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[IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A graphic image with light pink flowery background and a circle in the foreground that reads, "Shopping for pink products is never going to stop breast cancer."]

By Mia Davis and Amy Lubitow

We’re sure you’ve noticed: October is breast cancer awareness month. You can’t miss the deluge of pink ribbons on every store shelf, on NFL players, jewelry, cosmetics. Even the White House went pink this month.

Pink ribbons are big business. At present, 1 out of 8 women is diagnosed with breast cancer in the US, so nearly all of us know someone who has been affected, and want to show support or DO something to help. Many of these women have no family history, and their diagnosis can be a huge shock. But when we are encouraged to shop as a way to take action, we lose, because the consumption-oriented compulsion to buy pink primarily serves the interests of major corporate entities, not our loved ones with cancer.

Here is the bottom line: Shopping for pink products is never going to stop breast cancer.

Why be so pessimistic about pink? Companies like Proctor & Gamble, Estee Lauder and Avon position themselves as champions for women through their work to bring about “breast cancer awareness.” But they also can – and do -- use chemicals linked to cancer in their products (and it remains  legal to do so due to a lack of adequate regulatory protections nationwide). When companies use the pink ribbon under the guise of promoting “awareness” without making sure that they are doing all that they can to prevent cancer in the first place, they are taking advantage of- literally capitalizing on- our desire to support women with breast cancer.  It is called pinkwashing.

In our recent post on pinkwashing, we discussed our research paper “Pastel Injustice: The Corporate Use of Pinkwashing for Profit,” and we mentioned Avon (“The Company for Women”) by name. The company responded in a letter to, denying our concerns regarding chemical safety and going out of their way to defend their continued use of parabens in certain products. They noted that these chemicals are not “unsafe” despite  research that finds these chemicals to be estrogen mimicking substances that have been found in breast cancer tumors.

So we responded to Avon, asking them to rise to the challenge and promise not to use chemicals linked to cancer or hormone disruption in their products. Avon is selling some new pink ribbon products this October, but still have not made this commitment.

Since we wrote Avon, a new study from California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco found that methylparaben (as well as the chemical BPA, used in food can linings and other applications) can not only cause healthy breast cells to behave like cancer cells, but also interfere with the effectiveness of tamoxifen, an important breast cancer drug.

In the letter to Forbes, Avon stated that they began eliminating parabens from some products in 2002.  Despite their claims, according to an October 2011 search of EWG’s Skin Deep database, Avon still uses methylparaben in 253 products.

Avon is not the only pinkwasher out there, and some of these “buy pink” partnerships are led by organizations.  According to the advocacy group Think Before You Pink, Susan G. Komen is selling a new fragrance called “Promise Me,” which contains unlabeled chemicals that may impact women’s health.

So what is going to stop breast cancer? Well, we know that countless cases of breast cancer will be prevented when we stop allowing toxic chemicals into consumer products, pink or otherwise. And to us, that is an awareness worth spreading and a goal to move toward.

Avon, P&G, Estee Lauder, we call on you to be real business leaders: Make public commitments to refrain from using chemicals linked to cancer and endocrine disruption in the manufacture of all of your products, and stop blocking regulatory changes that will actually fix the broken system that allows toxic chemicals on to the market, like the Safe Cosmetics Act and the Safe Chemicals Act.

Join us in our efforts to create a safer, healthier environment and help end pinkwashing!

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