Use of Alkanet in Natural Cosmetics

child applying blushHave you ever wondered how to get color in your natural cosmetics, such as lip balms and lotions, without using a synthetic product? I recently came across a plant extract which can add a red tint to your home made cosmetics. Alkanet is a plant that is alternatively known by the names dyer’s alkanet or dyer’s bugloss because of its common usage in natural cosmetics.

Plant Profile of Alkanet

Alkanet (Alkanna tinctoria) belongs to the Boraginaceae plant family. It is native to the Mediterranean region. There are several related species of plants that go by the name alkanet but it is Alkanna tinctoria that is used in cosmetics for the red dye. The red dye is obtained from the dark red roots of the plant although the flowers of Alkanna tinctoria are usually blue-purple in color (source).

Other Plant Species of Alkanet

It is perhaps wise to know some of the other species of alkanet too, so that you don’t use the wrong type of alkanet in your cosmetic products (see footnote at end of article too).  Other plant species of alkanet are closely related in species, size and color and include:

  • Anchusa/Alkana officinalis – common alkanet or bugloss. This plant has purple/violet flowers, narrow leaves and grows up to 2 feet in height. It flowers in June and July
  • Alkanna sempervireus – evergreen alkanet. This plant has large blue flowers, ovate leaves and grows up to approximately 4 feet in height. It flowers from May to August
  • Alkanna azurea – this plant has large blue flowers (with white tufts), narrow leaves and grows up to 4 feet in height.

Medicinal Uses of Alkanet

Alkanet is an ancient herb that has been used medicinally in the past; according to Maud Grieve in A Modern Herbal, English herbalist and botanist Nicholas Culpeper (1616 -165) wrote that alkanet could be used medicinally for inflammation, ulcers, jaundice, bruises, smallpox and measles, depending on the form in which it was taken.

Cosmetic Uses of Alkanet

Alkanet also has many other uses, most notably as a dye. The roots of alkanet are water-insoluble and the red dye produced from them is used to color soap, oil, perfume, fat and other pharmaceutical products (source). In addition, alkanet root has been used to stain wood to resemble rosewood or mahogany. It also used as a food coloring and additive.

How to Use Alkanet to Color Cosmetics

The color produced from the roots of alkanet is red or purple-red in color, depending on how you use it and depending on the plant. The most common color is red, although shades of the end product may vary. To use alkanet as a dye in cosmetics, carry out the following actions:

  • place the roots in an organic carrier oil, such as sunflower or almond oil; this is called infusion or maceration. Add approximately one cup of dried alkanet roots to a jar of carrier oil and mix (source: Aromatherapy A Complete Guide to the Healing Art, Kathi Keville and Mindy Green). However, you may need to vary the amount depending on the cosmetic product that you are making and the intensity of the color that you would like
  • place in a warm place (such as a sunny window ledge) and after a few days (including some shaking and stirring as in the normal process of infusion), check on the process and, if necessary, add more plant material/leave for longer. Separate the roots from the oil by straining the oil off
  • use the oil in the making of your cosmetic product; for example, a simple home made lip balm recipe is beeswax, cocoa butter, shea butter and almond oil. You can use the alkanet-infused almond oil in place of regular almond oil. Make your cosmetic product in the usual way.

This process can be used for other herbs too that are used as “dyes”, or natural colors, for cosmetics.

Natural Color in Cosmetics

The use of herbs and plants in cosmetics is not new; ancient Egyptian and Roman ladies used various plant parts for cosmetic applications much in the same way that we use regular store-bought cosmetics today. However, many store-bought cosmetics contain synthetic chemicals and materials, even those that claim to be “natural.” The easiest way to know what is in your cosmetic products is to make them yourself – and if you want to add a bit of color, use plants and herbs such as alkanet!

Note: Alkanet (Alkanna tinctoria) is currently very difficult to obtain from US suppliers; many US suppliers are selling Batschia canescens as “alkanet.”  This is not the same plant or product as Alkanna tinctoria, although it may produce similar results.  Check with the supplier for further information before purchasing or seek out an alternative.

Photo by richat


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