Where’s the vegetables?

by Justine Cosley

It never fails that when a groomer is scorned by the public for coloring a dog, their “comeback” is, “But I use vegetable based dyes”. I’ve seen it 1000 times. I’ll be honest. I use to use this line myself. Why did I use it? Because that’s what I was taught to say in classes that I took at grooming industry trade shows. When groomers use this term, they are trying to give the public a sense of security.

But what is a “Vegetable based dye”? I could find no scientific definition of this term anywhere, so I asked some groomers what it meant to them. Many of them said that they thought that it meant that the pigments themselves were derived from vegetables. While others felt that it was a product that contained no harmful chemicals such as ammonia or peroxide.

I did find the term “Vegetable dye” listed as a colorant that is obtained by a plant. Some definitions, mostly used by the textile industry went further to describe how these pigments were actually obtained and what plants they came from.

Now, let’s think about this term for a moment. A vegetable is defined as a plant or part of a plant used for food. A base is defined as the bottom support of anything, or in the case of dye, it would mean what makes up the largest ingredient. When groomers refer to vegetable based dyes, they are commonly referring to crème brands, such as Manic Panic, Special effects, or Punky colors. Do you really think the base (the highest quantity of ingredient in the jar) is vegetables?

I decided that if these dyes were made of vegetables, surely there would be some reference to the term “vegetable based dye” on the website of these 3 brands.

I searched all over the websites of these 3 major brands of dyes and I could not find one single reference to any of these companies claiming that their product is a “vegetable based dye”. They proudly claim to be Vegan, but that just means that there are no animal -products used to manufacture their dyes, not that it’s so safe you can eat it. I even went so far as to call the companies, but my calls were not returned.

So, I had to dig deeper.

Let’s examine each ingredient on the label of Manic Panic:

Synthetic Beeswax – “Ozokerite Ceresin and Montan Wax, mineral waxes that are derived from coal and shale”. (1)

Hmmmm, ok, so it’s fake Beeswax, made from coal, shale. Are there any veggies in there? Nope. Now, normally one would assume that the ingredient with the largest amount it always listed first, but just in case this is not true, let’s keep looking.

Cetearyl Alcohol – “Cetearyl Alcohol, Ceryl Alcohol, Myristyl Alcohol, and Behenyl Alcohol are white, waxy solids. Isostyreal Alcohol is a clear liquid. Cetyl Alcohol and Stearyl Alcohol are the 2 major components of Cetearyl Alcohol. These ingredients are fatty alcohols that are widely used in cosmetics and personal care products, especially in skin lotions and creams.” (2)

Now, I’ve read that cetearyl alcohol can be derived from plants, such a coconuts, but that it can also come from other sources, such as animals. It does not have to be classified as plant derived or animal on the label, so how does one know? They don’t. So does this mean that because Cetearyl Alcohol can come from plants, that these dyes are vegetable based? No. Even though Cetearyl Alcohol can be made from plants, once the plant is processed, and the desired product is extracted, and mixed with other chemicals, it is no longer a plant or a vegetable, it is a chemical.

Ceteareth-20 – “Ceteareth-2 to -18, and Ceteareth-22, help to form emulsions by reducing the surface tension of the substances to be emulsified. Ceteareth-20 to -40 help other ingredients to dissolve in a solvent in which they would not normally dissolve, and along with Ceteareths-50 to -100, clean the skin and hair by helping water to mix with oil and dirt so that these substances can be rinsed away. These things are made with Cetearyl and Stearyl alcohol.” (3)

Humulus lupulus extract – Basically, this stuff is Hops. That’s right, the stuff in beer. Apparently Hops has antimicrobial, astringent, soothing properties. FINALLY! A plant! (4)

Anthemis nobilis extract, – Basically the hard way to say Chamomile – It is used as a skin conditioner. Another plant, I’m getting pretty exited here. (5)

Acetic Acid, “is an organic acid formed when ethanol is fermented. Vinegar is typically a 5% solution of Acetic Acid. Brown Rice Vinegar is the vinegar produced by the fermentation of unpolished brown rice. Natural Vinegars also contain small amounts of tartaric acid, citric acid and other acids.” (6) Vinegar can by made from any fruit , or any material containing sugar. Aha! A vegetable, except, vinegar is not a vegetable. It’s an acid, which used to be a vegetable.

Methylparaben – “Methylparaben is produced naturally and found in several fruits, primarily blueberries, along with other parabens” (7) So, they are grinding up blueberries and putting them in the dyes! There! It’s vegetable based…not!

Propylene Glycol – “Propylene Glycol is also used to help stabilize formulations. “ (8) Propylene glycol is also referred to as PPG. Is Propylene Glycol used in antrifreeze? Yes it is. It is also used in foods. But it is most certainly not a vegetable.

Now, let’s look at the colorants. The manic Panic label also states that their product contains:

May Also Contain: Orange 4 (CI 15510), Red 33 (CI 17200), Blue 1 (CI 42090), Yellow 10 (CI 47005), Green 5 (CI 61570)

Orange 4 and red 33 are both classified as Monoazo pigments . Orange and Red, that must mean they grind up carrots and red peppers, right? No. Monoazo pigments typically come from earths and clays. (9)

Blue 1 was originally made from coal tar, but most manufacturers now make it from an oil base. (10)

Yellow 10 (11) is a synthetic dye produced from petroleum and coal tar sources


Green 5 in an anthraquinone. Anthraquinones can be derived from plants. Finally, a vegetable based pigment.

Are there ingredients in Manic Panic that are derived from vegetables? Yes. But does that make them “vegetable based dyes”? No more so than I can call my Dove Damage Control Conditioner a vegetable based conditioner.

You see, most things on the earth come from an animal, vegetable or mineral. But they are processed to the degree that they no longer resemble the original thing from whence they came. Unless we are using something like beet juice (which itself can actually cause skin reactions) we shouldn’t be perpetuating the myth that we are using vegetable based dyes.

Now, it’s true that Manic Panic , and most of these other crème dyes do not contain alcohol or peroxide, or harmful chemicals like PPD. But let’s just call it what it is, a gentle, conditioning dye, NOT a vegetable based dye.

When groomers use the term ‘vegetable based dye’ to convince others that they are using safe products, it simply shows that one is uneducated about the products they use. If you come up against someone who IS educated, you will only be showing your lack of education and damage the industry for everyone.














  1. Excellent!!

  2. Very well written! Great Article!


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