There are no reliable statistics on the number of people with allergies or sensitivities to red dye. Allergists don’t have tidy vials they can tap for scratch tests and no radioallergosorbent test (RAST) has yet been devised to measure an immunological reaction to red dye. Yet there are people with red dye allergies and sensitivities who need to avoid it, as do those attempting to follow specialized eating plans such as the Feingold Diet. Although food and cosmetics companies can be very good at hiding ingredients, with a little knowledge, you can avoid purchasing products that contain red dye.


Read food product labels closely. Search for “red” in the ingredient list. Skip the food if it is found. When scrutinizing food packaging, ask yourself if there’s a natural ingredient listed — beet juice, for example — that could create the red coloring. If not, there’s probably dye in the product.

Search for the food dye called carmine. Carmine, sometimes called cochineal extract, is common in food and cosmetic products. Although it is made from a “natural” source — dried and ground-up beetles — people with multiple food allergies or sensitivities should avoid it, as carminic acid can cause severe allergic reactions in some.

Search for undefined artificial colors. Food manufacturers do not have to identify ingredients occurring in small enough amounts. Avoid foods listing just “artificial colors” or incomplete lists of artificial colors.

Learn the food coloring wheel. It’s a little different than the color wheel everyone is taught in elementary school. Sure, red still makes red and red mixed with blue still makes purple. However, sometimes only yellow makes orange and sometimes red and blue make blue. In the absence of ingredient lists, avoid artificially colored red, orange, blue, purple and brown foods. Stick to white, yellow and green.

Read product labels on all cosmetics and skin and hair care products before use. Carmine is common in both traditional and mineral makeup. Skip face painting at carnivals and fairs as brushes and usually safe color pots may be contaminated with red dye from previous customers.

Consult a pharmacist to find out about alternatives to typical medications. Many cough syrups and liquid medicines contain red dye, and even some pills and gel caps use some type of red dye.