For decades, October has been decked out in pink in observance
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Even more disturbing, Susan G.
Komen, in addition to supporting carcinogen-laden products from
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
For more information on the "Think Before You Pink" project, you
can sign up for a
free toolkit on its website.