What Vegans Need to Know About Carmine

Some vegans and caring consumers choose to avoid cosmetics and food products containing an ingredient called carmine because it is derived from crushed bodies of insects. Yes, you read that right.

What is Carmine?The red dye or food coloring is obtained from cochineal insects and it takes about 70,000 insects to produce a pound of dye. If you want to learn more on the harvesting and production process, I definitely recommend checking this post from Gentle World. Although carmine is considered safe to be used in food products and EWG classifies it not to be potentially toxic or harmful, there have been some reported cases of severe allergic reactions in consuming or using products that contain carmine.

Consequently, the FDA now requires food and cosmetic manufacturers to “specifically declare the presence of the color additive by its respective common or usual name, ‘cochineal extract’ or ‘carmine,’ in the ingredient statement of the food label.” (Source: LiveScience)

Lucky for us, that means it’s easier for us to identify and avoid products containing crushed insects. However carmine goes by a number of different names (like cochineal extract, CI 75470, E120, Red 4) and I always seem to forget them all so I’ve created a handy graphic (above) that can be saved and referenced on the go!

Carmine in Food and Makeup

Carmine is widely used in food and cosmetics as a ‘natural’ dye and can be found in just about anything. To paint a picture of how common the ingredient is in our consumer products, I’ve compiled some examples below:

Examples of products that may contain carmineLinks to Products Mentioned Above: 1/ 2/3/4/5

Carmine is Not Vegan

Anything that contains carmine or a derivative from the cochineal insect is not vegan. For cosmetics, if a product claims to be cruelty-free, natural, or organic, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is carmine-free. Most cosmetic manufacturers label carmine under “may contain +/-“ which makes it a tad annoying because they’re using the same label and ingredient list across multiple products or shades. It may not even contain carmine but may have been manufactured in the same assembly line with products that do contain the ingredient and in that case, people who are allergic to carmine should avoid such products. When in doubt, always contact the company directly and ask if the product your interested in or the specific shade/color contains carmine.

I want to know, how often do you read labels and try to avoid products containing carmine? Leave a comment below =) 

Vicky Ly

I'm Vicky! I've been a vegan for 4 years and want to do my small part in making the world a kinder place. When I'm not on my laptop creating or designing, I enjoy running, vegan chocolate chip cookies + ice cream, and the occasional Simpsons marathon.

  • Randee Wright-Johnso
    September 6, 2016

    Hi, I am one of those people that is allergic to Carmine. After years of not being able to wear eyeshadow without a nasty reaction, I finally had patch testing done. It was Carmine!!! Now that I know to avoid it, I have been enjoying wearing makeup again. The problem is there is a general lack of knowledge among the cosmetic industry. For example Ofra told me that they do not use Carmine because they are Cruelty Free. However, as you mentioned,I find that lots of Cruelty free companies still use Carmine. Also,, in Sephora – I asked for Vegan makeup and they told me Tarte and Too Faced! Both of these companies use Carmine. Anyway, just wanted to thank you for the information because there is not enough information out there about this issue.

  • Nilam khan
    July 14, 2016

    I bought a few makeup geek eyeshadows which are suppose to be vegan. I did a lot of research before buying these. I also checked the ingredients once I received them & two of them contain carmine. The foiled eyeshadows in the shade “houdini,” and “starrey eyed”.. I just wanted to know if these are not vegan, on the website it states they are (unless I read it wrong which I’m sure I didnt) Im soo confused! would really appreciate if I can get some clarification on this .. Thanks

  • February 17, 2016

    Thanks for the handy list of carmine’s various names! I’m going to try to memorise them. Checking for ‘carmine’ itself is easy enough but it’s not so simple when it’s not always called that.

  • Stickie
    December 24, 2015

    Hi Vicky,
    Do you have any tips on how to recognize what shades of beauty products would contain carmine, i.e. based on color or type of product, if an ingredient list is not available? My friend gave me an unused eyeshadow palette purchased last year and its by a company that is not cruelty free or vegan but I believe the only animal products they use is carmine. I’d like to use the palette but avoid the shadows that contain carmine and don’t have an ingredient list for each shade.

  • Erin
    December 8, 2015

    This article was super helpful! I have been focusing on cruelty-free products but now I know what to look for to make sure the products are also vegan.

Leave a Comment: