Carmine (also known as cochineal extract, crimson lake and natural red 5) is a common bright red pigment found in many cosmetics including lipsticks and nail polishes. It’s a great alternative to synthetic dyes which may be more dangerous for your health, however, it is not without its faults. As it is made from crushed insects it can cause allergic reactions in some people which range from mild itching and watering eyes to swollen shut lips and even anaphylaxis which can require a trip to the emergency room.
The bright red coloration comes from the body of the female insect Dactylopius coccus Costa which is then crushed and treated with acid to create a water soluble compound. This is then combined with alum to form an intense crimson dye which is highly stable at both pH 3 and 5 as well as light and heat stable. The word “carmine” is probably derived from the Persian word kirmn which means worm or insect and refers to the deep crimson red color produced by cochineal insects.
It is used in both traditional and natural beauty products as well as some food products and was commonly used by the Aztecs to dye textiles and foods. It can be found in a wide range of makeup brands ranging from the most affordable drugstore beauty lines to the most high end luxury cosmetics. However, any product that contains this ingredient is not considered vegan.