Types of Color Additives

Technically, color additives are any dye, pigment or substance that can impart color when added or applied to a food, drug, cosmetic or to the human body.

A color additive is often considered to belong to one of two classes:  “natural” color additives, or “synthetic” color additives.  The distinction is not always meaningful because there are some color additives that are considered natural that are produced through chemical synthesis.

Man-made or synthetic colors have been added to foods since the mid-1800s. Since that time, many improvements have been made in the development and production of food colors. Whether a color additive is synthetic or natural has no bearing on its overall safety. Both types of color additives are subject to rigorous standards of safety prior to their approval for use in food.

Straight colors:

  • Refers to dyes (soluable in water) and pigments (typically insoluable in water).
  • No mixing or chemical reaction with any other substance.


  • Formed by chemically reacting straight colors with precipitants and substrata.
  • In the US, food lakes must be made from certified batches of straight colors with the exception of carmine made from cochineal extract.
  • Lakes are used in situations where bleeding is undesirable, such as frostings.


  • Formed by mixing one color additive with one or more other color additives, or one or more straight colors and one or more diluents.
  • FDA does not consider a mixture to involve a chemical reaction.
types of color additives