These red cochineal beetles really get around. First they show up as neon red coloring in foods I recently wrote about in “Hair, Beetles and Beaver Anal Glands in Our Food.” And now the little red buggers have turned up in, of all things, the pink moisture cream I have been daily smoothing into my face for years. A check of the ingredients in my cream, Olay’s Active Hydrating Beauty Fluid, finds Red 4 listed as the last ingredient. Thanks to my recent research, we now know Red #4, Carmine and Crimson Lake are all made of crushed cochineal beetles.

So big deal you say. Aren’t natural dyes made from beetles preferable to petroleum-based chemical dyes? Well, first of all, the processing of cochineal beetles into dye isn’t such a pure deal. The pulverized insects are boiled in ammonia or sodium carbonate. Then alum is added to bring out the red color. Other chemicals may be added along the way, such as stannous chloride, citric acid, borax, gelatin, cream of tartar, potassium hydrogen oxalate, egg white or fish glue. And lime is thrown in to make shades of red-purple.

Second, there seems to be some confusion about applying cosmetic products containing Red #4 to the eye area. Wikipedia says, “Carmine is considered safe enough for use in eye cosmetics”. Olay itself warns, “Avoid direct contact with the eyes”.  But the FDA says of carmine on their “List 5”: “None of these color additives may be used in products that are for use in the area of the eye, unless otherwise indicated.”

To me, putting moisture cream on one’s face also means applying it all around that driest of areas — the eyes – including eyelids. Obviously, heeding Olay’s warning, I don’t dab it on my eyeball. But even applying it to shut eyelids won’t guarantee that some cream won’t slip into the lid edge, opening up the possibility of eyeball contact.

Never have I had the slightest problem with Olay cream irritating my eyes. But pink creams from other manufacturers have definitely stung my eyes in the past. (And now I know why.) Also, in Olay’s case, there is only faint pink coloring in its’ cream.

But why, I wonder, is any coloring added at all? To this product or ANY product? Coloring agents, both chemical and so called “natural,” bring nothing helpful or good or positive to ANY product. They’re added purely for so called “eye appeal.” Well sorry, but if it’s a choice between non-colored food, cosmetics and drugs or those dyed rainbow colors, I’ll take the non-colored gang any day.

There may actually be a glimmer of hope here. In preparation for an article about the FDA considering warnings for artificial food coloring, a New York Times writer received an email from Kraft Foods Inc. Their spokeswoman informed him the company was expanding its “portfolio to include products without added colors,” like Kool-Aid Invisible, Capri Sun juices and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Organic White Cheddar.

True, that’s only three little products, but it’s a start. Enough to get a long overdue, no coloring ball rolling.

Other Additives in Consumer Products: