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Is pink an artificial colour?

Is pink an artificial colour?

Pink is a colour that evokes many emotions. It is often associated with femininity, romance, and innocence. But is pink actually an artificial colour that does not exist in nature? Or is it a real shade with a unique place on the visible spectrum?

The Origins of the Colour Pink

The colour pink has not always existed as we know it today. In fact, the name “pink” first started appearing in the 17th century to describe the pale red colour of flower petals. Before this, there was no word specifically for the colour pink in English.

In ancient times, colours were created using natural pigments derived from minerals, plants, and animals. Mixtures of red and white pigments could produce various shades of pink. But these pigments were limited and did not allow for a consistent and saturated pink colour.

During the Middle Ages and Renaissance period, pink was not recognized as a separate colour. Red and pink shades were often described using the same terms. It was not until the 18th century that pink became firmly established as its own unique colour in art and fashion.

The Physics of Pink

From a physics perspective, pink is a real colour within the visible light spectrum. Visible light contains wavelengths ranging from about 400 nanometers (violet) to 700 nanometers (red). Pink corresponds to light with wavelengths of around 500 nanometers.

When white light passes through a prism, it separates into the colours of the rainbow based on wavelength. Pink can be seen as a distinct band in the rainbow spectrum between purple and red. It results from a mix of longer red wavelengths and shorter violet wavelengths.

The human eye contains cone cells that are sensitive to different wavelengths of light. Signals from these cone cells are processed by the brain to produce the perception of colour. The cone cells respond to pink light, confirming it as a true colour distinguishable from other shades.

The Biology of Pink

Pink colours are found in many flowers and animals in nature. This indicates that the colour pink has a biological origin.

Many pink flower petals contain natural plant pigments called anthocyanins. These pigments reflect pink light wavelengths and selectively absorb other colours. Different chemical structures and balances of anthocyanins produce the wide variety of pink shades found in flowers.

In animals, pink colours are produced through combinations of red and white pigments. The pink feathers of flamingos contain red pigments called carotenoids. Their colour results from eating a carotenoid-rich shrimp diet. Salmon get their pink hue from astaxanthin, a reddish carotenoid.

The pink skin of humans arises from blood flow to surface capillaries. More blood circulation means more redness to the skin. Newborn babies often have a pink skin tone which darkens with age as melanin pigment increases.

How Pink Became a Popular Colour

While pink shades existed in the natural world, pink did not become recognized as a distinct colour term until relatively recently in human history.

In 18th century Europe, pastel pink became trendy in high society. It was considered refined, feminine, and elegant. Madame de Pompadour, mistress of King Louis XV of France, wore pink dresses and decorated rooms in her pink palace.

The iconic pink suit worn by Jacqueline Kennedy in 1963 sparked a pink fashion craze in America. Pink had symbolized soft femininity, but now it also represented youth and strength.

In the 20th century, the development of synthetic pink dyes and pigments allowed the colour to be mass produced. Everything from clothes to cars could now be painted pink. Marketers began targeting young girls by associating pink with all things feminine.

How Pink is Produced Today

Most of the pink colours we see today in consumer products do not occur naturally. They are manufactured using synthetic pigments and dyes.

Some common manmade pink pigments include:

  • Rhodamine: A bright fluorescent pink pigment used in cosmetics.
  • Dichromatized alizarin crimson: A cool, bluish pink pigment used by artists.
  • Lithol rubine BK: A vivid reddish pink pigment used in printing inks.

These inorganic pigments allow for consistent, durable, and affordable pink colours. Textiles are often dyed pink using azo dyes which bond strongly to fabric fibres.

Pure synthetic pink pigments reflect light in a very narrow range of pink wavelengths. This produces the saturated “hot pink” colours that we recognize today.

Is Pink an Artificial Colour?

Given its history and origins, can pink be considered an “artificial” colour?

On one hand, pink does exist in the natural world. Many pink plant and animal colours arose long before humans, through evolution and biochemistry. In this sense, pink is a real, natural phenomenon.

However, the particular pink shades today are human constructions. The concept of pink as we know it emerged relatively recently in culture and language. And most modern pink colours are created using synthetic pigments rather than natural ones.

So in summary:

  • Pink light is composed of real wavelengths on the visible spectrum.
  • Some pink colours arise from biological pigments.
  • But the widespread use and meaning of pink is culturally created.
  • Most pink shades today are produced using artificial pigments.

Therefore, pink seems to occupy a middle ground between natural and artificial. Pink itself reflects real physics and biology. But the abundance, intensity, and cultural associations of pink today go beyond nature.

Why is Pink Considered Feminine?

In modern Western cultures, pink is strongly associated with girls and femininity. But why is this so? How did pink become a “girly” colour?

In the early 20th century, consumer marketers began promoting pink for girls and blue for boys. Clothing, toys, and children’s items were colour-coded based on traditional gender roles.

However, the association between pink and female gender was already rooted in 18th-19th century norms. Upper class women gaining leisure time wore blush pink dresses as fashionable attire. Pink roses symbolized romance and delicacy, considered feminine virtues.

Some scientists hypothesize an evolutionary origin for preferring reddish hues. Female primates show increased pinkness during ovulation, attracting male mates. So men may associate pinkness with femininity and fertility cues.

Regardless of origins, the cultural tendency to equate pink with girliness expanded massively in the 20th century. As a result, most people today immediately connect the colour pink with femininity and women.

Does Pink Have Psychological Effects?

Colour psychology seeks to understand how different colours affect emotions and behaviours. Studies have explored the psychological effects associated with the colour pink.

Viewing pink environments has been linked to increased calmness and decreased aggression. One study found that seeing pink helped reduce muscle strength and decreased the risk of fights among prison inmates.

Pink is also thought to promote caring and compassion. Some research found that exposure to pink increased empathy and prosocial behaviour compared to neutral colours.

However, pink can also feel infantilizing or condescending if overly used. The effects likely depend on personal and cultural associations with the colour.

Overall, pink seems to promote serenity while also conveying sweetness and nurturance. But more research is still needed on its psychological impact.

Notable Uses of Pink

Pink has embedded itself in cultures worldwide. Despite its relatively recent emergence as a distinct colour, pink has become prominent across many areas.

Some notable uses of the colour pink include:

  • Politics – Code pink is a women-led peace and justice movement opposing war and violence.
  • Science – Baker-Miller pink is used in prison holding cells for its calmness-inducing effects.
  • Nature – Cherry blossom pink trees flower across Japan during the springtime.
  • Commerce – The pink tax refers to the extra cost of feminine-marketed products.
  • Art – Yves Klein created vivid International Klein Blue and rose pink artworks.
  • Culture – Pink ribbons and paraphernalia represent breast cancer awareness.

From environmental causes to art movements, pink has become ingrained as a representative colour in society.

Criticism of Pink

In recent decades, pink has faced criticism over its strong female gender associations.

Anti-pink activists argue that assigning pink so exclusively to girls promotes rigid gender norms. Children do not inherently prefer any colour. Imposing pink can limit identity, self-expression, and gender equality.

Some women also feel patronized by the pervasive “girliness” of pink products. The so-called pink tax increases prices of razors, pens, and other items simply for having feminine packaging.

However, pink culture has also been reclaimed as empowering. Many women and girls proudly embrace pink items, but now on their own terms without obliging to stereotypes.

Pink in Nature

Animal Mechanism
Flamingos Carotenoid pigments in shrimp diet
Salmon Astaxanthin pigment
Pink moths Transparent wings reflect red blood

This table shows some examples of how pink colours develop in the natural world through biological pigments and processes.

Common Pink Pigments

Pigment Source Type
Anthocyanins Plant pigment Natural
Rhodamine Synthetic Synthetic
Carotenoids Accessory pigments Natural
Dichromatized alizarin crimson Synthetic Synthetic

This table summarizes some natural biological and synthetic chemical pink pigments.


Pink occupies an intriguing space between the natural world and human imagination. It reflects real physics of light. Yet its meaning comes from social construction and synthetic pigments.

The surge of pink products today would likely seem bizarre to people centuries ago. But pink has now become ingrained as an intense, playful, and complex colour in modern society.

Pink illustrates how even colours have histories and unintended consequences. It provides a window into issues of gender, nature, and consumerism. The colour pink has become highly meaningful and controversial for illuminating the contradictions and extremes of contemporary culture.