Do you know every ingredient of every product in your makeup bag? We’re betting not. What if we told you that your lipstick may contain crushed bugs? It may sound ridiculous, but this is exactly the case – some lipsticks contain carmine, a red pigment derived from insects called cochineals. We break down what exactly carmine is and whether it’s dangerous – and give you some options for luscious red carmine-free lipsticks.
What is carmine?
Cochineal is a red insect dye that has been used for centuries to dye textiles, drugs and cosmetics; it has been used to dye lipstick, blush and eyeshadow.
The cochineal bug is native to Central and South Americas and has been used to create a red dye since the time of the Aztecs. It quickly became a source of wealth – royalty wanted the bright colours for themselves, and the British hired pirates to steal gold, cochineal bugs and other valuables from ships.
To create carmine, the cochineal insect is boiled, sun-dried, crushed and then mixed with an acidic alcohol solution, which brings out vibrant colours ranging from crimson to pink, purple or peach, but it is most commonly used to create red dye. It takes around 70,000 cochineal insects to make just one pound of dye.
Obviously, cosmetic companies aren’t too keen on listing “crushed bug” on their ingredient lists, so besides being listed as carmine, cochineal could also be listed as “crimson lake,” “natural red 4” or “CI 75470.”
Is Carmine Dangerous?
Don’t freak out – aside from the risk of an allergic reaction, carmine is considered safe, as it’s a natural substance and isn’t linked to any specific health risks. However, products containing carmine aren’t considered to be “cruelty-free” for obvious reasons.
If you’d rather not have crushed bugs smeared on your face, you’ll be pleased to know that some brands are working to produce lipsticks that contain carmine alternatives. Here are three of our picks:
Hourglass Confession Ultra Slim High Intensity Lipstick in Red O
Created in celebration of World Vegan Day on 1 November 2021, this highly pigmented lipstick is developed using a carmine alternative and is long-lasting.
Available at Net-a-Porter
Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution in Lucky Cherry
Charlotte Tilbury refuses to test on animals, creating cruelty-free makeup that is used on celebrities around the world. This lipstick is not only intensely pigmented and long-wearing while being intensely comfortable, but it also contains orchid extracts to help soften and condition your lips!
Available at CharlotteTilbury.com
Tarte Tarteist Quick Dry Matte Lip Paint
Besides being completely cruelty-free, this liquid-to-matte liquid is full coverage and transfer-proof.
Available at Tartecosmetics.com