Ask the scientist: Does red dye contain bugs?

Dear scientist,

I heard that red dye is made from grinding up pregnant cockroaches. Gross! Is this true?


Why, I find that just as disgusting as you do. Luckily, it isn’t true. However…

…while there aren’t any cockroach bits in your products, there is some truth to bug extracts in some brands of cosmetics, fruit juices, and other foods.

The extract that started the pregnant-cockroach rumor is a dye called carmine (also known as “cochineal extract” on the fruit juice bottle.) Carmine is used in a lot of natural products to get a red/pink color, and it’s been used since ancient times to paint the skin. It is extracted from the cochineal beetle during the mating phase. This dye is then chemically processed and marketed as an “all natural” red pigment.

While this sounds terribly gross, there aren’t any actual bug parts in the dye. The bug is just the starting point for the dye, before the dye is chemically processed. Many “all natural” pink and red lipsticks use this as a colorant.

If you want to avoid this bug-derived ingredient entirely, carmine is forbidden in vegan products. The reason for this is because carmine requires animal parts to make it (in this case a bug) and so therefore the dye isn’t vegan (or vegetarian, for that matter!)

Smart is sexy!