Cochineal, (Dactylopius coccus) is a North American scale insect that produces carminic acid, a chemical that deters potential predators. When the scale insects are ground to a powder and mixed with calcium or aluminum salts, the brilliant red dye, carmine is produced. Carminic acid can reach concentrations of up to 24 percent of the body weight of the insect. The Native Americans of the desert western North America were known to rear cochineal for dye manufacture. They quite probably bred cochineal for high carminic acid content.
Carmine is used in numerous products including brilliant red lipstick. Some modern rock stars famous for carmine red lipstick include Gwen Stefani and Christine Aguilera. Lipstick draws attention to the lips and invites kissing, especially the bright red lipsticks colored with carmine. Back in the 1960s, singer Donovan had a hit song, “Wear Your Love Like Heaven”. The song includes a litany of colors and ends with a fading, “carmine, carmine.” Carmine lets people wear their love like heaven(ly) insects.
The next time you apply your carmine lipstick or kiss your significant other with those carmine red lips, think about the cochineal. Or not.