Outdoors: Seeing red

Sep 30, 2020

How many actors and dancers are bugged when they have to wear rouge?

What if they knew that, in many cases, they were smearing crushed insects on their faces? Would they see red?

Any makeup listing "carmine" as an ingredient is made from crushed insects called cochineal. 

The actual cochineal insect is puny, similar to a mealy bug. They live on the juices from prickly pear cactus.

In areas of Mexico, Bolivia and Peru, the insects are raised and harvested.

During the 16th century, when the conquistadors began their exploitation of Latin America, cochineal dye was among the valuable treasures sent back to Europe. 

The visual arts were changed forever.

Michelangelo was among the first artists to use carmine, which he did in his vividly colored paintings.

Fiber artists changes fashion with scarlet dyes. Catholic Cardinals wore robes colored with cochineal. British soldiers becamse Redcoats. Iranians used carmine for carpets.

Cakes, candies and Maraschino cherries were colored with cochineal, at least until 1875, when synthetic dyes were invented.

Some foods still are, though.

Carmine is the only natural red food coloring authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.

The food industry fought adding the words "insect-derived" to lables, but if an ingredient list includes "carmine" or "cochineal," please don't let it bug you.