The real story behind Carmine

Is Carmine bad for you? Well that depends on if you like bugs! Carmine is approved for use by the FDA in not only food products that we consume but also cosmetics we apply to our skin. Carmine, may also be labeled as Crimson Lake, Cochineal, Natural Red 4, C.I. 75470, or E120. Carmine is a pigment of a bright red color obtained from the carminic acid produced by some scale insects, such as the cochineal and the Polish cochineal. Camine is used as a general term for a particularly deep red color.  It serves as an insect based food coloring and it used extensively in cosmetics. Consumers like products that have rich vibrant color and the cosmetic and food manufacturers use Carmine to add color to make the products we consume look better. 



I was reading an ingredient label a while back and saw the word “Carmine” and being the naturally curious person that I am, I started to do a little research on my own. Oh my!  Was I in for a surprise.  The more I read the more I felt nauseated.


Well, my dear readers, Carmine is actually made from dried ground up red beetles. And it takes alot of these little bugs to make carmine.  About 70,000 of them to be exact to equal just one pound of extract.  In fact, the part of the insect that contains the most carmine is the abdomen. This is where the fertilized eggs of the Cochineal are stored.. Thru the manufacturing process, the abdomens and eggs are separated from the rest of the body. They are in turn ground into a powder, then cooked, filtered and what is left is pure carmine- a very pretty deep red color. 


Although you’ve probably been eating these little bugs for years, without any harm, there have been reported cases of Anaphylactic shock. There was a proposed rule in 2006, which would require that manufacturers “flag the presence of cochineal extract in their products.”  The suggestion comes after more than 35 reports of severe allergic reactions to the dye surfaced.  Presently, cochineal extract in products is listed as E120 or under the umbrella term “color added” on nutrition labels.

The FDA declined to ban the use of extract since it found no evidence of a “significant hazard” to the overall population. Sorry I guess 35 is an ok number when you are talking about the masses – unless you happen to be one of the 35.


So is Carmine appetizing – well, not necessarily on the top of most menus. You can rest assured, Illustre Essenza does not use any Carmine or other artificial color or fragrance in any of our skin care or mineral makeup products. 


You will find Carmine though in everything from yogurt to ice cream, juice drinks, rouge, cosmetics, paint, artificial flowers, and crimson ink.  In fact, there are a few big name brands out there that you might want to check before you buy next time as in yogurt and orange juice.


Ironically, there are alternatives to carmine that are non insect based like grape skins which definitely have less “gross” factor for consumption or use in cosmetics we apply to our skin.  Personally, I really don’t care if the FDA has approved Carmine for human consumption, I don’t want it in my food or on my face!  


Bottom line, read your label and make your own decision.  Bon apetite!

Happy New Year to all,

Pam Tirado, President, Luminoso Studios, Inc.


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