Lake Dye

Manuka honey is best for blemished skin.

Type of colorant

Synthetic compounds

Derived from Coal Tar Dyes

TOXIC: known to cause cancer in animals


  • very bright
  • reduced bleeding
  • color portion separates while dye does not


  • colorant


Be Yourself Beautiful does not endorse this ingredient. This glossary entry is included to provide information and incite into products that you may have or are looking at buying. You will not find it in any of the products on this website.

Lake Colors

Lake colors are always derived from the Coal Tar Dyes and therefore need to be batch regulated by the FDA.The term lake dyes refers to water insoluble colors.

Coal tar is a brown or black liquid of extremely high viscosity. Coal tar is among the by-products when coal is carbonized to make coke or gasified to make coal gas. Coal tars are complex and variable mixtures of phenolspolycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and heterocyclic compounds.


According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, preparations that include more than five percent of crude coal tar are Group 1 carcinogens.

However, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation and the FDA, coal tar is a valuable, safe and inexpensive treatment option for millions of people with psoriasis and other scalp or skin conditions.[14] Coal tar concentrations between 0.5% and 5% are safe and effective for psoriasis, and no scientific evidence suggests that the coal tar in the concentrations seen in non-prescription treatments is (or is not) carcinogenic because there are too few studies and insufficient data to make a judgement. Coal tar contains approximately 10,000 chemicals, of which only about 50% have been identified,[15] and the composition of coal tar varies with its origin and type of coal (for example,: lignitebituminous or anthracite) used to make it.

Coal tar causes increased sensitivity to sunlight,[16] so skin treated with topical coal tar preparations should be protected from sunlight.

The residue from the distillation of high-temperature coal tar, primarily a complex mixture of three or more membered condensed ring aromatic hydrocarbons, was listed on 28 October 2008 as a substance of very high concern by the European Chemicals Agency.

Coal tar derived colors in cosmetics

The most common synthetic colors used in cosmetics and hair dyes are called FD&C colors (FDA approved colors for Food, Drug, and Cosmetics) and they are derived from coal tar, which in turn is a by-product of petroleum. Because some coal tar dyes have been known to cause cancer, they are are regulated by the FDA as to the amount of lead or arsenic they contain, limiting these elements to 10 parts per million. In the USA, the following artificial colorings are permitted by the FDA:

FD&C Blue No. 1 (Brilliant Blue FCF, E133), Approved for external use in soaps and lotions and Blue No.4. FD&C Black No.2 and No.3. FD&C Brown No.1. FD&C Green No. 3 (Fast Green FCF, E143 not to be used for eyes, lips, mucous membranes, and Green 5 ,6 and 8). FD&C Orange No. 4, 5, 10 and 11. FD&C Red 4, 6, 7, 17, 21, 22, 27, 28, 30, 31, 33, 34, 36, FD&C Red No. 40 (Allura Red AC, E129). FD&C Violet No.2. FD&C Yellow No. 5 (Tartrazine, E102). FD&C Yellow No. 6 (Sunset Yellow FCF, E110) and F&G Yellow No: 7, 8, 10, 11.

Although a 1984 study on mice that concluded that coal tar dyes were not toxic, there has been recent evidence suggesting that they are potentially carcinogenic. "Women using permanent hair dye at least once a month for a period more than one year more than double their risk of bladder cancer” (USC School of Medicine, Gago-Dominguez et al. 2001). This paper also stated that women who are genetically vulnerable to bladder cancer (so-called “slow acetylators” who are exposed to some carcinogens for longer periods of time) using permanent hair dye at least once a month for a period of 10 years or more had more than 4 times more risk for bladder cancer.

Coal tar dyes associated with cancer include 4-methoxy-m-phenylenediamine, 2,4-diaminoanisole, 4-chloro-m-phenylenediamine, 2,4-toluenediamine, 2-nitro-p-phenylenediamine, 4-amino-2-nitrophenol.

Lake colors can also be derived from coal tar and can trigger allergic reactions. Studies have shown brilliant lake red R to be one of the worst offenders.

{C}{C}{C}Some synthetic lake colors seem to be perfectly safe. For example, disperse black 9 (used in the Surya Henna hair dye) has been deemed by researchers to be safe. HC yellow 2 is regarded as a low hazard by the EWG and the Cosmetic Ingredients Review (an industry body) says it is safe at concentrations up to 3%. Surya Henna also has HC Yellow 4, although this broadly seems to be safe, apart from concerns about reproductive toxicity that have led the CIR to impose a limitation on dose of 3%. Incidently, Surya lists HR red 3, about which I haven't been able to find any information

Dyes vs. Pigments

Dyes dissolve in liquids. This gives them the ability to stain porous materials such as cloth or wood. They also tend to be very bright and produce transparent colors which don't separate, but they are strong bleeders. Dyes are notorious for being fragile when exposed to light and can react to pH changes. They can also react to salt, which is why some use the hybrid Lake colors instead. 

Pigments do not dissolve but instead disperse as very fine particles. They have very limited staining power on their own and need an additional binder to make the particles adhere once the liquid medium has evaporated or dried. Pigments are more deep than bright and produce more opaque colors that will separate over time, but do not bleed. They are also quite stable when exposed to lights, pH differences and chemicals.

The difference between (True) Dyes and (Hybrid) Lakes

DYE is a distinct chemical that exhibits coloring power when it is dissolved. Dyes are water soluble, and will not mix with oils. Dyes can be purchased in a Powder format or a less dusty version called "Granular".

An ALUMINUM LAKE PIGMENT is an insoluble material that tints by dispersion. Lakes are produced from the FD&C Dyes and are oil dispersible (but generally not oil soluble) and thus can be mixed with oils and fats. They can also be dispersed or suspended in other carriers such as propylene glycol, glycerin and sucrose (water and sugar).

Lakes are produced in specific concentrations of dye. Thus, Red 40 Aluminum Lake is available in Low Dye (generally 15-17% pure dye) and High Dye (36-42% pure dye).

Because they are a hybrid of a pigment and a dye the pigment portion will tend to separate out of a material while the dye does not and tend to be more stable to light, pH and other factors than true dyes.