October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month across the globe. It almost seems silly that it still includes the word “Awareness” because I don’t think there is any other cancer more publicised, more known to people, than breast cancer. I can’t speak for every nation but in Australia we have year round campaigns for breast cancer. Our radio stations go so far as to remind us to check for lumps on the first day of each month. Frankly, you can’t escape being aware of Breast Cancer. I have been a long-time supporter of all BCA/Pink Ribbon efforts but this year I have been starting to really look into where the money goes and I have to say, I have a bone to pick.
Have you heard of pink-washing? I had only just heard this term within the past few months but it has been something that has been present for many years. A Girl’s Gotta Spa wrote this compelling post back in 2009 and it really set a lightbulb off for me when I read it recently. Before we get into it, let’s understand what pink-washing is.
Definition of Pink-washing
According to Beauty Expert David Pollock, the term pink-washing refers to the sale of items that contain ingredients that are known carcinogens, while marketing these products in support of breast cancer awareness. While these companies generally do indeed practice fundraising according to their marketing statements, they may actually be contributing to the development of this disease with the product itself.
Most skin care products actually do contain ingredients that are known carcinogens. Consumers can research this on the U.S. Food & Drug Administration website,” said David Pollock. “Just to put things in perspective, in Europe 1,100 ingredients are regulated or banned from skin care products. In the U.S., only 11 ingredients are regulated in skin care. And up to 60 percent of these harmful ingredients used in skin care products can be absorbed into your body. My recommendation is that the American public should avoid purchasing products that contain known carcinogens, even if they have a pink ribbon. No one should feel that they cannot make a difference or have no voice. Recently, some big U.S.-based companies have made global decisions to improve their practices based on consumer demand.
Top 10 ingredients to avoid
If cancer of any kind is a concern for you than David Pollock recommends avoiding the following ingredients in your food and beauty products.
- PARABENS—including Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Benzylparaben, Butylparaben
- PEG’s & GLYCOLS—including Polyethylene Glycol (PEG), Butylene Glycol, Propylene Glycol, etc.
- LAURYL/LAURETH SULFATES—including Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Ammonium Laureth Sulfate
- PETROCHEMICALS—including Mineral Oil, Petrolatum, Light Liquid Paraffin, Petroleum Distillate, Mineral Jelly, Petroleum Jelly
- SYNTHETIC FRAGRANCE—a cocktail of potentially 100’s of chemicals
- SYNTHETIC DYES
- TRIEHTANOLAMINE—often listed as TEA
- TRICOLSAN—a popular anti-microbial agent for hand washes and sanitizers
- PHTHALATES—a plasticizers used to make a number of cosmetic ingredients often found in lipsticks, nail polishes, fragrances and hair sprays
- 1,4 DIOXANE—a contaminant formed as a byproduct during manufacturing of detergents, foaming agents, emulsifiers and solvents – what’s worse is that it is NOT required to be listed on the ingredient statement, but can be found in ingredients listed as PEG, Polyehtylene, Polyethylene Glycol, Polyoxyethylene or anything ending with “-eth” or in “-oxynol”.
Aside from the science stuff, I believe pink-washing could be applied in a broader term to products that are just slapping a pink ribbon on packaging to further boost sales. I am supportive of businesses donating to charities legitimately important to them and their customers, but where that money goes is of great importance to me. It would seem I am not alone in this as many of my fellow beauty consumers have a similar stance (and I will share some links with you at the end).
I admit I am guilty of seeing a pink ribbon and thinking that if I buy that item I will be helping to find a cure for breast cancer. The more reading and research I do on this the more I am convinced otherwise. Here is what troubles me most.
Very few BCA products give 100% of the profits to the nominated breast cancer related charity. The average amongst the 2013 products (that I could find) was 10% of the profits. Some go above and beyond but some also go much lower. For a long time I thought 10% was great but if you think about it, I pay $100 and perhaps the profit for that item is only $50 so therefore I am only giving $5 to the actual cause I am trying to support. If I really wanted to help fight cancer I would be much better off donating that $50 or $100 directly to the charity I feel does the best work.
It is also worth considering whether this charity or campaign is of the most importance to you. I know I have a lot of charities I like to support so I could be splitting that $100 amongst many charities rather than one corporation and a tiny bit to charity. If I really want the item anyway, that is ok, but cutting through the brain fog I often find I am just buying something to “support a good cause” …. and because it is pink.
Not all charities are created equal, and your personal beliefs may actually conflict with that of the charity you are contributing to. In Australia we have two main charities that are supported during BCA month, National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) and McGrath Foundation. Both of these foundations offer very different things and it wasn’t until I looked more closely at what they offer did I find I wasn’t happy with one particular foundation.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to sound like a cold-hearted grump, but my belief is that most consumers like myself believe we are helping to fund a cure or treatment for breast cancer when we buy Pink Ribbon products. As you will see from the image below, there are 4 key partners in Australia involved in BCA. The National Breast Cancer Foundation is the leading community-funded organisation raising money for research into the prevention and cure of breast cancer. This is what I want to support and the one that I thought we were all supporting when we buy a Pink Ribbon product. The one I have most trouble with accepting is McGrath Foundation.
I know writing this will come back to bite me on the behind, but as a young woman who is the carer for a woman with cancer (not breast cancer so she is not supported by any of these charities) I feel it is completely unfair to have a charity who only provides care nurses to one sector of women with cancer, while others who may be undergoing far more difficult times do not have the opportunity to ask for that help. Furthermore, I think it is a bit ridiculous to have us donate money to a charity to build awareness amongst young people when young people are the ones who have been born and bred into a world where awareness is in our face 24/7, yet if we want to have a professional breast check (which they urge us to do regularly) we must pay for it. Wouldn’t it be a better use of funds to make breast checks free instead of paying for more fliers?
What it boils down to for me is that I feel I have been misled by supporting Pink Ribbon campaigns without knowing exactly where the money goes, and how much of it. It is because of this that I am hesitant to publish a BCA/Pink Ribbon beauty round-up this year.
Do you want to see Pink Ribbon beauty post? Would you still like to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month by purchasing beauty products? Does my opinion have merit or sound completely insane? Let me know by commenting below!