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What Vegans Need to Know About Carmine

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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 =) 

14 Responses
  • K
    January 10, 2018

    I Always check n avoid products that contain carmine

  • 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

    • Vicky Ly
      July 14, 2016

      Hey Nilam!

      I haven’t heard anyone complaining about Makeup Geek mislabeling their vegan products before and as far as I know, they do a fairly good job of updating their vegan product list!

      But it’s so great to hear that you’re doing a lot of research ahead up time! =)

      Here are the details:

      It looks like ALL of their foiled eyeshadows use the same ingredient label (https://www.makeupgeek.com/makeup-geek-foiled-eyeshadow-ingredients)

      and that’s why you’re seeing Carmine under the “May Contain” ingredient list.

      There are two reasons why companies have a “May Contain” list of ingredients:
      1. they use the same label across multiple products or in this case, shades of color cosmetics. so they’ll include one-off ingredients in the “may contain” list to make it flexible enough to use it across multiple products or shades

      or 2. their products are manufactured or assembled on shared equipment so although the ingredient is not specifically included in the product itself, but trace amounts of Carmine may come into contact while making the product. This is only useful to know if you’re allergic or sensitive to a specific ingredient.

      On Makeup Geek’s website, they state that both shades: Houdini and Starry Eyed are vegan. And in fact, Houdini is part of their “Vegan Bundle”.

      So I’m assuming both these colors are carmine-free.

      But I will email Makeup Geek right now just to make sure these two shades do not contain Carmine as an ingredient!

      In the meantime, I hope that clears things up for you! I’ll get back to you once I hear back from Makeup Geek! =)

    • Vicky Ly
      July 14, 2016

      Hi again Nilam,
      Makeup Geek got back to my very quickly and in their response, they state that Houdini and Starry Eyed foiled eyeshadows do NOT contain Carmine as an ingredient.

      “Foiled Eyeshadows in the shades Center Stage, Caitlin Rose, Whimsical, Daydreamer, High Wire, and Masquerade contain Carmine.”

      So I think the reason why you’re seeing Carmine listed as an ingredient for both eyeshadows is because they’re using the same label across multiple colors. But they’ve confirmed that the ones you bought do NOT contain Carmine! =) YAY!

  • Rachel
    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.

    • Vicky Ly
      February 17, 2016

      Exactly! especially when it’s labelled with just a bunch of numbers and letters, how is a typical consumer suppose to know what that means, right?! Glad this helped you =)

  • 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.

    • Vicky Ly
      January 5, 2016

      Hey Stickie! (interesting name btw!)
      This is a great question. It’s tough to assume a product contains carmine without an ingredient list to reference. Typically carmine is used to achieve any type of red pigment or dye. But carmine can be mixed with other colors to make other shades and tones therefore there really isn’t a hard or fast rule to figuring out which of the eyeshadows contain carmine. What I would recommend is to email the company directly and ask them which of their shadows contain carmine and I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to give you a solid answer. If you’d like, you can email or take a photo of the palette and send it to me at info@ethicalelephant.com and I can help you find an answer =)

  • 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.

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