What is it? A highly potent red-pink pigment that is derived from the cochineal beetle.
Appearance You can purchase it as a brightly coloured fine powder or pre-dispersed in castor oil as a liquid dye.
Texture Fine powder.
Scent Nothing noticeable.
pH stability Not great—it will discolour in extreme pH situations, so it’s not useful for soaps. Check this out for more info.
Solubility Water, but the powder version is so fine that it can also be easily dispersed in oils and used in lipsticks and the like.
Why do we use it in recipes? Its incredible colour is unmatched in hue and potency in the natural world. Swoon!
Do you need it? If you want to make cosmetics and you like bright reds, purples, corals, and pinks, you need either carmine or FD&C Red No 7. If you want to  make lip stain, you absolutely need carmine—there’s no way around it.
Refined or unrefined? Refined—some readers have purchased a version much closer to beetle form, and I have no idea how you’d work with that!
Strengths Incredible colour and potency.
Weaknesses Not vegan, and it’s fairly pricey (though so potent that it works out fairly well in the end).
Alternatives & Substitutions If you are ok with lake colours, FD&C Red No 7 is a good alternative in anything where we don’t need the carmine to dissolve in water—lip balms, glosses, lipsticks, powdered cosmetics, etc. The potency and hue are quite similar, and you likely won’t notice any difference. Unfortunately, FD&C Red No 7 is insoluble, so you cannot use it in lip stain.

You can also use red iron oxide in most places where aren’t counting on the carmine to dissolve, but that will only work if you don’t actually care about the colour of the final product as they are very different colours. So, SO different! A colour blend for purple that uses carmine will be brown if you use red iron oxide. Ditto for a colour blend for any sort of bright coral. Red iron oxide is really muddy and, well, not the same colour. At all.

I’ve made several videos that show the differences between carmine and the things people usually ask me about using as alternatives—watch ’em! That way you’ll get to see carmine and the other pigments in action and get a better understanding of what I’m talking about. The most relevant ones are the Scottish Rose Salve (carmine vs. red iron oxide) and the Snow White Lip Stain videos.

How to Work with It I love it in tinted lip balms, lipsticks, lip glosses, powdered cosmetics, and lip stain. In short, it’s amazing anywhere you want a bright red/pink, clear purple, or eye-catching coral hue.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, carmine will last indefinitely. The stuff that has been pre-dispersed in castor oil will go off whenever the castor oil goes rancid, which will likely be in the 1 to 2 year range.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Carmine has been used as a pigment by the Aztecs, and was brough to Europe in the 16th century. You’ve also likely eaten carmine—it’s often one of the “natural colours” used in foods.
Recommended starter amount 10g (0.35oz)
Where to Buy it  In the USA, TKB Trading is a fantastic choice. In Canada, the UK, and the EU, The Aroma Shoppe is a good option. They ship out of The Netherlands, but the stuff I ordered arrived (in Canada) quickly, and shipping was cheaper than it would’ve been if I’d ordered from within Canada. The price also cannot be beat!

Some Recipes that Use Carmine

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