While it did make for a good film, does the thought of having it smeared all over your lips make you shudder? Well, let me tell you a story!
Beetle Juice has long been used in the cosmetics industry under its FDA or abbreviated name “Carmine” or EU number CL75470. The beetle in question is the Dactylopius Coccus and it is via the carmic acid that this beetle secretes to keep predators away that we get our crimson dye.
The eggs from these little beetles are collected up and then crushed to extract the acid which is then reacted with aluminium or calcium salts to produce the well-known dye. Now I know that the thought of crushing little beetles is not a nice one and for some it is just plain cruel BUT I’m just telling it as it is. Now you know the numerical code and name of this dye, you can avoid it if you want to!
The beetle loves to feed on the Prickly Pear which just love to grow in Peru – this is where the lions share of Carmine comes from. An article from the New Agriculturalist cites that while some beetles are ‘farmed’ up to 85% are wild-harvested returning an income to somewhere in the region of 400,000 rural families. According to the book “tropical agriculture” it takes about 70,000 Cochnieal insects to make one pound of crude cochineal which yields 10% of pure dye. This all sounds like a lot of Beetle Picking to make a buck.
While Carmine is still used for its depth of colour and ‘naturalness’ it has, in some non-food cases been replaced by chemical synthesis such as aniline dyes. These dyes can be quite toxic when applied directly to the skin and have been cited as a risk factor for bladder cancer although the full extent of this group of dye’s toxicity has not yet been documented. Aniline dyes are mostly used in products to colour the hair and would not be permitted in lipsticks!
But is carmine dye safe?
As with all cosmetic ingredients, strict usage parameters, manufacturing guide-lines and product specifications exist to make sure that each ingredient is as safe as it can be under “expected use” conditions. Nothing is ever 100% safe however, and some reactions to Carmine have been reported with a small number of patients reporting allergic reactions that have progressed to anaphalactic shock.
That aside it is worth noting that even if your lipstick DOES have carmine listed on the label, it will be there at such a low-level that will neither kill you (unless you are one of those unlucky soles who are allergic) or turn you into a beetle sucking vampire!
Amanda Foxon-Hill is a consultant Chemist and Science Communicator with over 12 years of experience in the global cosmetics industry. She is a peer-reviewed writer, after dinner speaker and lecturer with the Institute of Personal Care Science. She is also passionate about working towards a more sustainable and “greener” future and regularly facilitates natural personal care workshops for the public via her ‘Realize Beauty’ business. Amanda also consults to the cosmetics industry on all aspects of green chemistry and product development and advocates the promotion of sensible science to consumer groups via her blog.