Tinted lip balms: Testing plant based dyes

Jan 22, 2022 | Face care, Formulations, Lip balms

Lately I have been playing with some colors that I have bought a while ago. I really want to create a beautiful, creamy tinted lip balms and lipsticks that give more color to the lips. The need for color is definitely brought by very dull weather outside – grey sky all week (I am in need of more sun!).

tinted lip balms

I have started with a lip balm recipe that I have really liked before and tried to modify it a bit. In the initial recipe there was stearic acid, but I wanted to have a bit more slip on the lips so I have changed it to behenyl alcohol. They both have similar melting point and are of the fatty nature.

Behenyl alcohol acts as a thickener, stabilizer and a refatting agent in cosmetic formulations. It has a good glide and slip which is important in tinted lip balms and lipsticks as the glide is reduced when we add pigments to the formula.


For the better dispersion of the pigments I wanted to try dicaprylyl carbonate which is a very light ester. It is a skin conditioning agent, emollient and solvent that quickly absorbs into the skin without a greasy feeling. Dicaprylyl carbonate spreads very easily and is a good alternative to silicones.



Firstly, I have tried the formula without any pigments. It turned out quite well, but not really to my likings – it was too light for my lips (I like to feel that lip balm is on my lips). The spreading ability was okay – now it is probably around 18°C in my making area and the lip balm needs a bit of time to melt on the lips. But in the summer, it should be very good as it hot here (around 25-30°C).


Then, I have reduced behenyl alcohol content by 2.5% and added 2.5% of pigment to the formula. As the most of the dyes are in a solid form, I swapped the hardest ingredient in the formula.

Here I have tried my pigments that are derived from vegetable sources. These pigments are different from mica and oxides.

I have 4 different dyes: Red radish, Pink sweet potato, Elderberry purple and Red grenadine. The first three are in a powder form but the last one Red grenadine is liquid. All of them should disperse quite well in anhydrous formulations. Red radish, Pink sweet potato and Elderberry purple should have a good stability, can be used in 1-10% and should be added into melted oily phase just before pouring into containers.


Pigment Red radish is obtained by extraction with water and ethanol, combined with modified starch carrier with a bit of citric acid to stabilize the color. The extracted pigments are anthocyanins which are usually insoluble in oil and sensitive to light. This is why they are coated with a distarch phosphate – to make them more stable to light and dispersible in oily formulations. The pigment itself has a very intense bright red color but it has a distinctive radish scent. However, I did not notice the scent in the final formulation.

This pigment can be dispersed in oil and oily mixtures. The dye poorly disperses in water and emulsions and the color may change due to pH. This pigment can be used for lipsticks, gloss, blush or eyeshadow in the balm stick.


Pink sweet potato and Elderberry purple dyes are obtained the same way as Red radish pigment. According to manufacturer the pink dye has light smell and taste of sweet potatoes, but I haven’t noticed them. The purple dye should have characteristic scent and taste as elderberries, but I haven’t noticed that as well.

Both pink and purple dyes are also anthocyanins and share the same characteristics as Red radish dye – they are insoluble in water and can be dispersed in anhydrous formulations. They cannot be used in lotions and other emulsions as these dyes are pH dependent.


Even the manufacturer states that these pigments disperses well in oils, it was difficult to get an even color with Red radish, Pink sweet potato and Elderberry purple pigments. I could see the dye staying on the bottom of the beakers even when I have tried mixing in it for at least 5 minutes. Also, the spots of the pigments are seen in the lip balms.

The Red grenadine pigment should have a good color stability, but has an awful scent. It can be used 0.1-7%. The dye can be used both in aqueous and anhydrous formulations, but the color is pH dependent.  The color fades when exposed to light, so the formulations should also be kept out of direct sunlight. I have to say that I haven’t noticed the scent in the final formulation. But the scent maybe could be detected using higher amounts of Red grenadine dye.

There were no problems at all with Red grenadine dye – it mixed well instantly giving a clear, transparent product. It was the easiest pigment to work with. 


After this I have also tried to disperse the pigments solely in dicaprylyl carbonate. I thought that I could pre-disperse the pigment better and then add it to the melted oils. However, it was really hard to do that with the same dyes. For this little experiment I have also included mica so I can make better conclusions.


After letting dyes to soak in dicaprylyl carbonate for several days I have seen that Elderberry dye has completely dispersed while Red radish dye and Pink sweet potato dye still had some grains of pigments. Mica was easily dispersed in dicaprylyl carbonate and stayed there without any separation. As for Red granadine – it dispersed instantly giving a clear solution.  


Dicaprylyl carbonate with a grenadine dye gets a transparent/not cloudy color.

As for the tinted lips balms – they were a bit dry for my taste, the slip was not so good. As expected they did not deliver much of the color to the lips due to low percentage in the formula. It would be interesting to see if we can get a better coverage with higher rates of these pigments.

Have you ever tried these pigments? Do you have any tips how to include them more easily? If you know – share your knowledge with everyone else in the comment section 🙂


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