The Evil Dye Carmine!

This past summer (2011), I was sitting at the table eating breakfast while reading a National Geographic magazine. I read a small one-page article called “Red Alert” (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/06/visions-now-next#/now, you might need to use the arrow on the side to get to the correct article), thinking about the red lobsterback coats mentioned while chowing down on my yogurt. About a week later, I read the same article and thought “oh crap”.

Carmine dye

This seems like a super disorganized blog, talking about carmine and beetles and a magazine article, but it’s all related. It’s actually all related to make-up. Carmine dye is a bright red dye made from crushing female cochineal beetles, which are native to South America (Since I’m a scholarly college student, here’s the Wikipedia page for those who want more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmine). The dye isn’t used as much as artificial dyes since artificial dyes are generally cheaper, but carmine dye has one stronghold – make-up. Carmine dye is listed as an ingredient (or listed as “may contain”) in almost all make-up products.

How the heck is all of this related? Well, before things can really get relevant, I have to digress and discuss my history with make-up.

Me without make-up (Junior year of high school)

Sometime between middle school and high school, most girls start wearing make-up. By my senior year, I only knew a handful of girls who didn’t wear make-up (myself included). I didn’t wear make-up for three reasons:

1. I value sleep very much and didn’t want to wake up half an hour earlier.

2. I didn’t feel like I needed make-up. I’m not being vain or anything, there are tons of people who are more attractive than me, but I know I’m not ugly and I don’t need to wear make-up to look good.

3. Whenever I wore make-up, my eyes would itch and I was paranoid that I was going to accidentally have mascara smeared across my face.

Me without make-up when I’m super tired… (1st year of college)

However, this past summer I decided it was time to learn how to put on make-up. The primary reason is that I inherited my grandmother’s super pale, delicate skin. My grandmother has tons of wrinkles and has had skin cancer, so I decided I needed to start taking care of my skin so that I will still look good and be healthy in the future. Both my moisturizer and foundation have SPF, so I figured that wearing make-up was an easy way to protect my skin. I also started wearing make-up because, as a college student, I get less sleep that I used too. Normally I don’t look bad without make-up, but when I’m tired I look terrible. And finally, I decided to learn how to put on make-up because I read an article (can’t remember where…) that said that (even though it’s not very fair) women who wear make-up have better salaries, jobs, etc (the article also said that more attractive people have better salaries, jobs, etc, which goes along the same lines).

So I googled how to apply make-up, asked my mom for help (of course), and started wearing make-up. I still didn’t feel comfortable, my eyes especially felt itchy, but I figured that I just wasn’t used to how makeup feels. But about a week after I first started putting on the make-up,  I applied my pink lipstick and my lips felt completely numb. It felt like someone had injected Novocaine into my lips. I throw away the lipstick, briefly thought about that NatGeo article, but then just assumed that the lipstick was old.

Two days later, I used my favorite eyeshadow when I put on make-up. It was a L’Oreal eyeshadow in shades of brown. I had to take my dog to the vet that morning, and by the time I was paying for the visit my eyelids felt extremely heavy. I felt like I could barely keep my eyes open. On top of that, my eyes were extremely itchy, worse than ever before. By the time I got home, my eyelids were visibly swollen and painful (and it took three days before they were back to normal). I took off my make-up and reread the NatGeo article. I realized that I was part of that unlucky few in the population who were allergic to carmine dye.

This was extremely frustrating to me. I finally understood why I never felt comfortable wearing make-up, but after going through my make-up I realized that my foundation was the only product that didn’t have carmine dye listed as an ingredient. I had just started wearing make-up, and I was devastated that it seemed like I could no longer wear it. I spent an entire day on the computer, going through ingredients in every brand of make-up I knew (and many I had never heard of) but every search ended with the same results – carmine. I even discovered that my favorite chapstick, one of those Burt’s Bees chapsticks, had carmine in it too. I loved the chapstick because it gave my lips a tingling sensation; it was only until after I had a severe reaction that I realized it was just a smaller reaction due to the smaller amount of carmine in the chapstick.

IMG_20130314_154652

I can wear make up again!

I was just about to give up, but I did a simple google search: “makeup without carmine”. I was sure that nothing would come up, but I did get a relevant result. Someone posted my same question in a Yahoo! Answers forum, and someone else had suggested e.l.f. cosmetics. I had never heard of the brand, but I quickly looked it up and discovered that e.l.f. uses artificial dyes in all of their products – which means no carmine dye. I also discovered one exception to the other brands – so far, all of the self-sharpening eyeliners that I have found don’t contain carmine dye. I was so relieved to find that I wasn’t doomed to never use make-up again. And I was also really glad to learn that e.l.f. cosmetics are usually only $1, although some lines are $3 (which is still much cheaper than most brands).

So, back to my point, the main purpose of this blog is really just to vent about how pissed off carmine dye makes me. Carmine allergies are not rare, but they are not very common either, so finding information about carmine wasn’t very easy. I also decided to write this blog so that in the rare event that someone else had gone through the same experience with a carmine allergy, they can see that e.l.f. cosmetics were a solution for my problem (so hopefully they don’t feel like they could never wear make-up either). And I just want people to know about carmine dye and the small percent of people who suffer with this allergy. I know this wasn’t the most interesting blog, I probably bored you with my personal make-up history, plus this blog is very unorganized (I had a hard time figuring out the best order to write everything to make it seem relevant…), but I hope that at least you learned something new, whether it’s about carmine allergies or just that fact that your make-up contains ground up beetle guts. :)

These are in your make-up…

31 Comments

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31 responses to “The Evil Dye Carmine!

  1. Ahhh we got E.L.F because it was cheaper. Awesome, though.

  2. You = lovely with or without makeup

    Great post. I really don’t have much to say in response, though. lol

  3. Karen

    Hi, I have had the same issues and allergic reactions to purple eyeliner and shadows. This is very helpful and I will definitely look for e.l.f. cosmetics. thank you!!

  4. Kat from Texas

    I also have a carmine allergy. I learned this after eating Yoplait Whips Yogurt with a major reaction that landed me in the ER two different times. From there, I figured out that this was why some makeup affects me. Be sure to read labels. I think E.L.F. has one product with carmine in it, I think. I ran across it two days ago in a search for carmine free cosmetics. My theory is that many people are allergic, but they haven’t figured out what the problem is yet. Good luck, and I agree that you are beautiful without makeup, but the moisturizers and SPF in makeup are good for you.

    • Alex

      I have found many products from Aveda that I can use! I too have a severe allergy to Carmine that has landed me in ER a few times.

  5. Kat from Texas

    Mineral Blush by E.L.F. lists carmine as an ingredient. Please be careful.

    • Thanks for letting me know! I always sit there in the make-up aisle reading every ingredient before I buy anything, even if I’ve already used it before. My reaction gets worse every time I’m exposed to it, so I try to be very careful. Luckily I seem to only react to it on my skin, I’m able to eat foods with carmine without a reaction (but I still avoid it as much as possible).

  6. Elaine

    A big thank you for the elf info. I, too, am very allergic to carmine, along with fragrance mix (tons of chemicals) and nickel. Life has become very challenging to say the least. I am constantly looking for helpl

  7. Annamarie

    Hi all, I too have the Carmine allergy and I only wear Origins makeup. They are completely carmine free!! Best of luck to you all.

  8. Michelle H.

    Thanks for writing this blog! I thought I was the only one out there. I’ve been finding more and more that Carmine is in so many products: yogurt, pasta sauce, candy, makeup, etc.

    Most of my severe reactions are from ingesting vs. topical application with the exception of the time I used eyeshadow with Carmine. Itchy, swelling eyes!

    Also, I recently found out my favorite brand, Clinique, has carmine in just about every makeup product! :(

    I think cosmetics companies should move away from using this ingredient considering how many people are having an allergic reaction.

  9. Tina

    I am a carmine allergy sufferer also! I dont wear alot of make up, usually just foundation ( i use Mary Kay and have for years with no issues) mascara and a little blush. Carmine is also in candy and food. Pink Good n Plenty, Skittles, some imitation crab meat among many others. My eyes swell completely shut and I get an itchy throat and I am extremely congested. Please read your labels my fellow carmine allergy sufferers!

  10. Krystena

    I too am allergic to carmine. I had two anaphylactic reactions in high school, was allergy tested but results were inconclusive. The only constant between the episodes was I had had Dannon Frusion Fruit Smoothies both days, strawberry banana flavored. I’ve ALWAYS had issues with makeup (and have been wearing the SAME eyeshadow for almost 15 years now because it’s the only one that does not cause itching and swelling)… I just never knew what would make me itchy or why, so I gave up on trying new products. Whenever that issue of National Geographic came out, my fiance came across that article, and asked if I thought this was my allergy. Makeup… red yogurt drink… it all made sense! I’ve since looked at labels closely and avoided carmine, and have not had any issues. I’ve been searching for a while for other people who have had problems, and what they do as far as makeup goes! So I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate this blog and am glad you shared your story! :)

  11. Terry

    I just learned about carmine in a news report. Looking back at my own allergy type symptoms over the years (cosmetics, shampoos, conditions, etc.) I am wondering if I am also allergic to carmine. An earlier post suggested there are likely many people with the allergy, but have yet to diagnose. I completely agree. I am now on a quest to find carmine-free products to try. Thanks so much!

  12. julie

    I have had issues with red lipsticks in the past – a burning or tingling sensation- but yesterday I had a lip swelling / some asthma symptoms reaction to Clinique’s Chunky Cherry Chubby Stick for Lips. I was foolish enough to give it a second try and got the same reaction but a little more intense. I am thinking this is loaded with carmine since it is sheer but rather pigmented. It is going back and I will be buying something without this ingredient in it.
    I feel my reaction was bad enough that this should require a warning on it. If it had been any worse I probably would have needed medical treatment.

  13. NA

    I am both orally and topically allergic to Carmine. It took me a few years to figure out that Carmine was the culprit. For makeup I use The Body Shop. There vegan stance and public admission that they use no bugs in their products allow me to shop worry free. Their recent new lines have been very impressive.

  14. Abba

    I must contest “NA”‘s assertion that The Body Shop does not use carmine. Although The Body Shop asserts that it’s against animal testing, it’s not a “vegan” company. It uses animal by-products (lanolin, derived from sheep’s wool, and carmine) in its products. Products in The Body Shop Vitamin E line contain both lanolin and carmine.

  15. Dog Lady

    Thank you very much….now you got me wondering. My reaction too eye make up was just horrible. The eye Dr. say i had Dry eye WRONG!!. I figured it out on my own. Carime is what my eye problem is.

  16. Nancy

    I am also allergic to carmine. Yogurt sent me to the ER. Makeup causes major eye swelling and lip burning. Watch labels for Carmine, Crimson Lake, Cochineal, Natural Red 4, C.I. 75470, or E120. Generic azithromycin (antibiotic) also contains carmine. Tylenol 3 with codeine. Maraschino cherries. Red sprinkles. Pink frosted sugar cookies with sprinkles are particularly offensive. Birthday cake frosting in the red families (pink, purple, orange). Lots of Wonka brand candy. All makeup brands except Origins are suspect. Imitation crab (love crab, hate having to ask chefs to confirm their crab is real and not imitation). Cocktail sauce. Thanks for the tip on pasta sauce – now I will watch for that. Potluck dinners are a nightmare. Just last night, a vegetarian served a cheesecake with Cochineal and I just politely passed on dessert – not sure how to politely tell her she was serving beetles to herself and other vegetarians. Be careful, and please, everyone, keep updating the list of offending foods/products – the FDA won’t save us, so let’s work to save each other!

  17. Nancy

    I just started a Facebook page for Carmine allergy sufferers:
    http://www.facebook.com/carmineallergy
    One spot where we can warm each other about offensive foods and products.

  18. Patty

    I came across your blog while looking up carmine allergy. I have a severe reaction to carmine. If I ingest it my eyes will blow up. It has only gotten worse over the years. Before I only got itchy eyes from make up or if I happened to touch my eyes after I touched something with carmine in it. If there is some way to send you a picture of my allergy eyes I will. I also use elf make up products. You can also go to whole foods. They sell vegan make up but it’s very expensive.

  19. I’m a bit late to the party, but I’m off to check up e.l.f. make up now. After a few years of having my face swell up for seemingly no connected reason (carmine is present in loads of different foods), I had one huge reaction and went into anaphylactic shock. Now I find myself in the same make up dilemma that you are in, and constantly find myself checking ingredients, only to be disappointed.

  20. ucknewdemographic

    Carmine sneaks into so many products! I have a high allergy to it and have hated not being able to waltz through the make up picking up this and that along the way! This girl loves her make up! Here are the products I have found that do not have carmine:
    Origins blush – Tropical Pink (blush without carmine is almost impossible to find!) You’re welcome. This took me months to find.
    Merle Norman Dual action concealer medium light
    Hard Candy (I got this at Target) Night Out (black) use as eyeliner~A little goes a long way! Easy does it! You put it on to almost wipe completely off.
    Physician’s Formula Sexy Booster (in the really *cheap* red and black lace please, looks like a hooker line) but decent mascara. This line (Sexy
    booster) is carmine free BUT it has a crappy vanilla fragrance in everything else but the mascara. Do I really need vanilla smelling eyeshadow people?

    Good luck! Hope this helps and if anyone else has other products, especially lipsticks! please post!

  21. Elizabeth KRALL

    Carmine has almost killed me once and just made me sick way too many times. As it turns out it can be labeled as a natural food product. It is particularly prevalent in fake maple syrup otherwise known as pancake syrup and anything that says caramel coloring. I don’t normally eat fake syrup like Aunt Jemima or Log Cabin syrup but was served it in a hotel after telling them I had this allergy. The menu said Pure Vermont Maple Syrup. I had anaphylaxis so badly I almost died. It is really frustrating. I had a medicine that I thought I was allergic to but it turns out the coloring was used in the slow release gel caps. Eating can be like walking in a mine field. My daughter has a similar allergy, it is in some candies and sports drinks too. It is also in gravy master. I can use bare minerals powder foundation but not their new liquid formation. Lancome and Loreal lipstick made my lips look like I burnt them. I am okay with some Clinique but not the gel glosses in any brand. It does make life exciting!

    • Nancy

      Origins makeup does not use the dreaded beetles. Good tip on the syrup. In the US, the bug has to be indicated in some way, so caramel color without another indication should be ok. You are right, it is hard to eat out. Imagine how peanut people (and their parents) must feel! At least our bugs usually come with a color warning! Care to say where you were eating the pancakes? It would be good to know who’s representing pure syrup and then apparently substituting, just so we can avoid it.

  22. Clur

    I am fortunate in that I’m only allergic to carmine that goes on my face but it’s been a tough few years figuring it out.
    Try indie cosmetic companies! I’ve had a lot of luck finding pink/purple/blue/red eye shadows from Shiro Cosmetics that are made without carmine. All of the ingredients are listed on every eye shadow.

  23. I am so glad I found your blog. I have suffered from eye reactions to carmine for years. It seems to be anything that contains purple or “rust” tones. I try to stick to basic brown eyeliner but those sneaky cosmetic companies have a habit of throwing in a little carmine and it gets me every time. I wake up with watery, crusty, swollien red eyes. I call it “pig eye” and believe me it’s not pretty. To make matters worse, as soon as I find something that doesn’t cause me a reaction, they stop making the product or change the packaging. AAAAARRRGG!!! Glad to know I’m not alone.

  24. Gemini

    Hi, thank you for your blog. I also have a very bad allergic reaction to carmine, but so far only in eye shadows. Makes my eyes red, itchy, and very painful. I’ve had to give up my beloved purple eyeshadow. Also realized its in rust colored and blue hued eyeshadow. As I’ve gotten older or been exposed more my allergy has worsened. Just recently I purchased Urban Decay’s Naked Basics eye palette in all neutral colors. Well guess what’s in the ingredients; May contain Carmine. I didn’t think to look at the ingredients until my eyes got so red, itchy and swollen I had to get prescription eye drops. So be very wary of neutral eye shadows.

  25. Cindy

    Carmine is in everything. I remember getting a gift of perfume called Emeraude, (I have always called it Evenrude, don’t know why, lol) anyhoo, it made my skin itchy and swollen, turns out CARMINE is in it, ONLY its listed as Red 4, (not to be confused with red 40). Carmine can have about 4 different names. I believe Acid Yellow 5 and E120 are also on the list. Just look them up & you’ll see its in EVERYTHING! WTH? And Guess What! While researching which purple eyeshadows don’t have carmine as an ingredient I found out that Carmine is in TATTOO inks, they list it as a “naturally occurring” ink. Ridiculous! Skin cancer cells are naturally occuring but that doesn’t mean I want to have them in my eyeshadow or put in my yogurt for pete’s sake! Carmine is also in shampoo/conditioners (like Dove), dawn dishwashing soap, face creams, lotions, nail polish, in a long list of foods, processed meats, sports drinks, flavored drinks, geeze, it never ends! Would you like extra toppings of crushed beetle in your yogurt? I don’t even want to think about what this crap does to my insides after seeing what it does to my outsides!

  26. PJ

    Thank you for posting this blog. Just a warning for those of us who have this allergy: Nature’s Bounty Hair, Skin & Nails vitamins (sold at Costco) contain carmine color.

    I didn’t think of it in my vitamins (sigh) and after several days of very itchy skin after starting them, I read the inert ingredients. I have contacted the company and asked them to reconsider its use in vitamins and told them of my reaction. I am used to looking for it in makeup, but never had it pop up in vitamins before.

    Over the years have found two makeup brands that don’t seem to contain it in the products I have used: Origins from Macy’s and Korres, a Greek brand which is harder to come by in the U.S. They both use iron oxide instead. Had not heard of e.l.f. (but I am middle aged). Also, didn’t know that about Yoplait yogurt, although I always buy a “natural” local brand. Good to know and thanks to everyone who has made comments.

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