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Tag Archives: colour

What is Carmine?


Article by Ainsley Crase



Red cordial, red lipstick, tomato sauce – we have all used at least one of these products in our lifetime, but do we realise how they get their ruby red colour? Often advertised as a ‘natural’ ingredient is carmine, a red pigment that is added to many food and cosmetic goods. Many people think natural must mean this additive is plant-based or safe for consumption, but this is not necessarily the case.


Carmine is made from scale insects that feed on cactus plants in Central America. Once harvested, the insects are crushed to produce a red dye and are combined with aluminum to produce carminic acid. While the colour from these insects may technically be natural, the insects go through intense processing to extract their pigment and the addition of aluminum is a whole other issue.


One of the most concerning factors about ingesting carmine is that it has been reported to trigger severe allergic reactions. Some people suffer anaphylactic shock after consuming carmine while others have diarrhea, vomiting and asthma.


As the result of these allergic reactions, companies who use carmine in their products must explicitly label its use. However, because there are so many different names it can still become difficult to steer clear of this additive. The addition of carmine can be labeled in various ways, including:


  •  colour (E120) or colour (120)
  •  cochineal
  •  cochineal carmine
  •  carminic acid
  •  colour index (CI 75470)


While carmine, albeit confusingly, is labelled on food products we are not always as lucky with lipsticks or other cosmetics. Lipstick is absorbed through the skin; therefore it is just as dangerous as ingesting carmine for those with allergies. Almost all brilliant red lipsticks or pink shades use carmine as their base colour and therefore it is near impossible to avoid this product when finding the perfect shade.


This can be confusing for those must avoid it, or those who want to avoid it simply because it contains insects. Many vegans and vegetarians are against carmine simply because it involves the ingestion or application of insects while others are just repulsed by insect products in general.


The debate about carmine led coffee giant Starbucks to remove it from their drinks and café menu. To ensure the safety and peace of mind of its customers, the company decided to replace the carmine in their products with lycopene. Lycopene is a colourant extracted from tomatoes, a truly natural substance. When a major chain decides that carmine is not good enough for their consumers, it is obvious that this substance is not as harmless as many companies claim.


Richiam Organics is proud to not stock any products that use carmine as a colourant. All of our food and cosmetic products are all natural (when we say natural, we mean it!) and cruelty free and are just as pigmented as their insect-derived counterparts. Why not give one of our Zuii Organic or Organic Rosehip lipsticks and lip glosses a try – you can be assured they are 100% vegan and the colour payoff is great too.