How to secrets prevent food coloring skin stains

As a sensory teacher for toddlers, I have had my fair share of skin stains using food coloring for play.

If you are ready to create a sensory play using food coloring but are afraid it will stain your child’s hands, here are some tips to ensure the best play and the least of worries when it comes to playing with food coloring.

If you are a geek like me and want to know the whys behind things, then read this part. If not, skip right into the hacks!

Why Does Food Coloring Stain Skin?

prevent food coloring skin stains

Food dye, or food coloring is so good at it’s job that it will stain anything in it’s path! your counter, your food and your hands! The colors are made of tiny molecules that easily cling to surfaces, including skin

When these color molecules come into contact with your skin, they latch onto the outer layer, the epidermis. This outer layer of skin is absorbent, which is why moisturizer is so beneficial. However, this absorbency also means that food dye can easily set in, creating those unwanted stains.

Have a stain? read our tips for removing food coloring from the skin

How to Prevent Food Coloring Skin Stains Before They even Start

The most common question I get in my parent coaching calls is when they decide to play with Jello! Gelatin cubes is a great sensory play activity for toddlers still putting things in their mouth but because they are handling the material with their hands and placing it around the mouth it can stain a lot.

When using food coloring for edible sensory play avoid RED or BLUE food coloring or Jello. This stains the most!

If you are reading this, this section and your hands are already stain, then read our top hacks to remove food coloring from skin.

If it’s not too late to learn how to prevent food dye skin stains, Keep these tips in mind next time you handle food coloring. A little preparation can make all the difference.

Gear Up: Essential Protective Gear to prevent food dye skin stains

  • Gloves: Disposable gloves act as a barrier between the dye and your skin, providing the first line of defense against stains. Some people like to use shortening under their gloves for extra protection. It may not be the most fashionable look, but it’s much better than sporting stained hands for days.
  • Aprons: Protect your clothes from splashes and spills with a trusty apron. It’s like a cape for creative messes.
  • Table Cover: Contain the splatter zone with a simple plastic tablecloth or even some newspaper. This will safeguard your table from turning into an abstract art piece.

Not All Dyes Are Created Equal: Choosing the Right Dye:

Believe it or not, the type of food coloring you choose can significantly impact how likely it is to stain. Depending on your activity planned, choose which food dye is best and prevent food coloring skin stains. It is different to do a color bath vs. trying to get the brightest colors for a dry rice sensory bin.

Selecting the right kind of food dye can make a big difference when you want to prevent food coloring stains on skin. Here’s a quick guide.

Dye TypeProsConsVerdict
Liquid Food ColoringInexpensive and easy to findRunny, making them prone to spills, which means a higher risk of stained hands.Best for beginners, but make sure to wear those gloves and use a table cover.
For rich colors use Color right food coloring (available on Amazon)

For beginners use Nomeca brand set (found on Amazon)

Gel Food ColoringThicker consistency, less mess, more vibrant colors.Pricier than liquid food coloring.A great option for preventing stains because it is easier to control.
Natural Food Coloring (Beet juice, Turmeric, etc.)Free of chemicals, gentler on the skin, and can create beautiful, natural hues.May result in lighter, more pastel-like colors. Making natural dyes at home can be time-consuming.A great choice if you are concerned about exposing your family to harsh chemicals. However, working with natural ingredients for color can be more challenging than using store-bought options.

For edible recipes use TruColor (available on Amazon

Best food coloring for bright colors

Color right food coloring (available on Amazon) is the best one for getting true colors that pop, is bright for any sensory activity. All you need is one or two drops and you will get amazing colors like these. The hues are true to the rainbow and the box offers additional colors like brown and black.

This stains a lot because it is so powerful! so make sure you use gloves and protect your counters when using it, but the big bright colorful results are amazing so it’s work the risk!

photo: How to color rice for sensory play suing food coloring

Best food coloring for edible Recipes

When it comes to edible sensory play, some people might be hesitant to using regular food coloring. After a while of doing lots of sensory play with it, I did too. As I started looking for other options, I found a vegan food coloring brand that people really liked.

The colors are more pale than other food coloring, but you get the benefit that they are more natural.

After doing more research into vegan food coloring options, I found out that TruColor (available on Amazon) is a favorite among vegans to use for their food, so I would think is safe to say this is a good recommendation.

Best food coloring for beginners

Most food coloring boxes come in the three primary colors and green. What if you want pink or purple? then you would need to experiment putting a few drops here and there.

One of my first food coloring sets and my favorite is the Nomeca brand set (found on Amazon). It comes in 12 colors. The tones are so beautiful and the price is perfect!

Best food coloring for bright neon colors

Neon colors are so much fun to play with! You don’t have to make special mixes and the McCormick neon box is all you say! Just add a few drops and you are good to go!

Learn how to make this colorful rice for sensory play here

We all know toddlers enjoy pouring the whole thing if they could! These little food coloring bottles are a perfect size and are harder to squeeze than other food coloring bottles I have purchased. As they squeeze they only get a few drops at a time, making it perfect for toddler participation.

The best Natural alternative to food coloring

A surefire way to avoid artificial food dyes is to make your own natural versions using ingredients from your kitchen. There are so many beautiful hues in food, so why not use them? Especially if you are going to be doing edible-safe activities.

Many fruits and vegetables come in powdered form, but you can make your own by buying freeze-dried fruits and vegetables and pulverizing them to a fine powder in a food processor or spice grinder.

Onother way to make natural food dye is making a concentrated liquid. The liquid can be pure juice, a strained purée, or water-based: If you have a juicer, use it. It produces the purest liquid that you can reduce to the proper consistency.

Boil your ingredient of choice and use the remaining water as your staining color. Food52 recommends the following ingredients to achieve each color.

  • Pink: strawberries, raspberries
  • Red: beets, tomato
  • Orange: carrots, paprika, sweet potato
  • Yellow: saffron, turmeric
  • Green: matcha, spinach
  • Blue: red cabbage + baking soda
  • Purple: blueberries, purple sweet potato
  • Brown: coffee, tea, cocoa
  • Black: activated charcoal, squid Ink

Alternaties to using food coloring in sensory play

Not every sensory activity requires you to use food coloring. If you are using an edible activity I do suggest you use food coloring to color your materials. But instead, if your child no longer puts things in their mouth or the activity is not edible, then opt for watercolors or paint to color your materials. These two later materials tend to stain less while giving even brighter colors to your play.


Food coloring is a great material to use for sensory play but it can also stain the skin. To prevent the stains and enjoy the play prepare your area ahead of time like suing a table cloth to cover the table, use protective gear like gloves, use the right type of food coloring and match your play.

And if next time you forget to take these steps, then read our top hacks to remove food coloring from the skin.