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Why are moisturizers white even though they contain dark ingredients?

Cadence has a question…Hi, why are most moisturizers and serums etc are mostly white or light colored even though they contained lots of ingredients that should tint the product? Ingredients such as CoQ10, grape seed extract, lycopene, green tea, blueberries etc., if I mix them into the moisturizer at home it would turn into mud. Does the extracting/purifying process in the lab removes the colors? I have not seen any dark products, even those that claim to contain a high level of the actives. Thanks so much!

The Beauty Brains respond:

There are two reasons why the products you asked about are white:

1. The main reason is that moisturizers are made by dispersing drops of oil in water. These droplets are so small that they scatter and reflect light. This scattering of light is what makes the product appear white. A classic example is milk which consists of tiny drops of milk fat dispersed in water.

2. The “dark” ingredients you mentioned are aren’t always dark and they are typically used at very low levels so they don’t have a significant impact on color.

  • Grape seed extract is sold as a clear liquid that has no color.
  • Green tea extract, for example, is sold as a light brown powder and as a light brown, transparent solution in propylene glycol. When added to products as a low level (usually well below 1%) the additional light brown-ness gets lost against the white background.


“Dark” ingredients that are used at higher levels (like dyes) do actually give the product color which is why you have moisturizers that are pink, green, blue, etc. (By the way, many of the extracts you mentioned are actually colorless.)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Marmar February 6, 2014, 9:30 am

    Can I make anhydrous conditioning hair styling cream or hair balm with just butters , oils and BTMS or Behentrimonium chloride or any oil soluble quat.

    • Randy Schueller February 6, 2014, 10:57 am

      Marmar: I’m not quite sure what you’re trying to accomplish but if you want a hair styling cream then quats are not the best ingredient to use. They are primarily designed for rinse off products because they stick to the damaged spots on hair. If left in contact with your scalp they may cause irritation. Also, they won’t provide much hold which is what you typically want from a styling cream. You might check out this site for more help: http://www.chemistscorner.com

  • Eileen February 6, 2014, 1:30 pm

    This was interesting. I never gave much thought as to why there wasn’t more color variation due to the actual ingredients. I just assumed that most coloring was artificial and the product of marketing research. Back in the day, when I was at university, I had to read a book called The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard. One section that particularly interested me was the one wherein it was discussed why cosmetic companies select certain colors for their lotions and potions. Although the book itself is out of date (It was published in the late 1950’s), I imagine most of what Packard had to say about the psychology underlying the selection of colors still holds true.