Think Pink” . . . The Untold Story

We see it every October, buy this pink item, buy that pink item and “support the cure” for Breast Cancer.  The questions we should be asking are, who is really benefiting and is it really “supporting the cure”!

Much of the information in this article come from Stacy Malkan’s book with her permission – Not Just a Pretty Face The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry   (

In the 1990’s Charlotte Haley watched as her daughter, sister and grandmother suffered breast cancer.  Wanting to do something to increase awareness she sat down at her dining room table and made thousands of peach ribbons by hand.  She bundled them into sets of five, each with a card stating: “The National Cancer Institute annual budge is $1.8 billion; only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention.  Help us wake up our legislators andAmerica by wearing this ribbon.”  She distributed them to local grocery stores and wrote to Dear Abby and other prominent women to gain attention for the cause.

Charlotte Haley’s peach ribbons gained the attention of several major corporations, Estee Lauder and Self magazine who wanted to team up to create the second annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month issues and place breast cancer ribbon displays on every cosmetic counter across the nation.   For Charlotte the ribbons were a tool to inspire women to become politically active, not to sell products!  She declined their offer to use her peach ribbons.

Estee Lauder and Self magazine came up with another ribbon color for their campaign – Pink!  According to their focus groups and studies pink was warm, happy, pleasant and playful; a life-affirming color known for its calming, quieting and stress-reducing effects.  “… which is everything that breast cancer is not for women who are living with the disease.  So that’s where the pink ribbon was born.  And Charlotte Haley’s peach ribbon just kind of disappeared, inundated under pink ribbons ever after.”  commented Brenda Salgado of Breast Cancer Action.

If we look further into the pink ribbon history we find another interesting story.  The co-founder and major sponsor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is AstraZeneca.  What could be wrong with this you ask, here is a little history on this company:

  • 1985 Zenca created National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Zenca – owned by Imperial Chemical Industries a multi-billion-dollar producer of pesticides, paper and plastics.
  • 1990 Zenca named in a lawsuit by the federal government for allegedly dumping DDT and PCBs intoLos AngelesandLong Beachharbors.
  • 1999 Zenca purchased cancer clinics around the country and merged with Astra (Swedish pharmaceutical company) to form AstraZeneca, world’s third largest drug company.
  • Until 2000 AstraZeneca the leading manufacturer of agricultural chemicals including a carcinogenic pesticide, acetochlor.

“This is a conflict of interest unparalleled in the history of American medicine,” said Dr. Samuel Epstein, a professor of occupational and environmental medicine at the University Of Illinois School Of Public Health.  “You’ve got a company that’s a spin-off of one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of carcinogenic chemicals, they’ve got control of breast cancer treatment, they’ve got control of the chemoprevention [studies], and now they have control of cancer treatment in eleven centers – which are clearly going to be prescribing the drugs they manufacture.”

They’ve also got control over the public message of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which focuses on early detection – in other words, get your mammogram and if you are unfortunate enough to have the disease – take this pill.  The focus is on detection and cure which is important for women who have cancer, but it keeps us from the equally important effort of prevention.  To put it more directly “They make the chemicals, they run the treatment centers, and they’re still looking for ‘the cure’ – no wonder they won’t tell you about breast cancer prevention,” begins the expose by Sharon Batt and Liza Gross in Sierra magazine.

With all the emphasis on detection and treatment, attention has been diverted away from prevention and the connection between environmental toxins and breast cancer.  To make matters worse the nation’s largest breast cancer charities fall in line with the mantra of detection and treatment.  The American Cancer Society (ACS) has frequently been quoted in the press urging caution when interpreting evidence linking chemicals to disease.  The ACS even dismissed a report by the California EPA, based on two decades of research, that second-hand smoke is linked to premenopausal breast cancer.

With more than half of all breast cancer cases not explained by genetics, diet or reproductive history, there is growing evidence indicating environmental exposure to carcinogens and hormone-disrupting chemicals in products women use everyday such as hair/skin care products, household cleaners and other chemicals.  In May 2007, the Silent Spring Institute and Susan B. Komen for the Cure released the most comprehensive scientific review of breast carcinogens to date.  The report identified 216 chemicals that cause breast cancer in animals, including industrial solvents, pesticides, dyes, cosmetics ingredients, hormones and pharmaceuticals.  “These compounds are widely detected in human tissues and in environments, such as homes, where women spend time”  wrote researchers in a special supplement to the journal Cancer.

Synthetic chemicals that can mimic estrogen or disrupt hormones in the body include:

  • Bisphenol A – component of polycarbonate plastic (#7), in baby bottles and water coolers
  • Parabens – preservatives in a range of cosmetics
  • Phthalates – in personal care products and vinyl plastic
  • Placental extract – in hair products marketed primarily to African American women.

Some of the most widespread breast carcinogens include:

  • 1,4-diozane – in detergents, shampoos, soaps
  • 1,3-butadiene – common air pollutant; in vehicle exhaust
  • Vinyl chloride – to make PVC/vinyl plastic
  • PAHs – diesel and gasoline exhaust
  • PCBs – electrical transformers; banned but still in environment
  • Atrazine – a herbicide widely used in theUS, but banned inEurope

Who would have thought that the very things we put on our skin or clean our homes with may be causing breast cancer!  Check the labels for some of the above ingredients, you may be surprised at what you find.  For more information on ingredients in your products visit  For information on pollutants in your community

Should we be asking more questions – where is all the money going from Pink Ribbon campaigns for “the cure” and do these companies really care about our health?  As consumers we should be aware of pinkwashers.  What is a Pinkwasher: (pink’-wah-sher) noun.  A person or company that purports to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon campaign, but manufactures products that are linked to the disease.  For information on “where the money goes” and “who is pinkwashing” visit the web site  Think Before You Pink is a project of Breast Cancer Action, a non-profit organization dedicated to national education and activist organization asking hard questions about what needs to be done to end the breast cancer epidemic.

We hear a lot about pharmaceutical solutions for breast cancer.  It’s time to begin looking into prevention strategies such as cleaning up the environment and reducing chemical exposure from everyday products.  It’s time for companies to be accountable for product safety.   Stacy Malkan’s Not Just a Pretty Face The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry  is an eye opening book packed with information and resources and if you think one book may be biased, read Exposed The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power by Mark Schapiro, editorial director of the Center for Investigative Reporting in San Francisco.