regulatory restrictions


  • To identify natural multi-functional colorants (smart colors) that can add value in terms of color and ideally in other aspects including preservation/antioxidants, and odor/aroma.


  • The following key approaches were considered to identify multi-functional colors for the company: 
    • coloring agents that are used in the food domain 
    • natural agents that are used for the preservation of highly sensitive products 
    • natural coloring agents that are well-known in traditional medicine 
  • A comprehensive search matrix considering each approach was prepared, followed by the retrieval of patents and scientific literature. Further, data from innovation blogs, websites, chemical sites, posts, etc., was extracted and analyzed to shortlist colors that are used across multiple functions.  
  • From the list of shortlisted colors, all the natural colorants that have coloring effect similar to Yellow 6 were extracted, following an extensive search for the below-mentioned primary parameters: 
    • other reported uses of the natural coloring agent 
    • already established uses 
    • safety information 
  • A further narrowed-down, final list of coloring agents was prepared based on the above parameters.  
  • A ranking matrix was prepared with the following primary and secondary validation parameters: 
    • compatibility 
    • sustainability 
    • procurement options 
    • long-term toxicity 
    • others  


  • The company tested all the suggested colorants in its in-house laboratory and found all the colorants to be suitable for its intended formulations. 
  • Using the recommended multi-functional, natural colorant, the company was able to develop new cosmetic formulations with a reduced number of synthetic ingredients.  


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