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Colours from nature.

May 26, 2020

So another little thing I like to do is to find colours in natural materials – plants, minerals or whatever.

Not all natural colourants are safe or good for use in cosmetics.  Take these mushroom dyes for example,  I’d want to do a whole lot more chemical analysis on them to make sure they were safe before putting them anywhere near my face, especially as a) I’m very amateur at picking the safe shrooms from the ones that will blow your head off and b) mushrooms can easily carry bacteria on them, not all of which is the good stuff.  However, it’s nice to play around and these dyes can always be used to colour fabrics (which is what I’ll do with them).

If you wish to use natural colourings for your cosmetics do make sure you check on their safety – are the extractions you make clean?  Are the chemicals that make the natural colour or anything else present in the brew potentially irritating to the skin?  Will the colour fade over time or when you change the pH of the product?  Will the colour stain the skin?

I once sat cutting up green walnuts with the view of making a dye out of them for use in fake tans (as that was and still is something that is used).  Unsurprisingly after sitting for a good hour or so and processing my nuts I looked at my hands to find them stained all over.  Sure Walnut is a great skin stainer and yes, that’s good for self-tanning solutions that want an instant skin tone but damn it makes you look like you have a nicotine habit if you get the dose and exposure time wrong.

The key with anything is to check, check and check again.  Do your stability testing, send things off for chemical analysis,  do a micro check and check for INCI/ botanical name data that could give you any clues as to where, how and when this has been used before.

On another note, as I was processing these mushrooms I did find that some of them do soap up pretty well, producing quite long-lasting bubbles.  Many plants contain natural Saponins and some of these can be harnessed by cosmetic chemists and used as surfactants.  I will have to do a lot more reading before I can ascertain whether what I’ve found has leg as a stand-alone mushroom soap agent but you never know!  Unsurprisingly some mushrooms also contain glutenous, gelling agent type chemicals (long chain sugars usually) which may be useful in thickening cosmetics.  Finally there’s beta glucan, a moisturiser and skin soothing agent, in mushroom cell walls and that’s already extracted by some cosmetic ingredient manufacturers.  I wonder how hard it would be for me to isolate it?  Maybe that’s a project for another day too!

I’ve put up my project pictures here- the blank spaces bug me, they really do but I can’t get a grasp on what these ones are yet so there you go!

No doubt my attempt at identifying some of the species has gone a bit off-track so if I do become aware of any errors I’ll let you know. I used a local field guide,  my notes and links from my local landcare group whose Fungi identification course I just attended on the weekend plus the powers of my own mind (hahahahaha) to ID these babies.   I also had much better pictures of the key features to refer back to from when the shrooms were fresh plus the now partially dried-up samples that I kept to refer back to.  Hopefully over time these little babies will teach me more about themselves but for now I’m just going to leave this right here.

No mushrooms were smoked or otherwise ingested in the making of this exciting blog entry  I don’t do drugs, I am drugs (a saying that I relate to and one first said (if the internet is true) by Salvadore Dali). Also all of these were found on our Fox Hill Hollow property.  Mushroom picking in natural parks requires a permit and is not really a good idea as if you take all the mushrooms the fairies become homeless.


The finished dyes tested on silk.  The darker one on the far end is made from Eucalyptus Red Gum (E.Blakelyi) which is the dominant species on our block. Well it’s either that species or it is the Camaldulensis (River Red Gum).  After thinking it was the latter for the last three years I’m not inclined to change my mind but I’ve got to wait until the buds and flowers come out to really get an better review done.  Anyway, it makes a lovely light pink to purple tone dye.

This is a great resource for people in Australia who are wanting to make dyes from Eucalyptus tree parts.  I used the bark to make this so it’s turned out pinker than the leaves.

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