Carmine: What is the Bug in Your Makeup and Food

What is Carmine?

Can you believe that your red lipstick or Red Velvet Cake might just contain crushed-up beetles?  Carmine is a red dye made from cochineal bugs and is found in many red coloured foods, beverages, clothing, cosmetics, healthcare, and even paints.  At Biome in Australia we're proudly free of animal cruelty, meaning that none of our products contain carmine. Here we take a look at how carmine colour is made and how to avoid it!

What is Carmine

Dried cochineal beetles in the centre and carmine powder extracts. Photo credit below.

How is Carmine made?

Carmine is made by drying, crushing, and then boiling the bodies of cochineal beetles, which live on cactus plants and are harvested by scraping off. The deep red colour comes from an acid that the bug produces to fend off predators.  Some 70,000 insects must be killed to produce just one pound of this red dye. The little red cactus-loving carmine beetle is native to Latin America and farmed mainly in Peru. 

Depending on the extraction method different shades of the carmine pigment are obtained, ranging from bright magenta red to “blackcurrant” purple. 

Who Discovered Carmine?

Harvesting Cochineal Beetles

Cochineal insects have been used as a natural dye for thousands of years back to the Phonecians and Aztecs.  The Spaniards came across this elusive vibrant red dye and took it back to Europe. 

According to this Smithsonian article

"The scarlet spread across the world like wildfire: It funded empires, stained religious garb and was showcased in masterpiece paintings — becoming a precious commodity rivalling silver and gold."

What is Carmine Colour Used For?

Carmine is a common dye found in many foods, confectionery, beverages, fabrics, lipsticks, blush, and even to colour processed meat and fish!  

In the cosmetics industry, Carmine is typically used to add a vibrant red, pink or orange pigment to lipstick, blush, eye shadow and nail polish, and it is used in both natural and petroleum-based makeup.

Just because something says it's natural does not mean it doesn't have crushed beetles!

How to Avoid Carmine

Check the labels for carmine, although many brands hide its use with various names such as Cochineal, Cochineal Extract, Crimson Lake, Natural Red 4, C.I. 75470, E120, even “natural dye”. 

Even some brands that claim they are vegan, actually use carmine. 

All the cosmetics available at Biome are 100% carmine free makeup.

What is Used for Red Colour Instead of Carmine?

Many vegetables and fruits produce a red colour such as carrots, beetroot, tomato, sweet potato, apples and berries. 

Often vegan natural lipsticks use iron oxides instead, such as Axiology Carmine Free Lip Balmies

Axiology carmine free lipstick

Biome's Red Wine Lipstick

Eco Minerals Lipsticks

Ethique's Poppy Ruby Red Lipstick

Ethique carmine free red lipstick


Our popular Goli Apple Cider Vinegar Gummies are coloured with carrots, apples, and black currants. 


We hope you now know what is carmine, and why using carmine is not nice or necessary!

Shop all vegan carmine free makeup




Your guide to palm oil free makeup

Back to blog

New arrivals

1 of 12