It’s October, which means in addition to all the lovely sights, sounds and smells of fall, your eyeballs are likely being assaulted with a barrage of pink—pink ribbons, pink T-shirts, pink yoga pants, pink water bottles, pink-tinted body care products. The list goes on. Unless you never leave your house, watch TV or check the mail, you’re probably aware that it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month. All that pink may be a bit overwhelming (or make you feel like you just stepped onto the set of a bad Valentines’ Day movie), but it’s all for a good cause, right?
Unfortunately, the issue isn’t as black and white as that. While Breast Cancer Awareness month has its merits—more women get screened for breast cancer in October and November than any other time of year—many companies have caught on to the marketing value of “think pink” and have commandeered the color to help them sell products, many of which contain chemicals that have been linked to breast cancer, while offering limited support to breast cancer research.
This trend, known as “pinkwashing,” can be seen everywhere during October. Flip over the back of that Breast Cancer Awareness-supporting lotion or shampoo and you’re likely to find synthetic chemicals such as parabens, phthalates and propylene glycol that have carcinogenic or hormone-disrupting properties that have been linked to cancer. Pinkwashing hit a new low this year when Susan G. Komen for the Cure, one of the most active foundations participating in Breast Cancer Awareness month, commissioned a perfume called “Promise Me.” Sales of the perfume are supposed to raise funds for breast cancer research, but turns out the perfume could be doing more harm than good. Independent lab testing found that the perfume actually contains two dangerous chemicals not listed on the label: galaxolide, a synthetic “musk” with hormone-disrupting qualities, and toluene, a neurotoxin with negative effects so strong that the International Fragrance Association has banned its use.
• How much money from your purchase actually goes toward breast cancer research? Is that amount clearly stated on the package? Or is the information vague?
• What is the maximum amount that will be donated? Some companies set a cap on the amount of money they’ll donate, meaning once that cap has been reached, all proceeds from the product will go back into the company’s pocket.
• How are the funds being raised? Just because a product has a pink ribbon on it doesn’t mean that the company is necessarily donating a proceed of your purchase to research. Read the fine print to find out what action you’ll have to take.
• To what breast cancer organization does the money go, and what types of programs does it support? Does the product’s package mention a specific organization? What about a specific program?
• What is the company doing to ensure that its products are not actually contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?
And here’s one more question to consider: do you really need that product, or are you simply buying it to help support breast cancer research? If your answer is the latter, then perhaps consider other ways of supporting breast cancer research. Check out the American Institute of Philanthropy for help in selecting a top-rated charity where your money will be best used.