The Crazy Ingredient That’s In Your Lipstick

Warning: Vegans may not like what they read

After hearing about how native Mexican cochinita is a red color ingredient in so many products, we had to make a beauty stop at a cochinita farm. This authentic, natural color is huge in Mexican culture and color, whether it be textiles, food, or cosmetics. The thing is….the cochinita is a tiny bug. A beetle, to be exact.

But don’t bug out.

We’re not trying to scare you by telling you that Red #4 comes from an insect, we’re here to better educate you on one of the oldest form of creating beauty from our ancestors. Cochinita is a huge part of history: Cleopatra was known to crush carmine beetles and ants to make her lipstick 5000 years ago. The ancient Mayans would use it as a bug repellent and as a body and face paint in religious rituals, and cochinita farms are still widely in use today.

Where there’s cochinita, there’s red lipstick.

This journey brings us to this cactus farm, because these insects live on cactus plants. In Mexico you’ll find breeders that cultivate the bug for cosmetic companies worldwide. So, yes. You’ve probably rubbed bug juice on your face before. On this farm, the owner walked us through exactly how to get the color. Of course, we couldn’t help but wonder if the color red was from the blood of the insect. He assured that it was not blood, but a chemical that turns a bright, highly pigmented red when exposed outside. The cochinita is indeed killed when the color is extracted, and then that color, now called carmine red, is made into a pigment and diluted with waxes for lipstick. You can mix it with anything to create the shade you want.

Seeing Red

This color really is everywhere, but it’s still avoidable. If you’re anti-cruelty, sympathetic to cochinitas, or plain old grossed-out, don’t worry because you can still wear red clothes, eat food coloring, and wear lipstick. Just avoid labels that say carmine and ensure your products are cruelty-free. That’s not to say, however, that those who don’t discriminate their Red colors are cruel. It is nice to know that this color isn’t made in a lab. This ancient tradition comes right from nature, it is widely used and harms nothing but bugs. (and insects aren’t exactly our favorite members of the food chain anyway) Only get rid of that perfect red lippie if you really want to.


( Trying on the famous Red)

( The Farm)

( Lipstick Choices with Carmine Red)

( Our Founder with Cactus and Cochinita Breeder)

Make sure to watch our show Sacred Beauty on for our journey in search of Beauty to Mexico. What do you say? Are you ready to know more about what’s inside your beauty bag? What other crazy ingredients are out there?

Written by Halle Butler
Photos by Stephanie Flor

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  • Rachel estabrook
    Posted at 22:25h, 22 February

    Very interesting read!! As a vegan not the happiest, lol to know what’s in most of my
    Lipsticks! But love the history, and seeing where colors and products have stemmed from!

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