Letter To The Editor: Avon Says Avon Doesn’t Do Pinkwashing

After a piece accusing major companies–including makeup giant Avon–of paying lip service to breast cancer research while putting carcinogens in their products, Avon responds.



We recently ran a story about a journal article that accused various companies who make a big deal of supporting breast cancer of not actually doing a lot to help the cause, both by not donating money smartly, or by making products that gave people breast cancer while at the same time saying they were fighting against it. One of the companies accused of “pinkwashing” was Avon. Tod Arbogast, Avon’s vice president of sustainability and corporate responsibility, wrote to us to give the company’s side of the story (with a little fuzzy math on the side):

I am writing to correct inaccuracies in “Pinkwashing is the New Greenwashing” and provide Avon’s perspective.  You sourced your information from the journal Environmental Justice, which contained many factual mistakes. This letter addresses two inaccurate references about Avon and the Avon Foundation for Women: (1) certain Avon lipsticks “may have contained hormone disruptors, which are linked to cancer;” and (2) the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer “is singled out for not donating more money to breast cancer prevention (instead of treatment and finding a cure).”

Avon has been in business for 125 years, and the foundation of our success is our unparalleled product safety record. We are well aware of rumors that certain cosmetic ingredients “cause cancer.” The journal does not name the purported “hormone disruptors,” but it appear it refers to parabens, a family of compounds used safely since the 1920s to help prevent dangerous fungal and bacterial contamination in many consumer products, including food, drugs and cosmetics.

Scientific bodies have extensively studied the safety of parabens, including the World Health Organization, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Anvisa in Brazil and EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, which completed its latest safety assessment on parabens in December 2010. Not a single government-scientific body has determined that parabens are unsafe.

Despite repeated confirmation of safety, Avon recognizes that some consumers prefer options. We began eliminating parabens in 2002 from some products where there are safe alternatives, including lip products, women’s body care, antiperspirants and deodorants, and children’s products. Avon discloses ingredients on product labels (strictly guided by law) and on


Avon scientists continually evaluate ingredient safety in partnership with regulatory, scientific and university bodies. If any ingredient is found to be unsafe, it is immediately removed from our products.
As for point two, The Avon Foundation for Women is a 501(c)(3) public charity supported by Avon Products, Inc.; Avon and the Foundation are separate legal entities. The Avon Foundation is proudly the largest corporate-affiliated supporter of the breast cancer cause, with more than $700 million provided in 55 countries for research into prevention and cure, and programs that enable access to quality care for all.
Your article states that Environmental Justice “singles out” the Foundation’s Avon Walk for Breast Cancer “for not donating more money to breast cancer prevention (instead of treatment and cure).” The journal’s assertion is absolutely false. The publicly available facts (at show that research represents $100 million, or nearly 41%, of all Avon Foundation funding for breast cancer since 2004. Nearly one quarter of the research supports prevention. (From the editor: In case you didn’t have time to do this math and just thought that $100 million was a big number, this actually means that less than 8% of the total dollars spent by the Foundation has gone toward research into prevention since 2001. Whether that’s enough or not depends on how you view the issue.)
The Avon Foundation was instrumental in establishing two databases that catalogue government, non-profit and foundation breast cancer funding. Through the databases, the Foundation identified gaps in prevention research, and prevention research has become one of the Foundation’s highest funding priorities. Funded projects include:
    •    Prevention Research Initiative: $10.5 million to 15 projects to develop new tests and tools to monitor changes in a healthy breast over time;
    •    Parity Research Initiative: $8.2 million to 17 projects to understand natural changes during pregnancy and lactation that alter future breast cancer risk;
    •    Love/Avon Army of Women, with leading researcher Dr. Susan Love, which has enlisted more than 350,000 predominantly healthy women for breast cancer research focused on causes and prevention.
The chair of the Avon Foundation’s independent Scientific Advisory Board is a former leader of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). The Foundation supports many environmental research projects with the National Cancer Institute, NIEHS, Zero Breast Cancer, Silent Spring Institute, and Communities for a Better Environment. For years, the Foundation has invited breast cancer advocacy groups to recommend additional environmental projects for consideration.
While research is a high priority, the Avon Foundation will not neglect those suffering from breast cancer.  The Foundation focuses on helping uninsured, under-insured and low-income women access quality services–education, screening, diagnosis and treatment — and it is especially proud of addressing ethnic, racial and income disparity in diagnosis and mortality. A few examples of the funding impact: more than 2 million mammograms and clinical breast exams in the U.S; over 12 million people educated on breast cancer risk; more than 1.4 million meals for breast cancer patients and their families; patient navigation for 52,000 uninsured, underserved breast cancer patients.
The Avon Foundation’s commitment to help eradicate breast cancer is profound, but it cannot do everything or fulfill any particular group’s agenda. It will continually address unmet needs, identify the greatest opportunities for progress and determine where the best science is being conducted.
Avon Products Inc. is committed to the safety of our consumers.  We take this mission very seriously and we remain committed to making a positive difference where we can.

[Image: Flickr user sholeh!!]

About the author

Morgan is a senior editor at Fast Company. He edits the Impact section, formerly Have an idea for a story? You can reach him at mclendaniel [at]