Colour ~ Part 1

What I am most enjoying about writing these blog posts are the things I learn as I delve into researching topics of interest. Colour, similar to the clean beauty post is vast, interesting, at times disturbing, inspiring and amazing.

Colour, it is everywhere! We see it, love it, may loathe it, can be healed by it, are influenced by it, wear it and theme our lives around it. It is created by nature through light. Isaac Newton studied it, it has a theory and in essence, colour could be deemed as magical.

It's an impossible task to whittle down the huge topic of colour into a few paragraphs, so this blog is dedicated to the production of colour. How is colour made in order for us to wear it on our faces? Is this something you’ve considered as  you’ve applied your makeup in the morning?

Historically women and men have worn and used all kinds of materials to give their faces colour for the purpose of rituals, to please the gods, to symbolise status and to appear more attractive.

These materials were made from fruits, vegetable, berries, grains and plants, beetles, red ochre, copper, lead and zinc oxides, ash, crystals, bone, clay and coal. Many of these ingredients are still used in todays cosmetics industry.

Whilst in Mexico I saw Cochineal beetles being ground to create red dye for yarn. Cochineal or carmine (E120 or Natural Red 4 in today's cosmetics), is still one of the most effective source of red available. It’s use went out of fashion for a while and with vegan living gaining more popularity there may be an expected dip in production.  These little beetles are harvested off cacti in Mexico, dried and squished to make an amazing red colour that is used in cosmetics, food and textile colouring.

Minerals like mica and rare bismoclite are used to provide shimmer and have been used for millennia. Ground-up semi precious stone like  Lapis Lazuli is used for blue or ultramarine, and it seems to be a growing trend to use ground-up  Amethyst and Rose Quartz in many beauty products.

I love the idea of earth, science and trend collaborating to make an amazing product when it is done in a non exploitative and safe way. Unfortunately this is not often the case. Child slavery is a huge problem with mica and gemstone extraction. Over-mining and general lack of safety & respect for the lives of the people and the earth is inevitably a massive issue. How can we be a picture of beauty when there is at times such an ugly side to production?

Sad sigh.

If you read my last blog, you’ll be aware that many beauty product ingredients themselves are harmful. We have however made some small steps away from what our predecessors wore. If you have seen the recent film Mary Queen of Scots you will be familiar with the popularity of the white face makeup of this time, a combination of toxic and lethal lead and arsenic.

Early Japanese geishas also adorned a white face, although theirs was less harmful to their health as it was made of ground-up rice. Though it was kind on the body it  wore-off quickly or was absorbed into the skin.

The durability of colour in cosmetics began to really evolve in the 20th century with the birth of film. The official profession of the makeup artist was created, and the need for products that lasted and didn’t come with terrible side effects for the stars was needed. This prompted scientists to get busy and create lasting and ‘safe’ pigments for food, cosmetics and garments.

Pigments are split into two categories. The first being called ‘organic’ (organic in the chemistry sense, meaning carbon based) known as lakes or toners.

A lake is when a dye colour is bound with a solid compound usually a metallic salt to make it stable in liquid. This is a synthetic process and colours are generally made from coal (oil) by-products. These are your brighter colours, oranges, yellows, reds, vibrant blues etc. Found in all cosmetics items from lippies to blushes.

Toner pigments are the same, although they are already stable in liquid and don’t need to be bound with a solid compound.

The other group are called inorganic pigments and are generally made from metal oxides. These colours are duller but have longer lasting staying power and include your browns, and yellows, greens, mustards and whites, more commonly used in foundations but again in lipsticks, eyeshadows and blushes.

Whist there are many dark and unsustainable aspects of adorning ourselves with colour, it seems that the desire to enhance our features has not changed over the centuries.

Science and history continue to evolve and I dream of the day when our desire for beauty does not cost the planet so deeply.

Stay tuned for my next instalment on colour. It will be based around how to choose colour to wear and what will suit you best. I always love to hear your feedback and thoughts and please follow me here on Instagram.