Is Red Lipstick Made From Bugs?

Person applying red lipstick.

Red is a classic color that conveys power and passion. Women have used red lipstick as a status symbol for over 4,000 years—from the elites of Ancient Egypt to American suffragettes in 1912, and this beauty trend has historically been used to make a statement. But is there any truth to the urban legend that red lipstick is made from bugs?

Myth or Fact: Red Dye is Made From Bugs

Fact. Interestingly enough, the same bug has been used to create a natural red dye for hundreds of years across many cultures.

The Cochineal Bug in History

The cochineal bug is native to Central and South Americas and has been used to create a red dye since the time of the Aztecs. When Spain invaded Mesoamerica, the cochineal bug quickly became a source of wealth—royalty and artists alike wanted the bright colors for themselves, and Britain hired pirates to plunder gold, cochineal bugs, and other valuables from trade ships. The British used the dye to color their famous red coats, and it’s even rumored that Betsy Ross used the cochineal bug to dye the red stripes on the first American flag.

What is Carmine?

Carmine is an FDA approved ingredient in many red foods and products. This natural red dye (also known as ‘cochineal extract’ or ‘natural red 4’) is extracted from the female cochineal bug. Carmine has made a recent resurgence in popular culture as a natural substitution for carcinogenic synthetic dyes.

While carmine is listed as safe for consumption by the FDA, some have raised concerns. Certain individuals may be allergic to the ingredient, while others who follow vegan or vegetarian diets have to try and avoid carmine in their already limited food options.

The Cochineal Bug in Makeup Today

It takes approximately 70,000 bugs to make just one pound of dye. The female cochineal bugs are collected, dried in the sun, smashed, then mixed with an acidic alcohol solution, which brings out vibrant colors ranging from crimson to pink, purple, or peach. As an ingredient, carmine is tasteless and doesn’t resemble anything of its origin. Still, if you hate the idea of bugs in your makeup or food, just check the ingredient list before you buy.