Pinkwashing: Breast Cancer Awareness or Exploitation?

October is a colorful month. Rich shades of yellow and red vibrantly color the trees and displays of bright orange pumpkins help usher in the Fall season. October has also been increasingly colored by another hue, pink. In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, scores of products have gone pink to increase awareness of breast cancer, the most common cancer in American women.

As a nurse and health advocate, I am thrilled at efforts to help educate the public about how to prevent and screen for any disease. Early detection is critical in many health conditions, and breast cancer is no exception. But what is all the pinking of our products really doing?

The issue: Pinkwashing.

“Pinkwashing” is a term referring to the exploitation of breast cancer awareness month in order to boost sales of a product. Of particular concern are the pink products containing ingredients known to cause breast cancer itself. Some pink products are just bizarre,  like pink dusters and wine coolers. But more troubling are the pink perfumes and cosmetics containing hormone disruptors. These companies are touting their support of breast cancer research and treatment, but their pink products contain chemicals proven to be carcinogenic.

pinkwashing products


“Think before you pink.”

I am not recommending avoiding pink products, but advising you to as always, be a conscious consumer. Before you make a purchase, find out how much of your money is actually going to breast cancer charities, and what is it being used for? Yoplait is currently running a campaign offering a ten cent donation for every yogurt lid consumers send in. But if you think about it, you are spending more on postage than ten cents. Why not just purchase the goods you prefer, pink products or otherwise, and make your own private donation?

Breast Cancer Action has come up with a list of critical questions to ask before you buy a pink product as part of their “Think Before you Pink” campaign. Charity Navigator has released a special feature rating breast cancer charities. Do some quick research and ensure you are really making a difference to support breast cancer.

What is your take on “pinkwashing”? Do you think the pink products help raise breast cancer awareness or do you find them to be more of a marketing ploy? How do you feel about pink products containing carcinogens?