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Carmine – toxicity, side effects, diseases and environmental impacts

Carmine is a red pigment or dye that can be derived from insects. These insects, referred to as Dactylopius coccus, originate from South America and Mexico that live as parasites on cactus plants. The pigment can be obtained from the body and eggs of the insect. Carmine is typically used as a food colorant and a colorant in cosmetic products as well as textiles. It can be physically described as a dark purplish-brown mass, bright red or dark red powder. Carmine can also be identified in other names, such as carmine 5297, carmine ultra-fine, carminic acid, carminic acid lake, natural red 4, and B rose liquid. Carmine has the molecular formula of C22H20O13 and has an E number of E120. It belongs to the class of organic compounds referred to as anthracenecarboxylic acids, which contain a carboxylic acid group attached to an anthracene ring system.

List of known side effects

There are only a few known side effects of carmine exposure to humans. One of these is that it has been found to be associated with severe allergic reactions. In addition, exposure to carmine may cause headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, irritation of the eyes, skin, respiratory tract and digestive tract. On the other hand, there is no information on the environment side effects that carmine can cause, except that it is suspected to be an environmental toxin.

Body systems affected by carmine

The body systems that carmine can adversely affect are the integumentary, respiratory, ocular and digestive systems.

Items that can contain carmine

According to an entry published by, some of the items where carmine can be present include food products, such as yogurt, candy, beverages, applesauce, baked goods, such as cakes, cookies and pies, and red-colored beverages. Moreover, it can be present in jams, jelly, ice cream, sausages, dried fish, cider, maraschino cherries and tomato products. In addition, the colorant can be found in non-food items, such as pharmaceuticals, textiles, personal care products and cosmetic products.

How to avoid carmine

According to an entry posted by, a way to avoid carmine is to carefully check the food labels and ingredients list. If the ingredients list has the words “Cochineal,” “Cochineal Extract,” “Carmine,” “Crimson Lake,” “Natural Red 4,” “C.I. 75470,” or “E120,” the food or product contains the red dye carmine.

Where to learn more


Carmine is a red dye that is made from the insect known as Dactylopius coccus, which is native to South America and Mexico and lives on cactus plants as parasites. It can be found in food, pharmaceuticals, textiles, personal care products, and cosmetic products.

Carmine may cause headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, irritation of the eyes, skin, respiratory tract, and digestive tract.

Carmine can adversely affect the integumentary, respiratory, ocular and digestive systems.

Carmine is only suspected to be an environmental toxin.

Sources include:

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