Pinkwashing: A term used to describe companies that position themselves as leaders in the fight against breast cancer while engaging in practices that may be contributing to rising rates of the disease.
We’ve all seen the beauty products dressed up with pink ribbons and cute promotions. Unfortunately, many of these same corporations continue to use chemicals that are linked to cancer.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has repeatedly asked Avon, Revlon and Estee Lauder – the three largest users of the pink ribbon in the cosmetics industry – to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, a pledge to remove chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities and other harmful health impacts from their products. The companies have been unwilling to make this public commitment to eliminate carcinogens and other chemicals of concern from their products.
If they are serious about being champions for women's health, the pink-ribbon ringleaders must stop buying carcinogens and other harmful chemicals from the chemical companies. You can ask one of these manufacturers, Estee Lauder, to do just that right now.
Cosmetics Chemicals and Breast Cancer
When only 1 in 10 cases of breast cancer are linked to family history, when so many more women are diagnosed today than even 20 years ago, and when science implicates our environment in rising rates of the disease, we have to ask hard questions about the toxic chemicals we’re exposed to daily. In cosmetics alone – with and without the pink ribbon – we find:
Parabens: preservatives used in lotions, shampoo and other cosmetics. Some parabens are classified as endocrine disruptors because they mimic estrogen in the body. Higher estrogen exposures are linked to higher risk of breast cancer.
Phthalates: plasticizers found in nail polish, synthetic fragrance and plastic packaging. These hormone-disrupting chemicals have been linked to early puberty in girls, a risk factor for later-life breast cancer. Some phthalates also act as weak estrogens in cell culture systems.
Fragrance: secret mixtures of chemicals used in both perfumes and scented cosmetics. "Fragrance" may include phthalates, synthetic musks (which may disrupt hormones) and ethylene oxide (a mammary carcinogen). The companies are not required to list these chemicals on product labels.
Nonylphenols: used in some cleansers. They have been shown to disrupt hormones.
Sunscreen chemicals: some behave like estrogens and have been shown to make some breast cancer cells proliferate.
Isobutane: a propellant used in spray-on hair spray, gel, mousse, shaving cream and anti-fungal treatment. It can be contaminated with 1,3-butadiene, a probable human carcinogen and a mammary carcinogen.
Ethoxylated compounds: dimethicone, PEG-40, ceteareth-12 and other compounds with the syllables “eth” or “PEG” in them are used in a wide variety of cosmetics. These compounds are formed by processing with ethylene oxide, a mammary carcinogen, and can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, also a mammary carcinogen.
Metals: found in a variety of cosmetics as colorants, sunscreens or contaminants. Iron, nickel, chromium, zinc, cadmium, mercury and lead have been found in higher levels in women with breast cancer than in women without breast cancer. Nickel, chromium, cadmium, mercury, lead, copper, cobalt and tin also have estrogenic effects on breast cancer cells in the lab.
Petrolatum: a derivative of petroleum used in lip products and lotions. It can be contaminated with polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are both endocrine disruptors and carcinogens.
Toluene: used in some nail products. Can be contaminated with benzene, a known carcinogen.
Triclosan: commonly used in anti-microbial soaps. More research is needed to understand how triclosan relates to breast cancer, but evidence suggests it affects male and female hormones as well as thyroid hormone, which effects weight and metabolism.
Four things you can do to thwart cosmetics pinkwashing:
Support the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act, which will eliminate carcinogens from personal care products and require companies to be fully transparent about what's in their products.
Get tips for choosing safe cosmetics from the Breast Cancer Fund.
Check out Breast Cancer Action's Think Before You Pink campaign.
State of the Evidence: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment, 2010 edition, published by the Breast Cancer Fund
Chemicals in Cosmetics, from the Breast Cancer Fund
How the Pink Ribbon Was Co-opted as a Marketing Tool, by Stacy Malkan
We Need a New Women’s Health Movement, by Barbara Ehrenriech
What’s In That Pink-Ribbon Product?, by Stacy Malkan
Feeling Beautiful (and Safe) Inside and Out, by Mia Davis