How to Avoid Pink Ribbon Pitfalls During Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is here, and if you’re thinking about donating towards a cause, you might want to do some research first. Some organizations and companies are known for "pinkwashing" — claiming to “care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, while at the same time producing, manufacturing, or selling products containing chemicals linked to causing breast cancer,” says Heather Perkins, the deputy director of Breast Cancer Action, a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to achieving health justice for people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Read on if you want to avoid falling for pink ribbon scams and learn other ways you can participate this month.

Do Your Research

This month, Perkins encourages people to be knowledgeable about where they’re investing their time and money. “Too many different corporations have profited off of a person’s illness. Off of breast cancer. Off of the pink ribbon,” she says. 

According to Perkins, organizations should be clear about what donations are funding, and this information should be featured on their websites. “If the organization can’t be transparent about where those dollars are going, it may be time to put your valuable resources in a different space,” she says. You should also consider whether the product you’re buying contributes to any breast cancer risk. 

Breast Cancer Action has several toolkits on their website, including lists of questions you should ask yourself before participating in a breast cancer walk and before you buy pink. “Make sure that their mission and action steps align,” Perkins says. “Look up an annual report, look at their strategic plan, or look at their leaders who are making these decisions.”

Signs That an Organization Is Likely Pinkwashing

“The biggest pitfall is getting caught up in creative cause marketing,” Perkins says. And when it comes to the pink ribbon, she says there are no regulations on who can use it in their marketing, so any organization can participate in pinkwashing, a term coined by Breast Cancer Action in 2002.

One sign that a company may be pinkwashing is if they don’t provide information on where the money will be distributed, notes Perkins. “If you’re not seeing that on their website or social media, that's a sign that pinkwashing is occurring.”

Another sign is if they put a limit on the amount of their own donation. Some companies will sell products toting the pink ribbon, but put a cap on how much of the money made from that product actually goes towards breast cancer. Many of these companies will continue to sell their pink ribbon-donned products after their limit has maxed out, and some of them won’t even alert the consumer, according to Breast Cancer Action’s website.

In some cases, products being sold in the name of breast cancer actually contribute to the disease. Some cosmetics companies, for example, may manufacture products containing toxic chemicals linked to causing breast cancer .

Perkins encourages people to pay attention to what an organization or company aims to achieve by selling products or hosting events. “Are they speaking to awareness, or are they speaking to actions? There’s nothing wrong with awareness, but if we really want to end breast cancer, action is more critical.”

Find an Organization You Can Trust 

Fortunately, there are breast cancer organizations dedicated to finding a cure and putting their donation dollars towards research, as well as supporting patients and survivors.

If you’re not sure where to start, try searching through Charity Navigator , which features a list of highly rated organizations, or check out the resources on the Breast Cancer Action website.

Here are some of Perkins’ favorites:


This organization was founded by four women in 2009. It offers support to women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. METAvivor has a program called Sea to Sea for MBC Advocacy, through which patients, survivors, and supporters raise awareness about the disease while on a cross-country trip.

Women’s Cancer Resource Center

Founded in 1986 by a group of women diagnosed with cancer, this organization offers all of their services for free, including a variety of support groups, educational and wellness workshops , financial assistance, and more.

Silent Spring Institute

This research-based organization looks at the role the environment may play in causing breast cancer. Their goal is to strengthen national policies to protect consumers from dangerous chemical exposure and make breast cancer prevention a national research priority.

Tigerlily Foundation

Maimah Karmo founded Tigerlily Foundation while receiving breast cancer treatment in 2006. The organization has several programs aimed towards advocating, educating, and empowering those affected by the disease.

More Ways You Can Make a Difference 

Donating money isn’t the only way you can make a difference. Several breast cancer organizations hold events you can attend, especially during the month of October. “Events are fantastic because they create a space of community,” Perkins says. “Anytime a cancer diagnosis of any type is heard in a family, you can feel very isolated.” You can also find volunteer opportunities on most breast cancer organizations’ websites year-round.

Perkins recommends writing to your legislators if you want to see changes made in health policy or product research. “If you’re aware of a company that is intentionally putting toxins or ingredients into products that we consume on a daily basis, write to that company, or write to legislators, and say, ‘No more,’” she says.

You can use your social media platform to raise awareness about organizations that are likely pinkwashing, as well as those that are honest and transparent about their work.

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