Monday, February 22, 2010

Forever Mexican Crimson tide.


The flag of eternal visceral feelings: passion, courage, sexuality and love. Many of us ladies have worn - or secretly died to wear- red on our lips, because who on Earth can resist a pair ofluscious shiny kiss-my-pout lips? (FYI a biological fact: red lips are considered to be the sexiest everywhere because in the arousal stage of the human sexual response, the lips fill up with blood, causing it's hue to raise to a full red.)

The cosmetic and fashion industry have always
turned to red because of its strong appeal and eye-catching
-ability to human nature. 
But, have you ever wondered where the red pigment these industries use to dye lipsticks, eye-shadows, blushes and fabric comes from? Easy. From Mexico's nopal (prickly pear).

The one to blame for the hue that can even attract bulls is a little insect that nests on the nopal plant called "Cochineal". This little insect produces carminic acid that deters predation by other insects. Carminic acid, which occurs as 17%-24% of the weight of the dry insects, can be extracted from the insect's body and eggs and mixed with aluminum or calcium salts to make carmine dye (also known as cochineal). The carminic dye has been used since pre-hispanic times in Mexico and South America to color fabrics, and in Mexico's Colonial period, it became the second largest export to Spain. (Source: here)

Cochineal became a prized commodity on the Continent
(Spain refused to trade it with the English), and it created huge profits for Spain. For this reason, the cultivation of cochineal was aggressively restricted to Spanish-controlled Mexico, although this changed when a French naturalist managed to smuggle cochineal-infested cactus pads to Haiti in 1777. From there, cochineal production eventually expanded to South America, India, Portugal, and the Canary Islands, where it became particularly successful. The long-time demand for cochineal started to decrease in the late 1800s as new synthetic dyes were developed, and soon it was no longer economically viable to continue its production. (Source: Cochineal, Interesting Fact of the day). However, insect dyes (such as the carmin dye from the cochineal) have always been used for cosmetic (shadows, blushes, lipsticks) and pharmaceutical (pills, syrups) dyeing because of its organic friendly-to-the-body nature.Nowadays, with the raise of eco-friendly fashion, organic dyes' production is increasing, directing the attention of everybody around the globe to the Cochineal Farms on Oaxaca, Mexico (like the Tlapanochestli Cochineal Farm) and to other insect-dye farms around the world. Reasons on why this organic dyes are better for the environment discussed here by Eco-friendly fashion designer Behnaz Sarafpour.
Crimson organic dye is still very popular, and the amount of Cochineal-dye exports that Mexico produces is a great sustainable method for small and indigenous families across one of its economically-challenged states: Oaxaca. But beware, buying Cochineal-dye is no cheap business: the reddish power can cost up to $1,000 the kilo (that explains the luxury of wearing such a powerful hue). 
So, whenever you feel witty, agressive and passional and plan on wearing red on your lips, pout them out for Mexico, its indigenous hard-working people and it's little nopal "cochinilas" (cochineal)./FLAII