Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: Think [Past] Pink: The Not-So-Pretty Side of Pinkwashed Products

Think [Past] Pink: The Not-So-Pretty Side of Pinkwashed Products

Recruitment Specialist

For decades, October has been decked out in pink in observance of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This has been an extremely successful campaign, reaching far beyond its original borders to worldwide recognition with pinked-out landmarks from the Eiffel Tower to the Sydney Opera House. However, what started with the greatest of intentions is being taken over by companies trying to sell a pink version of their product in "support" of breast cancer research, so much so that there is even a term for it: pinkwashing.

We have mentioned pinkwashing before and the hypocrisy of some of these marketing ploys is pretty well known. The NFL made headlines when the percentage of their Breast Cancer Awareness Month merchandise's profits actually going to the American Cancer Society was revealed to be 8.1 percent, with none of that actually going to the research end of the organization. However, its Pink collection of clothing and accessories are still huge money makers because the public believes they are supporting research that might help someone they love. It is clear that what the NFL loves is the associated revenue, which it refused to let slide when Pittsburgh Steeler's running back DeAngelo Williams requested to extend his game-time pink commitment to a season-long adornment, sacrificing its showcase of other merchandise.

Williams, who lost his mother and three aunts to the disease, settled for dying his hair in support of breast cancer awareness and paying for the mammograms he hoped to spur in the first place (welcome to my Fantasy Football team). Imagine if everyone took this approach, putting forth their own symbolic gestures and funding necessary research, rather than companies with pink ink. The National Football League has had more than their share of ethics fumbles, but there are companies out there engaging in a much more offensive and duplicitous form of pinkwashing.

To quote the Think Before You Pink project's definition, "Pinkwasher: (pink'-wah-sher) noun. A company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures, and/or sells products that are linked to the disease." That's right; products are being sold that contain ingredients listed as human carcinogens with a huge pink ribbon slapped on the packaging. Some of the most publicized of these chemicals include parabens and phthalates.

Parabens and phthalates are used in a lot of cosmetics, parabens as preservatives and phthalates to add flexibility to products like hairspray. Parabens and phthalates both act as xenoestrogens, estrogen-mimicking contaminants that can interfere with the body's endocrine system. This system affects cell growth, reproductive health, mood, metabolism and digestion, and the function of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Parabens have been found in samples of breast cancer tumors, with a study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology finding evidence in the tumors of 19 out of 20 women studied. They have also been linked to melanoma formation.

You can visit the Environmental Working Group's website to find out if these additives and ingredients like formaldehyde are hiding in your favorite products. Carcinogens are present in beauty products from countless brands with specific breast cancer awareness lines.

The Personal Care Products Counsel was recently enlisted by the American Cancer Society (ACS) to be a part of its Look Good Feel Better program, which is dedicated to helping improve the self-esteem of female cancer patients and survivors. Participants learn how to care for wigs, stencil on eyebrows lost due to chemotherapy, and take proper care of their nails to minimize infection risk while their immune system is comprised. Unfortunately, the program has come under fire for products included in makeup bags given to these women with breast cancer. Although each kit is different, some of the makeup has been found to contain methylparaben as an ingredient, which some studies have shown to inhibit breast cancer treatment. Other products contained formaldehyde releasers and PTFE, both of which are not the best things to use while in treatment or remission. Other breast cancer foundations are asking the ACS to be more aware of the products in its bags, while critics are accusing the Personal Care Products Counsel of pink washing in order to market the brands they included. You can find a bigger list of paraben-free cosmetic companies on the Breast Cancer Action website.

Even more disturbing, Susan G. Komen, in addition to supporting carcinogen-laden products from its hundreds of sponsors, created a signature perfume called "Promise Me," which contained hazardous chemicals. These include galaxolide, a musky-scented hormone disruptor, and toluene, a neurotoxin banned by the International Fragrance Association (which is apparently a thing). Not only should cancer patients not be using these products, but no one should.

For more information on the "Think Before You Pink" project, you can sign up for a free toolkit on its website.

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