Pinkwashing And How Companies Are Gaslighting Us About Breast Cancer Support

Some companies will do anything to make a buck, even if it means virtue signaling about an issue they truly care nothing about, and even if it’s something as serious as breast cancer.

By Hannah Leah4 min read
shutterstock 772014892 (1)

October is the month of breast cancer awareness, but watch out for the brands that use the pink ribbon to add to their revenue. Some of them sell products that can increase your risk of the disease. 

What Is Pinkwashing?

The term “pinkwashing” was coined sometime around 2002, when the Breast Cancer Action Organization launched a campaign called “Think Before You Pink.” The definition, according to the organization, is “A company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products containing chemicals that are linked to the disease.” 

If you’re wondering why a company would do this, it all goes back to profit and social responsibility. Virtue signaling is one way companies like to use a good cause to increase their revenue. Who wouldn’t want to support a company that cares about people with cancer? But if the caring stops at slapping the pink ribbon on a t-shirt, and no action is taken to actually help the cause, then does it have any meaning? It's especially deceitful if the company that is doing the virtue signaling has products with ingredients that link back to breast cancer. 

The Pink Ribbon Is Personal

Breast cancer awareness month is personal for a lot of people and their families. About 42,000 women die from breast cancer in the United States every year. And each year, about 264,000 women are diagnosed with it. Families of women who go through the battle of breast cancer know that it’s a difficult disease to endure and overcome, so the breast cancer pink ribbon is an important symbol to them.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2018, and watching her go through diagnosis, surgery, and recovery was so hard. I'm very thankful she was able to beat it, and now whenever I see a breast cancer ribbon, it’s a personal reminder of what she went through and the impact it had on our lives. I can only imagine what it means to someone who lost a loved one to breast cancer. So you would expect companies who make money in the name of breast cancer to sell products that are safe regarding it.

Some of the Companies Guilty of Pinkwashing

The following companies have, at some point, exploited breast cancer awareness month to boost their profits, even though some of their ingredients contain toxic chemicals that contribute to breast cancer. These are not the only companies that do this, so beware when you buy from a company in hopes that they help the breast cancer cause. 


Nike is always quick to do some virtue signaling. Anything they think will please the mob is what they do. High levels of BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical, have been found in their sports bras. 

“The problem with BPA is it can mimic hormones like estrogen and block other hormone receptors, altering the concentration of hormones in our bodies, and resulting in negative health effects,” the Science Director at the Center for Environmental Health Dr. Jimena Díaz Leiva said. “Even low levels of exposure during pregnancy have been associated with a variety of health problems in offspring. These problems include abnormal development of the mammary glands and ovaries that can increase the likelihood of developing breast or ovarian cancer later in life. These effects occur even at low levels of exposure like those seen in people today.”


This is another brand found to have high levels of BPA in their sports bras. BPAs can enter the human body through ingestion (like drinking water from a plastic water bottle) or by absorption through the skin (like from touching receipts). Illegal Toxic Threats Program Director at CEH Kaya Allan Sugerman said, “Studies have shown that BPA can be absorbed through skin and end up in the bloodstream after handling receipt paper for seconds or a few minutes at a time. Sports bras and athletic shirts are worn for hours at a time, and you are meant to sweat in them, so it is concerning to be finding such high levels of BPA in our clothing.”

PINK has sold many pink ribbon products over the years, but they do support fundraisers toward breast cancer awareness. Victoria’s Secret, their main brand, has a program to raise funds for Mastectomy Bra donations domestically and abroad. It seems ironic that their sports bras' ingredients put people at risk for breast cancer. 

The North Face

The North Face was one of six brands of athletic wear tested that showed their athletic shirts, made primarily of polyester with spandex, could expose the wearer to “up to 22 times the safe limit” of BPA. Ironically, again, North Face has an entire line devoted to breast cancer awareness month with the pink ribbon, and partners with charities for breast cancer donations. 


The Breast Cancer Action Organization called out KFC for their pink buckets for breast cancer awareness month, because they’re typically located in low income areas and give no options for healthy foods, saying it’s “a campaign that will severely aggravate the condition of women’s health in these communities, not improve it.” The BCA goes so far as to say selling pink buckets of chicken “exploits breast cancer” and “will do the most harm in low income communities that are already disproportionately affected by health issues like obesity and diabetes, as well as breast cancer.” 

Athena Water

This water company was also called out for pinkwashing as their bottles have high amounts of BPA. Water bottles made with plastic containing BPA will leach BPA into the water, which is then ingested. Heating the plastic – such as when left in a hot car or during transportation to a retail point – causes the BPA to leach out faster.

Athena Water’s website claims they have raised 2 million dollars toward breast cancer awareness. 

Candy Companies

Companies like M&M and KitKat plaster the pink ribbon on their products during Breast Cancer Awareness month, but there isn’t much evidence to show they are doing anything to support the actual cause. 

How To Spot a Pinkwasher

It's scary to think we could be supporting what seems to be a good cause and it turns out to be contributing to the issue it claims to help. But don’t feel like you can’t shop anywhere selling pink ribbon products. Just look into what you’re supporting before you buy, and watch for pinkwashing clues. If the company has the ribbon plastered everywhere but you don’t see any signs of fundraising or awareness, then they are probably just profiting off the product. If they claim to care about women’s health, but sell products that increase your risk of breast cancer, do they really care about women more than money?

Closing Thoughts 

Pinkwashing was brought to our attention by the Breast Cancer Action Organization. They call out companies that virtue signal and profit from breast cancer. While some companies have already been called out, there are many more brands that do this every single year. They know that people are vulnerable because of their personal experiences with cancer, so it’s an easy way to boost revenue. We can watch out for the signs of pinkwashing before giving them our money, that way we are more mindful of how much we are actually supporting the cause. 

Don’t miss anything! Sign up for our weekly newsletter and get curated content weekly!