Eosin is an orange-pink dye derived from coal tar. It can be used to stain cytoplasm, collagen and muscle fibers for examination under the microscope.
There are actually two very closely related compounds commonly referred to as eosin. Most often used is eosin Y (also known as eosin Y ws or eosin yellowish); it has a very slightly yellowish cast. The other eosin compound is eosin B (eosin bluish or imperial red); it has a very faint bluish cast. The two dyes are interchangeable, and the use of one or the other is a matter of preference and tradition.
Eosin is most often used as a counterstain to haematoxylin in H&E (haematoxylin and eosin) staining. H&E staining is one of the most commonly used techniques in histology. Tissue stained with Hematoxylin and Eosin shows cytoplasm stained pink-orange and nuclei stained darkly, either blue or purple. Eosin also stains red blood cells intensely red. Eosin is an acidic dye and shows up in the basic parts of the cell, ie the cytoplasm. Hematoxylin however is a basic dye and shows up in the acidic part of the cell. For example the nucleus, where nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) are concentrated.