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Is ‘pinkwashing’ a sin?

Come October, all of America thinks pink. Scan the grocery aisles, shop for personal care, tune into an NFL game and you’ll see that thousands of companies and organizations have rolled out special products, packaging and, yes, even rose-colored football cleats in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Big beauty brands like Estée Lauder have been especially pro­-pink ribbon­, promoting early detection and creating entire product lines devoted to raising awareness. While I certainly applaud theirs and any effort put toward this cause, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics rears a good point: Some of the very personal care products being pushed to help fight breast cancer may in fact be causing breast cancer. Many conventional-brand lipsticks, mascaras, shampoos and soaps still contain endocrine-disrupting ingredients like parabens and phthalates, as well as chemicals susceptible to contamination by known carcinogens formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane.

CSC calls this practice “pinkwashing.” As with greenwashing—when a company trumpets its “green” initiatives in order to disguise or divert attention from its not-so-green ones—there is a certain irony in overlooking the chemical causes of a disease while simultaneously rallying the fight against it. Especially when Estée Lauder has proven with its squeaky-clean Origins line that it can create great products sans the nasty stuff.  

But I have to say, I’m slightly torn on this issue. The steam that the breast-cancer fight has gathered over the past decade—thanks in part to the efforts of big companies such as these—has and will continue to directly benefit women everywhere for generations to come. So can we crucify companies that take some measures—just not every possible one—to fight breast cancer? Or is it our responsibility to take this opportunity to say enough’s enough, to call Big Beauty on its faults and really highlight the necessity of eradicating these harmful ingredients? 

I'm inclined to go with the latter, but it's a tangly issue. Please share your thoughts.

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