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Ground-up bug carcasses aren’t unique to Starbucks Strawberries & Crème Frappuccinos and red velvet whoopee pies. Cochineal extract, derived from the remains of a parasitic beetle native to Mexico and South America, was used as a coloring agent as early as the 15th century, particularly in textiles. What’s less widely known, however is that cochineal is just as ubiquitous in cosmetics, where it’s listed as “carmine,” “natural red 4,” or “crimson lake.” Although the dye is known to cause severe allergic reactions (with or without the gag reflex), the alternative isn’t coal tar or other janky petrochemicals. Below, a selection of eco-friendly brands that achieve their reds through a combination of minerals (iron and mica oxides) and plant extracts (annatto, beets, turmeric, and saffron)—no bugging out necessary.
Originally published on March 30, 2012.