Articles Magazine

Beware the Pinkwash! Why Pink Ribbon, Inc. Is A Scam

By Chere Di Boscio and Diane Small

In most countries around the world this October, women will be joining with their female friends and family to participate in 5k runs, wearing pink. Some may purchase ‘pink ribbon’ branded products to help raise money for Breast Cancer;  after all, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

But many responsible journalists and watchdog groups such as  Think Before You Pink and the Better Business Bureau have recently raised some important questions about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and even cancer charities in general: namely, how can consumerism, inextricably linked to environmental destruction, help a disease? Isn’t it a hypocritical to buy products that are thought to cause cancer, to fight cancer? And where do the hundreds of millions of dollars raised for cancer go to, exactly?


A Canadian film, Pink Ribbon, Inc., has also inspired many to think about the big business behind the Pink Ribbon campaign, including us here at Eluxe, and what we found out has been quite shocking.

Researching this article, for example, we discovered that some companies are actually keeping all the money you spend on their products for themselves. Apparently, there’s no law against slapping a pink ribbon on any given product in October–the company isn’t lying, exactly; they’re just exploiting the trust of the consumer. Caveat emptor! Other companies that are blatantly harmful to human health–such as Kentucky Fried Chicken,  and Smith and Wesson guns–have also used what’s now known as ’cause marketing’ or ‘pinkwashing’ to sell their products over Breast Cancer Awareness month, though we should mention they did donate some profits to cancer charities.


But even companies who do donate money to certain Breast Cancer Charities are duping us. Take Estee Lauder or Clinique, for example. Both cosmetic companies have beautifully branded their best selling skincare ranges with pink packaging for October; Estee Lauder also offers a little medallion around the bottleneck of some of their ‘Pink Ribbon Products,’ such as their Advanced Night Repair Serum. Both companies promise a percentage of the sale of their products will go to a cancer charity.

Estee Lauder Evelyn Lauder Pink Ribbon Collection - High Res

What they fail to mention, however, is that many ingredients in their products are strongly believed to be a cause of cancer. If these cosmetic giants really cared about the breast cancer epidemic, wouldn’t it make more sense to phase out ingredients like parabens, phthalates (both linked directly to some forms of breast cancer), BHT and a potentially lethal cocktail of others?

Ok, you may say, but at least they’re giving money to charities. But where does that money go, exactly? And what exactly does it do?

Well, that depends. Some, like, claim to supply reliable, complete, and up-to-date information about breast cancer. However, after having seen the site, it seems rather shocking that millions are donated to a site that’s essentially got about as much information on it as Eluxe does. And we certainly don’t need a budget of millions–or even hundreds of thousands–to operate, even though we update the site several times a day.


Others, like the one supported by Estee Lauder, are fully transparent in how their funds are being spent, but this is mainly focused on paying for expensive genome research, pharmaceutical drug creation and high tech medical treatments, all of which are eventually sold back to the public at a great profit for the companies who were so charitably funded to ‘discover’ them. It’s not very surprising, then, to learn that the company responsible for making October ‘Breast Cancer Awareness’ month was AstraZeneca, the big pharmaceutical company.

Maybe the most jaw-dropping fact we discovered when researching this issue was this: despite billions of dollars being spent over several years on a ‘search for the cure’ and despite years of laboratory research aimed at discovering new treatments and drugs, the 5 year survival rates for breast cancer remain almost utterly unchanged since the 1970s.

Clearly,  it’s time for a shift of perspective here, focusing on holistic cures, rather than ‘scientific’ ones, and examining the role pollutants and plastics play in generating cancer cells in our bodies. Maybe instead of donating to a cancer charity, giving to an environmental one could be just as effective: after all, prevention is always better than a cure.

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  • Reply
    Judith Treanor
    Oct 18, 2016 at 11:52 pm

    Thank you, a million times thank you for having the courage to raise this vital issue. As a breast cancer survivor I said exactly these things 8 years ago in a local paper article in Sydney, Australia. Unfortunately my words were completely misinterpreted and I was made to look like a revolutionary villain for questioning Breast Cancer awareness. Thank goodness times are a changing and others are questioning the validity of Pinkness. Yes Corporates use Pink to sell their products, yes there are holistic treatments out there and most importantly, yes, women should be educated on eating and living healthy rather than encouraged to use products or eat/consume foods/drinks associated with Pink that often contain exactly the chemicals they should be avoiding. Again – thank you!!

    • Reply
      Oct 19, 2016 at 12:10 am

      Thanks so much for your comments, Judith. Glad more people are waking up to this! And also glad you made it through such a horrible illness. We’re on your side! xx

  • Reply
    Oct 19, 2016 at 12:45 am

    I am not a reader of Eluxe, but this article is the best example of journalism I have read in, I can’t even begin to think how long. Short, accurate and to the point. I will be using this in class with my students all week!

    • Reply
      Oct 19, 2016 at 1:45 am

      Thanks Nathan! Hope that makes you a new reader of Eluxe, too! (I reckon we have some great articles in the Magazine/Articles section you’ll love…check out the one on News Sites to trust, for example!)

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