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October means the return of pumpkin spice, pop culture Halloween costumes, and pink.

Lots of pink.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month has turned into a corporate behemoth, as companies are racing to be a part of the trend, with pink products like water bottles and candy bars. And while nearly 40,000 women die of breast cancer each year, there’s a big problem with marketing “pink.”

Some of the problem may lie in the name itself. On the surface, there’s nothing inherently bad about raising “awareness” about breast cancer. But you don’t find a cure for disease, or any social ill, through awareness alone. Action is the necessary next step, and too often, breast cancer “awareness” campaigns fall short on this progress or ignore it altogether.

This leads to “pinkwashing,” a term coined by Breast Cancer Action to describe companies that claim to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink product, while simultaneously selling products that do more harm than good.

Some of the worst examples of pinkwashing include these 3 outrageous products:

1. Alhambra water:

Some companies use pinkwashing to downplay or conceal the fact that their products may actually increase a person’s risk for breast cancer.

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For example, Alhambra Bottled Water describes itself as “the most popular bottled water provider.” Alhambra even sells Athena branded bottled water and claims it will contribute at least $2 million from its sale to breast cancer awareness, care, education and research by 2014.

But Alhambra’s polycarbonate water bottles, including those with the pink Athena logo, contain Bisphenol-A (commonly known as BPA), a known carcinogen that’s linked to breast cancer.

2. Any pink NFL apparel:

In addition to breast cancer awareness, October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the NFL has a horrible track record with both.

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In addition to the myriad allegations of football players abusing their female partners (Ray Rice, Jovan Belcher, Ray McDonald, the list goes on), the NFL’s response to these cases is troubling, to say the least. Instead of holding players accountable, league officials have resorted to victim-blaming and deflection.

When it comes to the NFL’s breast cancer campaign “A Crucial Catch,” the league regurgitates facts about breast cancer early detection. But from proceeds of their pink merchandise, only 8.01% of profits go to fund breast cancer research.

Slapping a pink ribbon on NFL merchandise is belittling to female consumers and fans. It presumes that women are superficial, only drawn to products because they’re pink or sparkly or both. And until there is substantial, league-wide change to how teams, coaches and players handle domestic violence, the NFL’s “awareness” campaign is just another painful reminder of how the league views women merely as bodies to be used, and sometimes abused, by men.

3. Bersa Thunder 380 Pink Breast Cancer Awareness Kit Semi Auto Handgun

You read that right. Guns for breast cancer. Shoot for the cure.

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One of the biggest problems with pinkwashing is that it allows companies to mislead consumers about the dangerous nature of their product by claiming to care about breast cancer awareness. Bersa states here that a part of the profits of these pink guns will go to fund more breast cancer awareness. But why not donate to researchers, or to support women who are battling breast cancer? (It even begs the question of a loophole: could Bersa argue that their handguns are supporting “breast cancer awareness,” and just pocket 100% of the proceeds instead?)

It’s also ironic that Bersa would be marketing a friendly pink gun to women, when guns are disproportionately involved in domestic partner violence against womenFrom 2001-2012, 6,410 women in the U.S. died at the hands of a partner using a gun; that’s 55 percent of all women murdered by intimate partners.

Marketing a gun to women is a fair practice for gun businesses, even if you disagree with gun ownership. But this marketing effort rings false, and doesn’t support women in any clear way.

How can socially conscious consumers keep their money away from a breast cancer campaign that’s just capitalizing on the trend? BCA has some great preliminary questions consumers should ask, such as:

  • How much money from this purchase goes to support breast cancer programs?
  • What organizations get the money, and how will they use it?
  • Is there a “cap” on the amount the company will donate? Has this maximum donation already been met?
  • How does the company make sure that its products are not linked to breast cancer or contributing to the epidemic?

These questions make it easier to figure out which companies actually care about breast cancer, and which ones just want to make a quick buck.

In the meantime, I’ll save the color pink for Wednesdays and wedding showers.

Stephanie Levy is a writer, editor, and web producer living in the DC area. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, she has covered everything from education policy to dumpster-diving for beer (seriously). If you’re a fan of feminism, online sarcasm, and/or the St. Louis Cardinals, check out Stephanie’s website, and follow her on Twitter: @stephanie_levy.