Big changes start with small actions, including what you put on your face and body. That’s the fundamental principle behind Protect Our Breasts (POB), a nonprofit educational initiative based at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Protect Our Breasts’ young women ambassadors, clad in the organization’s signature green scarves and led by Executive Director Cynthia Barstow, personify a singular mission: to reduce rates of breast cancer and other diseases linked to toxin exposure from everyday products and choices. “There isn’t a lot of messaging like this around,” says Keely Griffin, a UMass student and Protect Our Breasts executive board member. “It’s short and sweet and to the point. Usually people come back to us and want to know more.”
Knowing that early-life habits lead to lasting patterns, the Protect Our Breasts organization spreads its message through college and community outreach events and social campaigns, arming others—especially young women and men—with the information they need to choose safe products for every aspect of their lives. What may be the most powerful thing of all is how POB makes often-heavy information accessible and social. “We are bombarded with ads; we are skeptical and kind of tune it out. When it’s peer-to-peer communication, it stops people in their tracks,” Griffin adds.
At Protect Our Breasts, Griffin organizes educational and fun social campaigns such as Toxic Talk Tuesdays and Phase Out Fridays, which highlight certain toxic ingredients to eliminate from food and personal care products; such events often turn into ongoing dialogue. “Millennials in general are pretty informed. They research a lot more. The biggest question that people ask us is: ‘Which types of products do you use?’” Though social media is a good entry point to providing answers to these kinds of questions, Griffin notes that the most powerful conversations still happen face to face.
“We want to highlight that we are the next generation and want to see a safer future.” And the Protect Our Breasts team feels confident that changes students make during college are there to stay for the “real world.” One key reason: When the messaging is right, students don’t make these changes out of guilt or fear, but rather because they want to live healthier—and enjoy themselves doing it. Buying a nontoxic mascara equals bragging rights, Griffin says.