What the Pink? Breast Cancer-Related Makeup Products

For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Ms. blog will be running a series of pieces devoted to the disease and activism around it. 

Isn’t breast cancer so pretty?

Far from it–though cosmetic companies seem to be one of the most prevalent groups championing breast-cancer awareness with beauty products that make you glisten and glitter pink from head to toe.

But wait. Isn’t cosmetic testing voluntary, and mostly controlled by the manufacturers themselves? And, so, many ingredients in these products are not even tested for safety? These “ingredients” include thousands of synthetic chemicals–some that are even used in industrial manufacturing to clean equipment?

Ladies and gentlemen, we have another pinkwashing offender.

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, more than one in five personal care products contain chemicals linked to cancer. Eighty percent contain ingredients with hazardous impurities, and 56 percent contain “penetration enhancers” that help deliver ingredients deeper into the skin. Furthermore, 89 percent of the ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel, the FDA or any other publicly accountable institution.

Below is a sample of some cosmetic pinkwashers.


1. Estée Lauder’s “Evelyn Lauder Dream Collection

This campaign has been going on for an amazing 20 years now, with actress Elizabeth Hurley as its poster child.

A person can buy the lovely Evelyn Lauder and Elizabeth Hurley Dream Lip Collection (left) for just $29.50. It’s “A brilliant way to show your support of Breast Cancer Awareness.” For every purchase, Estée Lauder will donate 20% of the suggested retail price to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 1993 by Evelyn Lauder herself.

Too bad that lipstick contains lead, a contaminant in more than 650 cosmetic products and a proven neurotoxin linked to miscarriage, reduced fertility in men and women and delays in puberty onset for girls. Lead is also found in sunscreens, foundation, nail polish and whitening toothpaste.

The Estee Lauder Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign is very active, however, with more than 168,000 likes on their Facebook page. Every year it even illuminates different landmarks worldwide in pink–one this year being the Opera Garnier in Paris (right). But what is a big beacon of pink light actually doing besides wasting the city’s energy?


2. Carisonic’s “Put Your Best Face Forward

This is no longer in existence, but how can we forget Clarisonic’s limited edition Hope Mia Skin Cleansing System, which debuted in conjunction with Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Partnering with the cancer patient support group Look Good … Feel Better, Clarisonic made an initial donation of $100,000, in addition to giving the group $15 for each Hope Mia purchase from their pink line as well. OK, they did raise some funds for the cause.

But the headline of the product launch’s press release was “Clarisonic Empowers Cancer Patients to Put Their Best Face Forward.” As if cancer patients weren’t already putting “their best face forward” in dealing with cancer. Or as if making sure their face is properly cleansed is the number one thing on their priority list during chemo or radiation.

Let’s just say it wasn’t Clarisonic’s best choice of words.


3. Essie Nail Polish’s “Breast Cancer Awareness Collection” 

Nothing like 31 shades of pink for your nails to empower any breast cancer patient!

And if these bright colors aren’t enough to boost your mood, then the names of the shades will: “Check-up,” “Good Morning Hope” and “We’re In It Together.”

Not to rain on the pink parade, but turns out that phthalates, a chemical found in nail polish, is a risk factor for later-life breast cancer.

Despite this, nail polish seems to be reigning in the forefront of the Breast Cancer Awareness bandwagon, with companies such as OPI and Ciaté’ jumping on board.

Essie has made a “charitable contribution” to Living Beyond Breast Cancer, though the amount of that contribution is not listed on its website.


4. Susan G. Komen’s “Promise Me” Perfume

This 3.4 ounce bottle, costing $29.99, is a part of the infamous Susan G. Komen’s “Promise Me” collection.

Many were disappointed in the organization’s decision to cut ties with Planned Parenthood earlier this year. Opinions lowered further when Breast Cancer Action (BCA)  put out their “Raise a Stink” campaign against Komen’s perfume, asking the organization to immediately recall the product. According to BCA, the fragrance contains galaxolide (a hormone disruptor) and toluene (known as one of the Toxic Trio), which has been banned by the International Fragrance Association. Oddly, these ingredients are not listed on the bottle.


Screenshot of the Evelyn Lauder Dream Collection via Estée Lauder. Photo of Opera Garnier via Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign Facebook page. Screenshot of Clarisonic’s Hope Mia via Think Before You Pink. Screenshot of Essie’s nail polish via Essie. Screenshot of “Promise Me” via Shop Komen