There Are Dead Bugs in Your Lipstick!

There Are Dead Bugs in Your Lipstick!  Do you think I’m kidding?  I am not and I have the scientific research to prove it.

I Read the Ingredients on Labels:  Okay, I know I’m a bit of a freak when it comes to the science and chemistry of cosmetics.  I actually do read every label of every product and study the ingredients before I put them on my face.  I’m allergic to so many things that it is a necessity.  Also, I want to know what I am putting on my clients.  I feel a responsibility to them to be sure the products are safe.

Do the Ingredients Matter to You?  I have always been fascinated by the myriad of ingredients that comprise most cosmetics.  I’m sure many of you: a) don’t read the ingredients; b) aren’t interested as long as the stuff works; and c) think that because you can’t pronounce them, the ingredients really aren’t important.  Even so, don’t you want to know what is in the products you are putting on your lips?  After all, you are going to be licking this stuff off, essentially eating it.

What Are the Dead Bugs?  There is one ingredient that I find particularly startling, Carmine or Cochineal Extract.  Carmine and Cochineal are the same thing… the ground up bodies of dead bugs known as Dactylopius Coccus.  Cochineal are found in Arizona, Mexico and South America.  Contrary to popular belief, the Cochineal is a scaled insect as opposed to a beetle.

Cochineal Insects Cluster Photo by Frank Vincentz

Cochineal Insects Cluster
Photo by Frank Vincentz

How Are they Harvested?  The Cochineals live on prickly pear a.k.a. nopal cacti.  Small nests are placed on the cacti, the bugs crawl into them, and then they are brushed off of the cacti or collected from the nest.

Cochineal Insect Nests Photo by Oscar Carrizosa

Cochineal Insect Nests
Photo by Oscar Carrizosa

How Long Have Cochineal Bugs Been Used in Makeup?  The practice dates back to ancient Egyptian times.  It is estimated that these bugs have been used for approximately 5,000 years.

How Many Bugs Are in a Tube of Lipstick?  It takes 40,000 to 70,000 Cochineals to yield a pound of Carmine dye.  The number depends on the size of the insect.  The most desirable insects are pregnant females with expanded abdomens.  It is impossible to say how many would be used in a formula, but it would be more than a few.

One Crushed Cochineal Insect

One Crushed Cochineal Insect

Labeling Practices / What to Look for: (This is how Carmine will be listed on a label.)

  • B Rose Liquid;
  • Carmine 5297;
  • Carmine Lake;
  • Carmine Ultra-Fine;
  • Carminic Acid;
  • Carminic Acid Lake;
  • C.I. 75470;
  • Coccus Cacti L.;
  • Cochineal Extract;
  • Crimson Lake;
  • E 120;
  • Natural Red 4;
  • Red 40.

If a Product Is Labeled Organic Is It Free from Carmine?  No, since Cochineal is an insect occurring in nature and not synthetically created, it still fits within the definition of an organic product.

Are So-Called “Natural Brands” Free from Carmine?  No, even brands like Burt’s Bees use Carmine in their lip balm.

Burts Bees Replenishing Lip Balm Pomegranate Flavor Contains Cochineal Carmine

Burts Bees Replenishing Lip Balm Pomegranate Flavor Contains Cochineal Carmine

Do Expensive or Cheap Brands Contain Carmine?  Almost every brand in every price range uses some form of Carmine to color their products.  It can be found in everything from e.l.f. to Chantecaille.

There Are Dead Bugs In Your M-A-C Lipstick

There Are Dead Bugs In Your M-A-C Lipstick

If a Product Is Labeled Cruelty Free Is It Free from Carmine?  No, that simply means that the product did not undergo animal testing at the time the product was packaged.  Cruelty free does not apply to insects.  Cruelty free also does not tell you whether or not the company previously participated in animal testing.  Also, many companies designate themselves as cruelty free when in fact they are not.  Any company that sells their product in China is not cruelty free because the Chinese government actually requires animal testing before a product can be sold there even if it was not manufactured there.

What Else Is Carmine Used In?  Basically, anything that has a red color might contain Carmine.  This is just a small sampling of products (there are thousands).  EWG (The Environmental Working Group) currently has 2,199 products in their cosmetics database alone that contain Carmine.

  • Candy
  • Cosmetics (Blush, Eyeliner, Eye Shadow, Face Powder, Lipstick, Mascara, Nail Polish)
  • Cough Syrup
  • Food (Dannon and Oiko yogurts)
  • Fruit Juices (Long list)
  • Prescription Medications
There Are Also Dead Bugs in Your NYX Blush

There Are Also Dead Bugs in Your NYX Blush

Is Carmine Dangerous?  No, for the great majority of people there is absolutely no evidence that Carmine presents any type of health hazard.  I have used many products that contain Carmine for many years with no ill effects whatsoever.  It is next to impossible to be a makeup artist and not use products that contain some form of Carmine.  Like any substance on Earth, anyone can have an allergic reaction to a substance.  There are people who claim to be allergic to water.  While extremely rare, there have been reports of serious allergic reactions to Carmine.

If Carmine Isn’t Dangerous Why Should You Care?  I don’t have a problem with companies using Carmine.  I do have a problem with companies naming and listing a coloring agent that misleads people as to what is actually in it.  I think Carmine should be listed as “Cochineal Insects” because that is indeed what it is.  By coming up with all of the different misleading names, it is impossible for a consumer to differentiate an insect-based colorant from a fruit or vegetable-based colorant.

If You Want to Avoid Carmine, How Do You Do That?  The only way to avoid Carmine completely is to read every ingredient of every label and only buy products that are certified “Vegan”.  As Carmine is derived from an insect, it cannot be used in vegan products.

What Do the Vegan Companies Use for Coloring Agents Instead of Bugs?  They primarily use:

  • Beets;
  • Carrots;
  • Cranberries;
  • Grape Skins;
  • Pomegranates; and
  • Tomatoes.

If Companies Can Use Fruits and Vegetables Instead of Bugs Why Don’t They?  I have no idea.  I assume because the bugs are cheaper.  Doesn’t it usually come down to the bottom line and profits for most companies?  I researched the cost and one pound of ground up Cochineal bugs is selling for $26 versus $38 for a pound of beet root powder.

What Can Be Done to Get the Bugs Out of Cosmetics?  Tell them.  Voice your opinions to the companies whose products you purchase.  If enough people start asking for fruits and vegetables to replace bugs, it will happen.

Conclusion:  Whether you do or don’t care if there are dead bugs in your lipstick, at least now you know how to watch out for them on the ingredients labels.  I hope you found this post informative.  Please let me know if you would like to see more of these types of research posts.  Thanks!

Research Sources:

AOEC (Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics). 2009. AEOC exposures codes and asthmagen designation.

CTFA (Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association). 2006. International Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary and Handbook, 11th Edition. Color Additive Information. Washington, DC.

EC (Environment Canada). 2008. Domestic Substances List Categorization. Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) Environmental Registry.

FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) 2006. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Color Additive Status List. September 2006.

FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration). 2008. EAFUS [Everything Added to Food]: A Food Additive Database. FDA Office of Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

NLM (National Library of Medicine). 2012. PubMed online scientific bibliography data.

2 thoughts on “There Are Dead Bugs in Your Lipstick!

    • L A Rose says:

      Hi, thanks for your comment.

      Yes, cochineal pigment does have a high concentration of color. I actually have no strong opposition to the usage, just the labeling. (I’m sure the bugs would prefer an alternative.)

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