Beetles in your smoothie? Fish scales in your lipstick? Snail slime in your moisturizer? They may sound like something out of a horror movie, but the fact is that these and other weird ingredients are commonplace.
In fact, from gross ingredients in makeup to strange contents in food products, you’re probably using or consuming at least one of these ingredients every day — without even knowing it. The good news: These ingredients are safe and approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Here are five funky substances you might encounter.
From your favorite coffee shop’s strawberry smoothie to the maraschino cherry on top of that sundae, red dye is pervasive in food products. The natural coloring that gives red dye its crimson hue has a surprising source: It’s made from cochineal bugs, tiny beetles native to North and South America, whose bodies turn bright red when crushed. Sounds gross, but cochineal is actually a natural dye that’s been used in foods, cosmetics and other products for years.
If the thought of consuming dead insects creeps you out, don’t despair. The FDA requires that all foods and cosmetics that contain cochineal beetles state so on their label. Look for the words “cochineal extract” or “carmine” on the ingredients list.
2. Beaver Urine
If you enjoy the taste of vanilla, consider this: Instead of true vanilla bean, you could be consuming a vanilla substitute called castoreum. Sounds fine, until you learn that castoreum, listed simply as “natural flavoring” on food labels, is actually derived from beavers — beaver urine and anal secretions, to be specific.
Less commonly, castoreum is used as a substitute for strawberry and raspberry flavors. It may be one of the most disgusting of the weird ingredients, but the FDA recognizes castoreum as safe. In this case, what you don’t know won’t hurt you — and you’re probably happier not knowing.
3. Fish Scales
Ever wonder how lipsticks, nail polishes and other products get their shimmery shine? You might have fish to thank. Indeed, many cosmetics and personal care products contain fish scales, which give off an iridescent, crystalline glow when the light hits them. Fish scales are safe (and won’t make your products smell like low tide), but if you prefer to avoid them, look for the word “guanine” — the technical term for this substance — on labels.
4. Snail Slime
When it comes to gross ingredients in makeup, it’s tough to top snail slime. Known as mucin, the slippery secretions left behind are hot ingredients in skin care these days: They’re found in a growing number of moisturizers, creams, masks and other products that claim to smooth skin, fade dark spots and reduce the appearance of scars. If you don’t mind the idea of slathering snail goo on your face, you can find plenty of brands touting this odd ingredient on their labels.
5. Sheep Grease
More commonly known as lanolin, this waxy substance is derived from the fur of wool-bearing animals, including sheep. Its greasy nature makes it a popular ingredient in moisturizers, makeup removers, lipsticks and other cosmetics and personal care products. Lanolin, which is listed as such on labels, is generally safe but can trigger reactions in people who are allergic to it. As with any product, do a spot test before using it extensively, and see a Lahey Health allergist if you have a problem.
If you don’t mind the “ew” factor of weird ingredients, they can be harmless and sometimes helpful additions to a variety of products. Keep in mind, however, that if you’re a vegan or otherwise eschew animal products, it’s worth reading labels to see what you’re getting.