“Why Did my Soap Turn Brown?”

Welcome to Wednesday, everyone! As a midweek soapy pick-me-up, we’re addressing a question we’ve heard all too often in the Bramble Berry offices: “Why did my soap turn brown?!” If you’ve had a few batches of soap under your belt, you’ve likely encountered some kind of discoloration. We’re here to clear up some confusion! While your fragrances may look relatively clear or white out of the bottle, the truth is they may contain vanilla, which — while great for baking — is not so great for behaving predictably in soap.

If you are making melt and pour soap, you can use the Vanilla Color Stabilizer (VCS) to prevent discoloration. It counteracts the vanilla in the fragrance oil, keeping your colors bright and vibrant. If you are making cold process soap, you can try using the VCS but keep in mind that it won’t last forever in cold process soap. Eventually, the soap will discolor. However, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing either, as natural discoloration can result in some beautiful colors. Read on to find out more about discoloration and how you can use it to your advantage.

Even if your soap appears correctly colored at first, after a few days it will reveal its true colors! This is the discoloration that appeared a few days after soaping, and eventually the entire bar will turn that same creamy chocolate brown.

Vanilla is a flavor derived from orchids. Vanilla pods start out very green and then darken to brown as the pod ages and ripens. The darkening of the vanilla bean is caused by various reactions in some of the components — mainly the vanillin. Vanillin is the organic compound that gives vanilla its flavor. Vanillin discoloration is a 100% natural process that can be slowed by adding chemicals to stabilize the fragrance. Even then, the reaction and discoloration will still happen. This color can range anywhere from a slight yellow all the way to a dark brown (the same color as a dried vanilla pod and real vanilla extract). Below are examples of various percentages of vanilla in a basic cold process recipes. There were no colorants added to these soaps; it was simply the vanilla causing the discoloration!

0 – 5% Vanilla Content

Oatmeal, Milk and Honey Fragrance Oil, 2.5% vanilla content

5.1 – 10% Vanilla Content

Cream Cheese Frosting Fragrance Oil, 8.7% vanilla content

10.1 – 15% Vanilla Content

Dragon’s Blood Cybilla, 11.4% vanilla content

15.1 – 20% Vanilla Content

Butter Cream and Snickerdoodle Fragrance Oil, 18.5% vanilla content

You can actually use the discoloration of the vanilla to your advantage and create some pretty awesome designs. In fact, if you have the Soap Crafting book, check out the Black and White soap recipe (on page 60) to learn more about how you can use discoloration to your advantage. If you don’t have the book yet, you can get some discoloring inspiration from the following blog posts:

Top Row:  Black and Tan Beer SoapVertical Sandalwood Vanilla Soap

Bottom Row: Honey Beeswax Cold Process & Advanced Oatmeal Stout Cold Process

The following chart is also an excellent resource if you’re trying to figure out how a fragrance might affect the soap’s color. Keep in mind, we’ve only listed the fragrances that our manufacturer has verified as having vanilla content, so if you don’t see a fragrance on the list then it does not contain vanilla. If you’re looking specifically for fragrances that will not affect the final color of your soap at all, check out our blog post on water white fragrances.

The fragrances have been separated into four groups based on their vanilla content: 0 – 5%, 5.1 – 10%, 10.1 – 15% and 15 – 20%. You can see examples of these four ranges of discoloration in the photos above. While these photos are not meant to represent all the levels of discoloration that might occur in that range, they will give you an idea of what you can expect!

Vanilla Content Chart

Vanilla Content Fragrances
0 – 5%
5.1 – 10%
10.1 – 15%
15.1% – 20%
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67 Comments

  1. Heather says

    Wow, I was just wondering how dark some of my FO were going to turn out, then I see this posted! Very good stuff to know. Thank you! One question. Does the color effect how dark it will be depending on how heavily I scent my CP soap?

  2. says

    Thanks so much for this post. I am with Evie and also never knew that vanilla flavor is derived from orchids, very interesting.
    I have learned (sometimes the hard way) which of my vanilla content scents discolor, but to see the range displayed like you have here is such a wonderful visual reference.
    Thank you for the list of vanilla scents and their percentage, fabulous resource!!

  3. Denise says

    Looking for someone that makes soap to mentor my daughter for a class project in South Louisiana. If anyone is interested please contact me by posting a reply to my post. Thanks. We need someone as soon as possible.

  4. says

    We’re conditioned (via marketing) to think of vanilla as being a creamy color…like vanilla ice cream. It took me awhile to make the ‘brown’ vanilla connection.
    It makes much more sense, really. The vanilla pod and beans are dark brown. Drop one into a jar of vodka and within days, the vodka turns brown and continues getting darker and darker over time. Exactly what happens to vanilla based soap.
    I relate this to my customers and they’ve actually commented, “Oh, wow…your vanilla soap is actually much more natural!” :)

  5. Annie says

    This is a super-great informative piece! I like these kinds of articles because I am the type of person who wants know all about what I am doing. I will be pinning this one. Thank you!

  6. Rochelle says

    Thank you for this great post! I have tried to stay away from anything with any vanilla due to having chocolate brown soap more then once, but showing the percent ranges and what that might look like has helped so much!! I no longer need to fear all vanilla! Thanks!

  7. Lory says

    Very helpful info! I once made a lemon-scented buttermilk soap in which I infused the olive oil with lemon zest. It was initially bright yellow, then exterior quickly (within 3 days) turned dark brown, so that eventually it was like chocolate. When I used the soap, the interior was an intense yellow (I used individual bar mold shaped like sunflower), so that every time I took a shower with it, the yellow was revealed, giving a sharp contrast against the dark brown, it was beautiful. The exposed parts would turn dark brown too, but the surface that sits on the soap holder keeps its yellow color. There seems to be something in the air that interacts with the vanilla content of the lemon scent I used. BTW, just FYI, I purchased your book from B&N and I love it! Have yet to find the time to make soaps again, after the busy-ness of gardening/canning.

  8. Dawn says

    What an informative post! The local soap supply company provides the percentages of vanilla content in their product descriptions, but the visual is so much better! As always, Brambleberry does a great job of offering quality products and information.

  9. says

    My surprise using vanilla based FO was not the discoloration of the soap but rather the lather.

    I knew over coloring your soap would cause the lather to be colored but did not know that using only a discoloring FO would discolor your lather.

    I’m not a fan of brown lather and the brown mess it makes in the soap dish. I will not sell soaps that will lather brown and therefore avoid vanilla FO in cold process soap.

    I am surprised this part of the discoloration was not covered in this post.

    • says

      Hi Tracy!

      Sometimes, with the darker vanilla fragrances, your lather can turn a bit brown (which is a surprise for some!), and one way to avoid that is to not use heavy vanilla fragrances in cold process. That is why we’ve given a list with percentages, so you can choose which fragrances work the best for you! =) Thank you so much for your feedback, we really appreciate it!

      -Becky with Bramble Berry

      • says

        Thank you Becky!

        I wish it was only “sometimes”, a “bit” and only the “higher vanilla content fragrance oils”! The higher content vanilla FO’s always lathers brown. The only time it was a “bit”, was when I used BB oatmeal, milk, and honey, and that lathered tan rather than brown.

  10. Sly says

    I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post and refer to it frequently – Thank you so much for putting this together.

    It is also SO helpful to see a photo of the final soap when I am on the BB website looking for purchases.

    As I was reviewing this post while planning to use Amber FO, I noticed that it was listed in 2 places: at 3.2% and 20%. Looking on the BB site, the photo looks like it would be 3.2%, so I am wondering what was supposed to be listed as 20%? Spiced Amber Ale? Or something else?

    Thank you for your help.

    • says

      Good morning, Sly!

      We are so happy that this post has helped you so much. It has been one of our most popular ones lately and it is a great reference. Thanks for the eagle eye on the Amber FO. It is at the 3.2% and I will make sure that the chart gets readjusted for that! =)

      -Becky with Bramble Berry

  11. Sly says

    1) Blueberry is listed as 10% Vanilla. No Way!! I’ve used BB Blueberry FO and it goes light tan…you even list that on the description.

    2) Also, after Sandalwood Vanilla (4.5%) listing, there is a listing of .7% but no name with that.

    3) And: I’m curious as to why Vanilla Color Stabilizer is listed as having 2% Vanilla. When I use it, it prevents my soap from any discoloration. At 2% I think there would be some discolor.

    Thank you for your help!

    • says

      Hi Roryann!

      If you use vanilla color stabilizer (VCS) in your cold process soap and decide to rebatch it, it isn’t going to morph or change your soap, but the heat might render it useless. If you were to rebatch a soap with VCS in it, I would make a small batch first to see how you like it when it hardens.

      -Becky with Bramble Berry

  12. Tim Adams says

    Was wondering if the darkening effect of the vanillin in these EOs can be tamed artificially with Titanium Dioxide. I ordered the Vanilla Select and the Island Coconut to make a two color tropical soap. I’m no so concerned with the darkening for the vanilla side but Island Coconut has 2% and I definitely want my coconut bleach white. I’m using certain oils for that.

  13. Melissa says

    I’m new to soaping and producing bath and body products, but I was curious as to whether you had to use fragrance oil for vanilla or will extract do the trick? And if so, will I need to use a VCS? Also, if I were to make a bath bomb or body butter utilizing vanilla, would vanilla FO discolor that as well?

    Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Melissa,
      Welcome to the wonderful world of soap making! We’re happy to have you :)

      We typically do not recommend using vanilla extract as a fragrance in bath and body products, and particularly when you’re cold process soaping. This is because the extract isn’t formulated to withstand the high pH environment of cold process soap, and the scent will dissipate. Fragrance oils, on the other hand, are specifically formulated to retain their scent in bath and body products.

      As for your next question, we usually only see vanilla discoloration in soaping products. Lotions, butters and bath bombs should be okay! :)

      I hope that helps!

      -Kirsten

    • says

      Hi Jodi!

      The reason the picture above has the discoloration around the edges has to do with the vanilla coming into contact with light! Eventually the whole soap will begin to discolor, but because the outer parts of the soap have been exposed to light, that’s where it will start. Kinda cool, right? :)

      I hope this helps!

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

      • Jodi says

        Thank you, Amanda, for your quick reply. Wow… light being the factor – I would have never guessed that. I thought it was more about temperature or time. Soap making is just so complicated – it’s awesome!

    • says

      Hi Sandy!

      Good question :) If your fragrance contains vanilla, it will discolor. If pigments are used, they will simply mix with the discoloration, creating a new color, but the discoloration will still occur. Basically, you will be mixing your colorant with brown, tan, yellow, or whatever that particular fragrance discolors to :)

      In this post you can see how oils can also effect the discoloration, because pure olive oil was used (that is green) the discoloration turned green! Kinda cool huh?

      Facebook Photo of the Week (Discoloration Example):
      http://www.soapqueen.com/bramble-berry-news/facebook-photo-week-february-1st-february-7th/

      I hope this helps Sandy :)

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  14. heidi says

    Great post! Very informative too. For a while I have been avoiding F/O with a vanilla content for CP soaping. Now I’d like to embrace vanilla discoloration in my new project. If I’m going to separate the batter, can you still use the full alloted amount of F/O in the portion that is going to discolor and none in the other, or do I have to recalculate accordingly?

    • says

      Hi Heidi!

      I’m so glad you found this post informative and helpful :). I’m also happy to hear you’re embracing vanilla discoloration, it can really lead to some beautiful designs! And hey, if you can’t beat them, join them right? :)

      If you are going to half the batter, I would recommend halving the fragrance as well. Keep in mind, that even though you are only adding fragrance to one half, the unfragranced portion will still experience some discoloration, because the fragrance discoloration bleeds.

      I hope this helps!

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  15. Sherry says

    I just wonder why recently my CP soaps turn to glycerin!!!
    i put my soap in my new mold (plastic food container)
    Then after 2 hours from middle of my soap start turning to glycerin!!!
    What shall i do? Please someone advise me…

  16. Paige Marie says

    I was wondering if this was still necessary to use when you’re using a colored clay in a CP recipe.
    I am using the Lots of Lather Quick Mix (54oz) and Rose Clay for color and want to use the Black Amber and Lavender FO which has a high vanilla content (11.5%). I would like the finished product to be a nice rose color- should I use the stabilizer to help achieve this? Also, could you recommend how much Rose Clay to add to this 5lb recipe so that I get a very true rose color (similar to how it looks as a powder)?
    Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Paige!

      Unfortunately because you’re using a fragrance with a high vanilla content, your soap will eventually turn brown no matter what colorant you are using. The vanilla stabilizer does not work very well in cold process. We have found that it will still turn brown eventually.

      With the rose clay, it’s a “what you see is what you get” type of colorant. I would recommend using 1 to 2 teaspoons of rose clay per pound of soap :)

      I hope this helps!

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  17. Christi says

    I just made a whipped body butter, a lotion, bath salts and a soy candle with Relaxing FO. They smell amazing. Will these products turn brown too? If yes, can I use your Vanilla Stabilizer in these products?

  18. Amanda Warner says

    Hiya!
    Can I use colorants to change the brown color of my CP soap when I use FO’s with vanilla? All of my FO’s have <5% vanilla. I understand that eventually they will turn brown, but can I postpone it by adding more colorant? And how long, on average, do I have before they start turning brown?
    Thanks for any help you can give!
    -Amanda

      • says

        Hi Amanda!

        I know, I wish that vanilla fragrances didn’t discolor as well. Unfortunately, adding more pigment will not postpone the eventual brown color. How quickly the soap will discolor depends on how much vanilla content the fragrance has. If it has quite a bit (15% or so) it will start to discolor within a couple days. That being said, sometimes discoloration can work to your advantage when you want a dark rich brown…sometimes you don’t even need to use pigment :)

        -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  19. Christi says

    I made a whipped body butter, a lotion, bath salts and a soy candle with Relaxing FO. They smell amazing. Will these products turn brown too or is it just soap that turns brown? If yes, can I use your Vanilla Stabilizer in these products?

  20. D.J. Binczik says

    I purchase Butter Cream and Snickerdoodle back in January of this year.

    Currently the website says

    Vanilla Content: 18.5%
    Pleas Note: Our current lot of this fragrance oil has a deeper, orange tint to it. However it smells, behaves and eventually discolors to the same deep brown.

    Is my product from the lot mentioned above- because I do not recall the above warning present when I made my purchase.

  21. D.J. Binczik says

    I purchase Butter Cream and Snickerdoodle back in January of this year.

    Currently the website says

    Vanilla Content: 18.5%
    Pleas Note: Our current lot of this fragrance oil has a deeper, orange tint to it. However it smells, behaves and eventually discolors to the same deep brown.

    Is my product from the lot mentioned above- because I do not recall the above warning present when I made my purchase.

    Also does the Vanilla Content Chart come in a PDF?

    • Kelsey says

      Hi DJ!

      I’m not exactly sure what lot your fragrance came from. However, The Butter Cream and Snickerdoodle Fragrance Oil smells and behaves the same as it always has. Now it’s just a little more orange. :)

      Also, we don’t have that chart available in PDF form, but thank you for that suggestion!

      -Kelsey with Bramble Berry

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