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”.
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.
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.
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.
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. :)