Pinkwashing: What It Is and How to Avoid It

3 min read

The phenomenon that is the pink ribbon has taken over the month of October, with the recoloring of everything from NFL uniforms to food to beauty products. But why is a month dedicated to raising awareness (and millions of dollars) for a potentially deadly disease also promoting products with ingredients that have been shown to contribute to the growth of cancer cells?

It’s called pinkwashing and we’re seeing it everywhere this month. There’s a long list of companies that claim to care about breast cancer awareness and prevention. They jump on the bandwagon by adding a pink ribbon to their goods for the month of October, but at the same time are manufacturing products with ingredients that have been linked to cancer. We see it in many arenas come fall, but one of the most concerning is the beauty industry.

The cosmetics industry isn’t well regulated when it comes to ingredients in personal care products: The United States bans only 11 ingredients while the European Union has regulations on 1,328What this means in reality is that many ingredients that make their way into our shampoos, foundations, blushes and lipsticks have long-term, potentially dangerous side effects, including cancer. If you peruse the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, you’ll see how many “standard” ingredients have been shown to be hormone disruptors or appear as pollutants in men, women and children who’ve been biomonitored.

Courtesy of The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Why are we supporting companies that knowingly choose ingredients that may eventually contribute to the prevalence of cancer in our society? Because that knowledge hasn’t always been available to consumers. We assume that, when we step into a drugstore or department store to stock up on our skincare necessities, someone has vetted the products we’re shelling out our money for, whether they be that cheap lip balm or that high-end anti-aging treatment.

We sadly can’t. But instead of feeling paralyzed by that knowledge, we can feel empowered. We can make a difference in how the beauty industry operates. Instead of fueling the big beauty business with our dollars, we can take matters into our own hands and show them that we want products with ingredients that are good for us, that help our bodies, that prevent things like cancer and that make us feel good.

How to Help Stop Pinkwashing

  1. Be vocal. Tell your senator that you want regulation on your personal care products. The only way we’ll be able to improve the industry as a whole is if federal regulations change and companies are required to comply.
  2. Educate yourself. This isn’t about scare tactics or condemning ourselves for knowledge we didn’t have before. But now that you know a little about what might be in your cosmetics, you might think differently about the choices you make when you buy beauty products. And even if you still want to buy that favorite lotion or perfume, at least you’re a conscious consumer. Use the MADE SAFE® certification to help you choose products. Keep tabs on the ingredients in the products you use with Skin Deep (available online or as a fun app!) or pick up a copy of No More Dirty Looks, or Not Just a Pretty Face to learn more about ingredients to avoid—and what to use instead!
  3. Let your money talk. Invest your dollars in companies who actually care about the ingredients they use (and not just the new concoction guaranteed to produce “visible results”). There are so many fabulous beauty companies out there, from artisans to bigger brands, that spend their time and energy insuring that the products they make for us are both good for our bodies and effective. Spend your money on those products and sooner or later, those big beauty brands will have to take notice.

Want more info about safe beauty brands? Follow our beauty stories, including this DIY skincare recipe from Sunkiss Alba.

About The Author

Nicolle Mackinnon

Nicolle Mackinnon

Stemming from her personal journey to treat her celiac disease and Hashimoto's thyroiditis, Nicolle serves as a writer and editor for several leading publications helping women understand how important, stylish and fun it is to commit to clean beauty. By way of her contributions to No More Dirty Looks, Thoughtfully Magazine and numerous beauty brands' blogs, websites and social media, Nicolle has become a trusted voice on the correlation between health and beauty. Follow her journey on Instagram and connect with her via nicollemackinnon.com.



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