top of page
  • Writer's pictureThe Pink Elephant Lady

Reimagining the Bugs in Your Lipstick and in Your Food

Bugs in Your Lipstick?

Take a look at your tube of lipstick or lip gloss. Does it have Carmine in it? Carmine is made with bugs. Boiled, crushed bugs, to be exact. Don’t trust the fact-checking on a blog or website that calls them ‘cochineal beetles’: they’re not beetles at all. (

Carmine is a red food coloring derived from boiled cochineal bugs. These bugs are native to Mexico and South America and feed on cacti (prickly pear, especially). Females eat red cactus berries, and this concentrates the color red in their intestines.

Carmine is used in cosmetics, foods like yogurt, juice, and candy, in pharmaceuticals, and vitamins, and is very frequently used to add color vibrancy, long-wear and shade intensity to cosmetics. It is the ‘go-to’ natural dye when cosmetic chemists want to achieve specific cooler ranges of pinks, purples, and reds while avoiding the use of synthetic red, purple, and pink FD&C and Lake dyes.

FDA Requires Product Label Changes

Prior to 2011, ‘Carmine’ or ‘cochineal extract’ could simply be listed as ‘natural color’ or ‘natural dye’ on a product label. You could find Carmine listed on an ingredient label as any of the following: “Carmine”, “Carmine (Coccus Cactil)”, “Carmine 5297”, “Carmine Ultra-Fine”, “Carminic Acid”, “Carminic Acid Lake”, “Cochineal”, “Cochineal Extract”, “Natural Red 4”, “B Rose Liquid”, “Natural Dyes”, “Natural Pigments”, “Crimson Lake,” “Natural Red 4,” “C.I. 75470,” or “E120.” However, on January 5, 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a final rule in the Federal Register that amended its regulations to require the declaration by name of the color additives cochineal extract and carmine on the label of all food and cosmetic products in the United States (74 FR 207). The final rule became effective on January 5, 2011. The F.D.A. required these ingredients to be listed in the wake of reports that some people have suffered severe allergic reactions to these insect extracts.

Think it's Gross to Eat Bugs? Surprise: You're Already Eating Them!

Starbucks took a lot of heat for using cochineal extract in its products a few years back, with internet memes and social media posts being fired off on the regular, and headlines like “Starbucks to Drop Beetlejuice from the Menu”. Starbucks eventually agreed to stop using cochineal altogether. However, Starbucks did not invent the use of cochineal, they were not the only company using it, and companies are still using it. Do you eat Dannon yogurts? Strawberry, Cherry, Boysenberry, and Raspberry varieties of Dannon's "Fruit on the Bottom" line all contain the critter-based dye, as does the Strawberry flavor of Dannon's Oikos brand of Greek yogurt. Tropicana red grapefruit juice? Carmine. Good and Plenty? Carmine.

However, experts say, unless you're allergic to it, cochineal extract probably isn't a health concern. Given the very real health concerns about Red 40 and other artificial food colorants like Yellow 5, crushed bugs can be a safer alternative (aside from ethical concerns people may have about boiling and crushing bugs because we like the way it makes our foods and cosmetics look). However, carmine certainly makes for an interesting conversation - vegans and vegetarians might be unpleasantly surprised to learn of the origins of this ingredient!

Getting Over the 'Ick' Factor: Rethinking Bugs

In the future, we may have no choice but to get over the 'ick' factor about eating bugs. There's a social enterprise company right here in Detroit convincing folks to do just that. Detroit Ento is a Detroit-based sustainable protein firm focusing on locally reared insects for food, feed and pharma. The following is from their website :

  • In 2050 when the world population is 9 billion, to feed this population, current food production will need to almost double.

  • 2 billion people already eat insects; not consumed as a famine food, but for palatability and nutrition

  • Deforestation. The Amazon is a case in point: pasture now accounts for 70 percent of previously forested land, with feed crops covering a large part of the remainder

  • Livestock production accounts for 70 percent of all agricultural land use

  • The production of 1 lb of chicken requires 280 gallons of water, 1 lb of pork requires 420 gallons and 1 lb of beef requires 2,500 gallons, with estimates for the latter reaching as high as 5,000 gallons, while 1 lb of crickets require 1 gallon

  • Up to 80 percent of a cricket is edible and digestible compared with 55 percent for chicken and pigs and 40 percent for cattle. This means that crickets are twice as efficient in converting feed to meat as chicken, at least four times more efficient than pigs, and 12 times more efficient than cattle

  • 1900 species of insect are identified as being consumed worldwide

  • Crickets are in the same phylum as Lobster and Shrimp

Kinda makes you think, doesn't it? There was even a "Eating Insects Detroit: Exploring the Culture of Insects as Food and Feed" conference held at Wayne State University in May of 2016. This was the first conference dedicated solely to edible insects held in the U.S. (

You can learn more about Detroit Ento at

#Cosmetics #Carmine #Lipstick #Artificialcolors

212 views0 comments
bottom of page