CFSAN/Office of Cosmetics and Colors
January 24, 2006; Revised April 20, 2007
Color Additives and Cosmetics
Color additives are subject to a strict system of approval under U.S. law [FD&C Act, sec. 721; 21 U.S.C. 379e]. Except
in the case of coal-tar hair dyes, failure to meet U.S. color additive requirements causes a cosmetic to be adulterated
[FD&C Act, sec. 601(e); 21 U.S. Code 361(e)]. Color additive violations are a common reason for detaining imported
cosmetic products offered for entry into this country.
Some Basic Requirements
If your product (except coal-tar hair dyes) contains a color additive, by law [FD&C Act, Sec. 721; 21 U.S.C. 379e;
21 CFR Parts 70 and 80] you must adhere to requirements for:
- Approval. All color additives used in cosmetics (or any other FDA-regulated product) must be approved by FDA.
There must be a regulation specifically addressing a substance's use as a color additive, specifications, and restrictions.
- Certification. In addition to approval, a number of color additives must be batch certified by FDA if they are to
be used in cosmetics (or any other FDA-regulated product) marketed in the U.S.
- Identity and specifications. All color additives must meet the requirements for
identity and specifications stated in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).
- Use and restrictions. Color additives may be used only for the intended uses
stated in the regulations that pertain to them. The regulations also specify other
restrictions for certain colors, such as the maximum permissible concentration in the finished product.
How are color additives categorized?
The FD&C Act Section 721(c) [21 U.S. C. 379e(c)] and color additive regulations [21 CFR Parts 70 and 80] separate
approved color additives into two main categories: those subject to certification (sometimes called "certifiable") and
those exempt from certification. In addition, the regulations refer to other classifications, such as straight colors and
- Colors subject to certification. These color additives are derived primarily from petroleum and are sometimes
known as "coal-tar dyes" or "synthetic-organic" colors. (NOTE: Coal-tar colors are materials consisting of one or
more substances that either are made from coal-tar or can be derived from intermediates of the same identity as coal-tar
intermediates. They may also include diluents or substrata. (See Federal Register, May 9, 1939, page 1922.) Today,
most are made from petroleum.)
- Except in the case of coal-tar hair dyes, these colors must not be used unless FDA has certified that the batch in
question has passed analysis of its composition and purity in FDA's own labs. If the batch is not FDA-certified, don't use
- These certified colors generally have three-part names. The names include a prefix FD&C, D&C, or External D&C; a color;
and a number. An example is "FD&C Yellow No. 5." Certified colors also may be identified in cosmetic ingredient declarations
by color and number alone, without a prefix (such as "Yellow 5").
- Colors exempt from certification. These color additives are obtained primarily from mineral, plant, or animal sources.
They are not subject to batch certification requirements. However, they still are considered artificial colors, and when
used in cosmetics or other FDA-regulated products, they must comply with the identity, specifications, uses, restrictions,
and labeling requirements stated in the regulations [21 CFR 73].
- Straight color. "Straight color" refers to any color additive listed in 21 CFR 73, 74, and 81 [21 CFR 70.3(j)].
- Lake. A lake is a straight color extended on a substratum by adsorption, coprecipitation, or chemical combination that
does not include any combination of ingredients made by a simple mixing process [21 CFR 70.3(l)]. Because lakes are not
soluble in water, they often are used when it is important to keep a color from "bleeding," as in lipstick. In some cases,
special restrictions apply to their use. As with any color additive, it is important to check the
Summary of Color Additives and the regulations themselves [21 CFR 82, Subparts B and C] to be sure you are using lakes only for their approved uses.
How can I guard against color additive violations?
Several precautions can help you avoid color additive violations that will cause your cosmetic to be adulterated:
- Do not confuse certified colors with their uncertified counterparts. For example, FD&C Yellow No. 5 is the certified form
of tartrazine, and is approved for use in cosmetics generally. But tartrazine, which has not undergone FDA analysis and
received FDA certification, must not be substituted for or identified in an ingredient declaration as FD&C Yellow No. 5.
- Do not confuse certified colors with colors identified only by a Colour Index (CI) number, or by the E number sometimes
used in European color identification. You must not use a color subject to certification unless FDA has certified the batch
in question [FD&C Act, sec. 721(a)(1)(A). A CI or E number does not indicate FDA certification.
- When purchasing color additives subject to certification, check the label. If the lot is certified, the color's label
must state the legal name for the color (such as "FD&C Yellow No. 5"), or, if it is a mixture, the name of each ingredient;
the FDA lot certification number; and the color's uses and restrictions as stated in the CFR [21 CFR 70.25).
- Check the Summary of Color Additives on FDA's Web site.
Although this table is not a substitute for the regulations, it is an easy-to-use reference that introduces you to
FDA-approved color additives and directs you to the regulations addressing specific color additives.
- Become familiar with the regulations themselves. The color additive regulations are in 21 CFR Parts 70 through 82.
Specific color additives are addressed in Parts 73, 74, and 82. The color additive regulations are posted on FDA's Web
site at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/col-cfr.html. To purchase printed copies of the CFR by credit card, call the
Government Printing Office at (202) 512-1800, Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time.
To pay by check, write to the Superintendent of Documents, Attn: New Orders, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954.
Contact the Government Printing Office directly for current costs.
- Confirm the status of color additives before use. There may be changes in color additive approvals and changes in the
uses and restrictions that apply to a color additive. Such changes may affect colors subject to certification as well as
colors exempt from certification. To stay current with the regulations, you can check the latest edition of the
FDA Dockets. You also may contact FDA at
- When purchasing colors subject to certification, confirm that the manufacturer has requested certification. For
example, you can choose a manufacturer from FDA's list of companies that have requested color certification within the past
two years. This list is posted on FDA's Web site at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/col-comp.html and is available as
Document #710 by mail or fax through the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Outreach and Information Center's
toll-free phone number, 1-888-SAFEFOOD. If the company that appears on the color additive label is not on this list, you
may contact FDA at
to determine whether the company has in fact requested certification of its
Must I match colors with intended use?
Yes. No matter whether a particular color is subject to certification or exempt from certification, U.S. law prohibits
its use in cosmetics (or any other FDA-regulated product) unless it is approved specifically for the intended use
[FD&C Act, sec. 721(a)(1)(A); 21 U.S.C. 379e(a)(1)(A)].
The regulations also restrict intended use as follows:
- Eye-area use: You may not use a color additive in the area of the eye unless the regulation for that additive
specifically permits such use [21 CFR 70.5(a)]. The "area of the eye" includes "the area enclosed within the circumference
of the supra-orbital ridge and the infra-orbital ridge, including the eyebrow, the skin below the eyebrow, the eyelids and
the eyelashes, and conjunctival sac of the eye, the eyeball, and the soft areolar tissue that lies within the perimeter of
the infra-orbital ridge" [21 CFR 70.3(s)]. Although there are color additives approved for use in products such as mascara
and eyebrow pencils, none is approved for dyeing the eyebrows or eyelashes.
- Externally applied cosmetics: This term does not apply to the lips or any body surface covered by mucous
membrane. For instance, if a color additive is approved for use in externally applied cosmetics, you may not use it in
products such as lipsticks unless the regulation specifically permits this use [21 CFR 70.3 (v)].
- Injection: No color additive may be used in injections unless its listing in the regulations specifically
provides for such use. This includes injection into the skin for tattooing or permanent makeup. The fact that a color
additive is listed for any other use does not mean that it may be used for injections [21 CFR 70.5(b)]. There are no color
additives listed in the regulations as approved for injections.
What about special effects and novelty use?
No matter how exotic or novel the color additive or its intended use, it is subject to the same regulations as the more
everyday colors and products. The following items are a sampling of some out-of-the-ordinary color additives. This list is
not exhaustive. Rather, it is intended to show how the regulations apply to such colors:
- Color-changing pigments: Colors that change in response to such factors as change in pH or exposure to oxygen
or temperature are subject to the same regulations as all other color additives.
- Composite pigments: Color additives used in combination to achieve variable effects, such as those found in
pearlescent products, are subject to the same regulations as all other color additives. Some color additives, when used in
combination, may form new pigments, which may not be approved for the intended use. An example is a "holographic" glitter,
consisting of aluminum an approved color additive bonded to an etched plastic film.
- Fluorescent colors: Only the following fluorescent colors are approved for use in cosmetics, and there are
limits on their intended uses: D&C Orange No. 5, No. 10, and No. 11; and D&C Red No. 21, No. 22, No. 27, and No. 28
[21 CFR 74.2254, 74.2260, 74.2261, 74.2321, 74.2322, 74.2327, and 74.2328].
- Glow-in-the-dark colors: Luminescent zinc sulfide is the only approved glow-in-the-dark color additive [21 CFR
- Halloween makeup: These products are considered cosmetics [FD&C Act, sec. 201(i); 21 U.S.C. 321(i)] and are
therefore subject to the same regulations as other cosmetics, including the same restrictions on color additives.
- Liquid crystal colors: These additives, which produce color motifs in a product through diffraction, are unapproved
color additives. Their use in cosmetics is therefore illegal [FD&C Act, sec. 601(e); 21 U.S.C. 361(e)].
- Tattoo pigments: As noted above, no color additives are approved for injection into the skin, as in tattoos and
- Theatrical makeup: Like Halloween makeup, these products are considered cosmetics [FD&C Act, sec. 201(i); 21
U.S.C. 321(i)] and are therefore subject to the same regulations as other cosmetics, including the same restrictions on