Carmine – My allergy bugbear

I thought I should write a little bit of explanation about my main cosmetic allergy, to the delightful ingredient ‘carmine’ (cochineal).


I am, like thousands of eczema sufferers, highly allergic to various things, including fragrance (both chemical and natural), lanolin (which is a shame because it is such a great emollient) and sodium laurel sulphate (which is in most shampoos and toothpaste along with most household cleaning products).

However, none of this explained why, since my earliest attempts with make-up, I couldn’t wear blush or lipstick without getting the most appalling rash, the oozing, swollen, itchy variety. Not nice. This was then followed by a couple of weeks of topical steroid treatment to get rid of it which isn’t ideal.

For years I tried different brands and it made no difference whether they were high-end or chemist, ‘hypoallergenic’ (a red-herring term if ever there was one) or ‘allergy tested’. I was beginning to completely despair when I found mention of someone with similar symptoms to me having sensitivity to something called ‘Carmine’. I did some research both online and in my own make-up collection and realised that every single blush, lipstick and bronzer I had ever bought contained it. I also discovered that this ingredient is in fact crushed, freeze-dried cochineal beetles which produces a pigments of red, violet, magenta, or orange, depending on its concentration. As a non-meat eater (though not vegan) I have to say I was fairly disgusted by this, and even more so when I discovered it is used as a food dye and can be found in sweets, yoghurt, drinks and sauces. Yuk.

As a result I have become an expert in it various names: Crimson Lake, Cochineal, Natural Red 4, Natural Colouring, C.I. 75470, or E120. Cosmetic and food companies like to give it new and interesting names.

The good news is that  I have also discovered some really wonderful cosmetics companies who won’t use this in their products for ethical reasons (if the brand is vegan it won’t contain any carmine or lanolin as they are both animal derivatives) and thankfully some other companies (non-vegan) who just chose not to use it. I can now wear blush and lipstick and its been really very exciting after all these years. I will review the best and hope to help any of you out there with similar allergies or who wouldn’t want to use it for ethical reasons.




5 thoughts on “Carmine – My allergy bugbear

  1. Amanda says:

    Yuck, that is gross. Thanks for the info! I don’t seem to have an allergy or sensitivity to it, but now that I know what it is, it’s not something I particularly want to use…

  2. Michelle Goeking says:

    Thank you for your article. For years, I couldn’t wear pink or purple eye shadow without getting severe eye irritation. I recently tried some of those colors without problem. Then another brand burned 2 lines on each eyelid, exactly where I had placed it. The brand had carmine in it, where the other brand was vegan. My eyelids are now peeling like they were sunburned due to this additive. Now I have to read every label and avoid products with carmine. Some companies will be helpful if their labels are inconclusive.

  3. craftylittlebugger says:

    I know I’m late to the party, but this article has given me a few more names to avoid for cochineal. Thank you so much for writing this. I am severely allergic to it (anaphylaxsis) and have struggled to find cosmetics without carmine, but now I know to avoid crimson lake and natural red 4.

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