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Promise Me No Harmful Chemicals: Breast Cancer Group Calls for Greater Accountability in Fundraising

How would you react if you learned that a prominent women’s health organization commissioned a perfume that contains chemicals with demonstrated negative health effects?

Would you tell your friends about the potential dangers?  Register your concerns with the organization? 

Would you be outraged enough to raise a stink?

When Breast Cancer Action (BCAction) learned that Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s (Komen) commissioned pink ribbon perfume, Promise Me, contains harmful chemicals, we asked Komen to immediately recall the fragrance. When they refused, we went public. We’re raising a stink because women’s health has to come first.

Two of the chemicals that independent lab testing found in Promise Me are Galaxolide and Toluene.  Galaxolide is a synthetic musk that works as a hormone disruptor and has been detected in blood, breast milk, and even newborns.  Toluene is a potent neurotoxicant that is linked to a variety of negative health effects and is widely known as one of the Toxic Trio.  Toluene has even been banned by the International Fragrance Association.  According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Environmental Working Group’s report “Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance,“ a person’s exposure to hormone disruptors is linked to a variety of health problems, including increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity.


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Through our Think Before You Pink® campaign, which was started in 2002 in response to the overwhelming number of pink ribbon products on the market, BCAction calls for greater transparency and accountability by corporations or organizations that take part in breast cancer fundraising.  That includes Komen, the giant of the breast cancer movement.  We call out pinkwashers (a term we coined in 2002) which are companies or organizations that claim to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product while at the same time produce, manufacture, and/or sell products that are linked to the disease.  Komen is pinkwashing with Promise Me, there’s no doubt about it. 

How can Komen get away with commissioning this harmful product?  Easy – the federal government poorly regulates cosmetics and personal care products.  Manufacturers are not required to get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before putting cosmetic products and ingredients on the market.  Even more troubling, the FDA lacks the authority to issue recalls of unsafe cosmetic products.  These gaps in U.S. cosmetics regulation mean that the burden of keeping products safe falls on the manufacturers themselves (whose main job is to make money) or on consumers (who would have to spend hours reading ingredient labels to ensure that the products they buy are free of chemicals).

It’s time for a new standard that shifts the burden of proof to manufacturers.  By creating healthier products, manufacturers can reduce our exposure to harmful chemicals.  But we know it doesn’t come easy.  It takes action – only through holding corporations and organizations to the highest possible standard will women’s health come first.

Join BCAction in urging Komen to recall Promise Me perfume from store shelves and peoples’ homes.  Ask them to make good on their vision of “a world without breast cancer.”  Send a letter now to Komen leadership – and demand that they take every precaution to protect women’s health.

Kim Irish

Kim Irish oversees Breast Cancer Action’s Think Before You Pink® and Milking Cancer campaigns, along with local, state, and federal advocacy efforts to put patients first, create healthy environments, and eliminate social inequities related to breast cancer. Kim received her B.A. from the University of California, Davis, and her J.D. from the University of San Francisco School of Law. She is also a graduate of the Women’s Policy Institute and the Reach the Decision Makers Training Program.

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