Lipstick made from bugs? It’s true!

“Your lipstick, it’s probably full of bug carcasses.” This is not a credulous urban legend, but a real-life history.

Fear not, the so-called worm carcasses are not the raw material of lipstick cream tubes, but the source of the red pigment.

The worm is called a cochineal worm, a small red worm native to Central America that, under the microscope, looks rather like a crystalline raspberry. Cochineal worms feed on cacti and usually congregate on them. At first glance, these small, clumped bugs look like cacti with “sick” sarcomas.

Mature cochineal worms contain a large amount of anthraquinone natural pigments, the main component of which is carminic acid. Cochineal acid accounts for 19% to 24% of the weight of the dried worm.

Extracting the pigment from within the cochineal worm requires the dried cochineal worm to be crushed, pounded and filtered, and then the cochineal red is obtained.

The cochineal was first introduced to the European continent in the mid-to-late 15th century, when the Great Age of Navigation arrived and there was increasing contact between Europe and the Americas. As an important dye, cochineal became the star commodity of the trade exchange. At one time, cochineal was so expensive that it was second only to gold and silver in Europe.

In “The Cotton Empire: A Global History of Capitalism,” we can also see the important figure of cochineal. 15th century, King Charles V of Spain, received a beautiful gift from the Aztec Empire – a red cloth dyed with cochineal.

However, lipstick in those times was a luxury item for a few trendsetters, except for prostitutes for their professional needs, and only court nobles had the leisure and money to enhance their face. Therefore, cochineal as lipstick was not common.

In fact, in the long medieval period in Europe, lipstick was a “street rat” that everyone shouted at – the red lips were once the mark of the devil, Satan, and religious people believed that women with big red lips were dangerous and would seduce good men.

It wasn’t until the Renaissance that lipstick quietly became a “market” as the beauty business for men and women began to pick up. 16 century, “beauty maven” Elizabeth I drove the red lip trend, and on her famous white face, lipstick was one of the few blood color.

Strangely enough, two centuries later, lipstick became taboo again, and in the 17th century, lipstick became a bad habit, along with “indecent dress for women”.

Lipstick was considered to be a horrible witchcraft.

Therefore, the cochineal exported to Europe at that time was mainly used for dyeing cloth and painting. In Albrecht Dürer’s “Madonna and Iris,” the pigment for the Virgin’s red robe is ground cochineal, and the bishop’s pope’s intimidating red robe is dyed red with cochineal.

It was not until the late 19th century that cochineal became widely used in the production of lipstick.

At that time, movies became a popular entertainment, and Hollywood actresses on the silver screen had a demand for lip color – even though black and white movies were predominant at that time, lips painted with lipstick stood out more eye-catchingly. As a result, the great American department store Sears began to promote lipstick in the modern sense of the word in tubes – many lipsticks at that time were made from cochineal.

However, the cost of refining carmine worms is not low, catching worms, drying worms, pounding worms, very time consuming, not to mention that the “pigment” of worms is not high production, 70,000 carmine worms, only about 450 grams of carmine worm powder output.

With the further development of industrial technology, the carmine pigment in lipstick was replaced by industrial pigments. In contrast, the synthetic red industrial coloring is more harmful and has the risk of causing cancer.

Although cochineal is rarely used in lipstick production, it is still often used as a coloring agent in our food and medicine. 2012, Starbucks also introduced cochineal strawberry Frappuccino, however, when many consumers heard the rumors, they immediately exploded.

The worm carcass is simply a good ingredient with a good conscience.

So, do you still find carmine worms disgusting? It can be said with certainty that cochineal is non-toxic and harmless, it is also the only natural pigment certified by the FDA that can be used in food, drugs and cosmetics, and is the only natural pigment allowed for use in the eyes in the United States.

Compared to today’s lipsticks that use coal tar as a pigment dye, the worm carcass, is simply a good material with a good conscience.