Historically, natural dyes were used to color clothing or other textiles,
and by the mid-1800's chemists began producing synthetic substitutes for
them. By the early part of this century only a small percentage of textile
dyes were extracted from plants. Lately there has been increasing interest
in natural dyes, as the public becomes aware of ecological and environmental
problems related to the use of synthetic dyes. Use of natural dyes cuts
down significantly on the amount of toxic effluent resulting from the synthetic
Natural dyes generally require a mordant,
which are metallic salts of aluminum, iron, chromium, copper and others,
for ensuring the reasonable fastness of the color to sunlight and washing.
Customers who have become accustomed to the dazzling colors and wash and
light fastness of synthetic dyes are hard to convince, as only a few of
the natural dyes have good all round fastness
Quality standards for natural dyes vary widely, so it
is necessary to first contact an importer to find out what they are looking
for. The problem arises with standardization of the colors as no two dye
lots are identical. While paint manufacturers might be interested in the
uniqueness of each batch of color produced, technicians in the pharmacology,
food and textile industry loathe this lack of consistency.
This latter group has attempted to standardize natural
dyes by imposing a color index that attempts to classify and name them.
Each dye is thus named according to the following pattern:
natural + base color
These dyes are thereby specifically identified as dyes
of the stated colour, but it does not specify whether the dyes are derived
from animals or plants. This is because it is a classification based on
the dye's source and color, and it contains no chemical information, nor
does it imply that dyes with similar names but unique numbers are in any
way related. It also gives no information about the mechanism by which staining
occurs. This is done in order to authenticate the synthesized organic dyes
along with natural dyes under the same universal classification system.
Some examples include carmine which comes from cochineal
(natural red 4), lac (natural red 25) and hematein which comes from the
logwood tree (natural black 1). The FDA in the US has taken an additional
step and given colors used in foods, drugs and cosmetics their own labels
(FD&C) after passing them as being fit for human consumption or use.
Further information on this process can be obtained via the FDA's website:
Natural dyes are a class of colorants extracted from vegetative matter
and animal residues. They can be broken down into the following categories:
Table 1: Categories
of Natural Dyes
Yellow and Brown
Weld, Quercitron, Fustic, Osage, Chamomile, Tesu,
Dolu, Marigold, Cutch
Lac, Cochineal, Madder (Majithro)
Tannins: gallotannins, ellagitannins and catechol tannins
Myrobalan, Pomegranate, Sumach, Chestnut, Eucalyptus
Source: Color Trends
under the auspices of the RAISE program and through the sponsorship
Agency for International Development.
information on this page is from the RAISE program. Developed under
the auspices of the RAISE program and through the sponsorship of the
for International Development.