Five years later and our breasts are still angry as hell

One year ago, I wrote about the fact that I wrote about this topic four years prior to that, and was surprised that not only was the issue unresolved, it’s ongoing: horrific breast rashes triggered by Victoria’s Secret bras.

Rinse and repeat.

Women continue to contact me each week on this blog, reporting that they’re suffering with itching and rashes on their breasts, which means that manufacturers continue to churn out products made from fabrics infused with irritating chemicals. And the garment manufacturers know it. They just don’t care. Why? Because the percentage of customers that react to these chemicals with allergic contact dermatitis is relatively miniscule. It’s cheaper to ignore them than to do anything about it.

Note that I said “manufacturers” because the problem has spread beyond Victoria’s Secret. While most women commenting on my blog report issues with Victoria’s Secret bras, more and more are reporting the same thing from bras made by other manufacturers.

This makes sense because Victoria’s Secret is the largest and most popular bra manufacturer, therefore, by the numbers, their customer base is larger, and within that base, the number of women with an allergic reaction is larger. It makes further sense other bras are triggering the reaction because the issue isn’t Victoria’s Secret bras per se. The issue is the fabric itself, available to any garment manufacturer. In fact, this is how Victoria’s Secret handily crushed a lawsuit filed in 2008 by a women claiming her rash was so severe that she was disfigured from the formaldehyde that Victoria’s Secret was putting in their bras.

Victoria’s Secret responded that never added any chemicals to their bras. Technically, this was true. They didn’t add chemicals to their products — the chemicals were already in the fabric, from which their products are made. The plaintiff lost her case. And yet… the rashes continue.

Despite claims of innocence, I know for a fact that Victoria’s Secret is aware of the issue because I was contacted by two of their representatives, who gave me very carefully worded responses to my concerns, and also because Victoria’s Secret follows me on Twitter and I doubt it’s because they’re my corporate fangirls.

I think Victoria’s Secret’s motive in contacting me was to see if my plan was to lawyer up. This sentiment is very common amongst women visiting my blog. They’re furious about being mistreated and betrayed by a company to which they’ve been loyal, and their reaction is “take ’em to court.” Over the years, however, and also because Victoria’s Secret’s pockets are deeper than all us disgruntled customers combined, I’ve come to realize that the courtroom isn’t the place to address the problem. The place to address the problem is our wallets.

Even though I’m unable to find a product I like as much as Victoria’s Secret’s, I’ll never buy anything from them again: bras, panties, sleepwear, lotion or perfume. And, their “Heavenly” perfume was my favorite. But I’ll never buy it again. I don’t reward people or companies for disloyalty.

When women come to me seeking advice, this is what I tell them: See your doctor and have your condition documented, and if your doctor doesn’t know about bra-related contact allergic dermatitis, direct her/him to my blog; rather than get your money back for the bras (which Victoria’s Secret will happily do without quarrel because they’d love to destroy your “evidence”), store them in a zip-lock — you never know when (under a more caring administration) the federal government may step in and take a look at harmful chemicals in fabric, and they may want sample evidence; to determine if the bra is really causing the problem, don’t wear it until the rash is healed — about three weeks — and if you’re brave, put it back on and see if the rash comes roaring back. If it does, that will confirm your suspicions.

What does the rash look like? In my experience, it began as rough, dry, tissue-paper like skin on the areola, that didn’t get any better with moisturizer or lotion. Over time, it began to itch. Over more time, it began to itch more and welts appeared all over the breast. Over even more time, the itching became excruciating and irresistible, like poison oak, and I scratched myself raw and bruised. Even then, I couldn’t stop scratching. And then I got some new bras and started to notice the itching subsiding with the new ones and exploding if I wore the old ones. Little by little… I narrowed it down to two specific bras, and — bingo — I figured it out: it’s the bras.

As consumers who have this allergic sensitivity, we must take responsibility for recognizing the symptoms and avoiding the triggers. We have the ability to protect our own health. And here’s something to consider: Those of us with the allergy are the lucky ones. Our bodies alert us when we’re coming in contact with a toxin. Those who don’t react to the chemicals are continuing to saturate their skin with toxins, which build up in your bloodstream and tissues.

Our skin isn’t merely a covering. It’s an organ, and it absorbs chemicals. That’s why nicotine or hormone patches work: the skin slowly, constantly, absorbs the chemicals, just as it will in a lesser but more pernicious way from chemically laden fabric.

The real concern is “toxic load.” How much cumulative chemical exposure can our bodies handle before our own genetic triggers go off and react with cancer or immune disorders? That’s still a medical a mystery. Until the mystery is solved, here’s the takeaway about toxic load: the less, the better. There are chemicals in our air, our water, our food (yes, even organic food, unless it’s not exposed to natural air or water), and most of this is unavoidable. But we can avoid the products that our bodies tell us are harmful. Once you’ve experienced the allergic reaction, you’ll recognize it immediately. Your body is telling you “stop!” Your body is right.

(For more information about breast rashes caused by bras and fabrics, search “boob blog” right here on this blog.)

 

 

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Finally, evidence about chemicals in fabrics

Dear Boob Blog followers and fellow breast rash sufferers,

Despite the women who come streaming to this website reporting rashes from Victoria’s Secret bras, and now other brands as well, Limited Brands (parent company of Victoria’s Secret) has refused to acknowledge anything awry with their product other than to say that the level of formaldehyde in their products is at such a low level that people will not react to it.

Unless you have an allergy to formaldehyde, or whatever else is in that Chinese-made fabric. (No, they didn’t admit that — you have to read between the lines of the “explanation” on Limited Brands’ website.)

Check out this research done by Greenpeace, investigating the chemical content of several clothing manufacturers, and guess what: Victoria’s Secret is on the list, and the results are not squeaky clean.

In a test for phthalates and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), all the products tested contain phthalates, and 50 percent of the products tested contained NPEs. Phtalates are a known carcinogen and linked to breast cancer.  NPEs are hazardous to marine life, and ultimately to human life.

Read the entire study here:
http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/publications/toxics/Water%202012/ToxicThreads01.pdf

Greenpeace takes the issue of chemical-infused fabric one step further: the waste products from the use of these chemicals, as well as chemicals washed out of the clothing and into the water system carries the chemicals into the food chain. We eat the fish that live in chemically contaminated water, and on and on the toxic cocktail goes.

I don’t know about you, but in my personal experience, I know what seems like too many women with breast cancer, lung cancer, lupus, autoimmune disease… why the spike? All these children with autism — maybe it’s not vaccines, maybe it’s the cumulative chemical load that begins in the womb and continues on into childhood. There are hazardous chemicals in the air, water, ground, most every product, and even organic products can be truly chemical free if they’re exposed to air, water or ground. The human body didn’t evolve carrying such a massive accumulation of chemicals. Of course it results in a physiological collapse: disease and death.

Once again, I must reemphasize that the solutions to this chemical fabric contamination are simple. The easiest solution is just — stop it. These products were made elsewhere without the chemicals that are causing these reactions. They can be made again without those chemicals, but maybe not in China. Hey, here’s a wild idea: Make the products in the U.S., where there will be some oversight and control! Would I pay more for an American-made, chemical-free product? Oh, you bet!! Shut up and take my money!!

The other remedy, that should be as simple as a simple label would be to notify consumers of the trace chemicals in the fabrics, so that those of us who are allergic can avoid them. There should also be instructions on how to “detox” the product, and maybe special laundry detergents that will perform this. Great for the bras and our breasts, but then comes the issue raised by Greenpeace in their study: what do the chemicals do when the go down the drain? (Short answer: nothing good.)

In their report, Greenpeace says this:

The need for leadership and transparency

As global players, fashion brands have the opportunity to work on global solutions to eliminate the use of hazardous substances throughout their product lines and to drive a change in practices throughout their supply chains. As part of this leadership, it is vital for brands to commit to Zero Discharge of hazardous chemicals by 1 January 2020. This commitment must include ambitious programmes that match the urgency of the situation, and that will lead to the swift elimination of all hazardous substances. It must also include transparent information about the chemicals that the brands are currently using and discharging as they move towards zero elimination. While these brands continue to use our public waterways like their own private sewers, threatening people’s livelihoods and health, we have a right to know which chemicals they are releasing.

The role of governments

Greenpeace is calling on governments to adopt a
political commitment to “zero discharge” of all hazardous chemicals within one generation, based on the precautionary principle and including a preventative approach by avoiding production and use and, therefore, exposure to hazardous chemicals. This approach must have at its core the principle of substitution, such that hazardous chemicals are progressively replaced with safer alternatives, and include producer responsibility in order to drive innovation and elimination of such chemicals. As a vital first step to this process, a dynamic list of hazardous chemicals should be established and include chemicals like NPEs and phthalates for priority action, and have a publicly available register of data on discharge emissions and losses of hazardous substances.

The role of “People Power”

As global citizens and consumers we can also use our influence to make this change. Together we can demand that governments and brands act NOW to detox our rivers, detox our clothing and ultimately, detox our futures. Last year, thanks to global people power, six international brands – Puma, Nike, Adidas, H&M, Li Ning, and C&A, signed up to the “Detox Challenge” and committed to work with their suppliers to cut their toxic abuse.

This is just the beginning.

A post-toxic world is not only desirable, it’s possible. Together we can create it.

“People power.” We do have some, you and me both: It’s in our wallets. Look at the list of clothing manufacturers in the Greenpeace study and simply: Do not buy their products. Yes, it’s tough. There is just nothing in the world like a Victoria’s Secret bra. There is also nothing in the world like the discomfort the rash from their bras will cause, except maybe rolling naked in poison oak.

Boob Blog: Victoria’s Secret responds to breast rash issue

Those of you who’ve been following the sad saga of rashes that appear to be triggered by Victoria’s Secret bras may be pleased to know that VS is apparently, finally, listening. I was contacted by one of their “external communications” reps, and I was all set to let them know they had a tiger by the tail. Turns out, I was pleasantly surprised. It was not only a pleasant, civil discussion, where all sides were heard, but also ended on a note of “how can we make this work for everybody.”

People. How often in life does that happen? Like… never? Maybe the VS reps and I should take a seat at the United Nations and start working on world peace.

For those of you who came late to this party, I’ve been blogging for a couple years about a severe breast rash that I finally figured out was triggered by a particular VS bra, which makes the investigation into the cause very tricky because it’s not all the bras. Only certain ones. One random day, I googled “Victoria’s Secret breast rash,” and bingo: a CBS report on formaldehyde in the fabric. Since my first blog on the topic, testaments have come trickling in at a steady pace from women who had the exact same experience: nipples turning rough like sandpaper, and getting a tissue-like texture, and horrific, irresistible breast rashes that itch like poison oak. Many cannot resist the itch (like myself) and end up bruised and with broken skin.

And then… not knowing what the cause is… we put the bra back on, over broken skin.

The result is UGLY. And definitely not sexy.

A few women have reported this issue with other brands, but 98 percent of the women responding here were VS customers. And here’s the thing: Virtually all of them say they can’t find an acceptable substitute for VS products — they want to go back to VS but are afraid. You can find comfortable things that are ugly and matronly, or cute sexy things that are uncomfortable, flimsy and cheap, but nothing that compares to VS. That is product loyalty, people.

Some women got fired up and suggested a class action suit against VS, and I entertained that thought for awhile myself, but have decided that this approach won’t make anyone happy, except for the lawyers. Lawyers are the bottom-feeders of humanity, and they are perpetually ravenous. They’re essentially prostitutes with law degrees — they’ll blow anybody for a buck. And, in the end, even if a class action suit against VS was successful (the last one wasn’t — the VS lawyers made mincemeat out of the plaintiff), what would it gain in the end for you and me, sister VS loyalists? Forty bucks? Fifty bucks? That’s being overly optimistic. More likely, it would be about $11.75 apiece — don’t spend it all in one place. Meanwhile, the bottom-feeders are fat and happy, gulping down the barracuda’s share of the settlement. At the end of the day, we’d go through all the stress and hassle, just for a little pocket change that won’t even buy a pizza. And more important — still no bras we’re happy with.

Here’s the other thing: Upon further consideration, I’m also realizing that those of us who react so violently to whatever is in some of those bras are a very small minority. We are like those with severe peanut allergies, who could die from eating a drop of peanut butter. So, part of our responsibility is to be aware that we’re allergic, but it would also be nice if garment manufacturers could label products that may contain trace amounts of chemicals that are known allergens for some people — just like they do with products that contain nuts or eggs.

Will that happen? Until someone dies from a breast rash, don’t count on it. That said, while maintaining innocence about textile additives, the VS rep suggested something quite reasonable: Get a skin patch test and find out what I react to, and then they can guide me toward a product that will still work for me. OK, sure. That’s reasonable. I’m willing to play along, because if there is a way to get back into their all-cotton bra (heather gray!), I’ll do it. That is the world’s most perfect bra, and all-cotton ones are hard to find, let alone sexy ones (where I live, it’s 106 degrees today, hence my love of cotton over polyester, which makes sweaty boobs smell like ballsacks — also not sexy).

So, I’m going to line up this skin patch test. I’ll report back after it’s been done, and how things went with VS.

cottonique-cot01-w12227-gsz

Seriously! Who would put their boobs in this ghastly thing! AND! It sells for $55.75 at herroom.com. This vile garment is an insult to boobage everywhere. For $55.75, I think VS could do infinitely better.

My other pitch to VS was a new line of products. I told them they’ve pretty much played out the “very sexy” thing. They’ve torn right through that envelope. They’ve done it all. What’s left? Rhinestone encrusted buttplugs and matching cotton candy nipple caps? There’s nowhere left to go with sexy. You know where there is somewhere to go? Comfy. Comfort is the new sexy. As long as it still looks sexy, of course. I suggested they develop a brand new line of bras that are hypoallergenic. It’s an open market. Google hypoallergenic bras and you’ll see bras so heinous, you usually have to be Mormon to wear something that unattractive under your clothes.

So, come on VS, make some all-cotton or all-hemp, 100% natural bras and panties, and if you make them in the good old USofA, that would be even better. There’s even a built-in test group — all the women commenting on this blog. If we don’t react to the product, you are golden. You will make a freakin’ fortune off this line: “Barely Me.” Not only did I hand VS a name for this product on a golden platter, I rattled off about 15 potential product slogans off the top of my head: “This is how sexy feels”… “Sexy is as sexy feels”… Seriously, I can spray this stuff out like a sprinkler set on “genius.” (Somebody hire me to do marketing. Newspapers are a dead end.)

As I was floating all this by the rep and also her assistant who was on speaker phone, she said, chuckling, “Stop! Don’t tell me anything more! If we use them, you’ll say we stole your idea and sue us!”

And I replied, “Oh, I totally will!”

And I would, if Barely Me© comes to a VS shop near you, and I’m not getting compensated. Because, let’s face it — it’s fucking brilliant. BUT: I wouldn’t sue over the formaldehyde, or whatever it is, because given a choice between $11.75 or having my favorite heather gray cotton bras back, I’d rather have the bras.

Victoria’s Secret may be putting more into their bras than boobies

So, I started to itch. Uncontrollably. I’ve heard of jock itch. But breast itch? Could there be so such a thing? All I know is that mine started itching wickedly. We’re talking chicken pox covered in poison oak itchy. You can’t NOT scratch. Even to the point of bruising.

No joke.

It was that bad, and I scratched myself raw. And it wasn’t the first time this had happened, but it was most definitely the worst. I was covered in welts, red everywhere and miserable. My skin was dry and papery, particularly on the nipples.

“Don’t be shocked,” I warned my husband before pulling up my blouse to show him.

He didn’t heed the warning.

“EWWWW!!!” he exclaimed and backed away a little, and told me to get to a doctor.

Needless to say, he took one look at me and there was no romance in the midst of my mammary misery. Nothing says “Not tonight, honey” like diseased breasts.

Sadly, the doctor couldn’t see me for another week, so I got some Cortisone cream from the drug store and within a couple days, it all cleared up. By the time my appointment rolled around, there was nothing to look at, although my doc tried. All she noted was some really dry skin, and chalked it up to an allergic reaction.

Hmmm… now we have a mammary misery mystery.

I tried to think what I’d done that seemed to trigger this. One, I’d used a shower puff that’s been hanging unused for a couple weeks in the show, and on it, had used Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap. Maybe the shower puff had invisible fungus? Yuck. It couldn’t be the soap. That’s very mild, organic and typically soothing to the skin. And besides… if it was either the puff or the soap, I’d have gotten the welts everywhere. I didn’t.

What else?

I remembered what bra I was wearing that day… Victoria’s Secret all-cotton heather gray. I washed and dried it, and with the rash all cleared up, wore it for a day. The welts began returning in less than 24 hours.

Aha. A clue.

So, I put my investigative journalism skills to use and Googled “Victoria’s Secret bra rash” and the search results lit up, going back as far as 2008. There were stories by credible news agencies, and even a CBS video of an interview with a woman about my age, who, like me, had been wearing Victoria’s Secret bras for decades without incident, and suddenly… a painful, itchy rash on her breasts. They showed photos, and it was identical to what I had.

Bingo.

The report said the trouble began when Victoria’s Secret switched from a manufacturer in India and to one in China. Suddenly women started reporting the rashes. The likely culprit? Formaldehyde. FORMALDEHYDE. You know — the stuff they use to embalm bodies, to preserve them longer! Victoria – I have a secret for you: I don’t want you to preserve my breasts, just hold them up comfortably and attractively. I may be 53, but my breasts aren’t dead yet! They only look that way!

I relayed all my research findings to my husband, and he had one reaction: Burn that bra!

Haha… I could claim to be reinvigorating classic 1970s Feminism and get double mileage out of that burn! However, The bra in question being a 40DD and all, I didn’t want to risk starting a wildfire in our recent wicked California winds, so I chucked it in the trash. It’s been a week since my second breast test and I’m happy to report that the girls are once again looking fine and healthy. Now all I have to do is lift my blouse back up so my husband knows I’m safe again.

I guess the thing that bugs me most about this whole breast rash ordeal is that the stories I found online date back to 2008. I purchased this bra less than a year ago. And, as anyone who’s ever purchased anything from Victoria’s Secret can attest, those bras ain’t cheap. They cost at least twice what they’re worth, for no good reason really, other than customers buy into the marketing spin that they’ll make you as sexy as those sultry waifs who model their products. They won’t, of course, but I must say their products fit like nothing else, frame the work nicely, and are comfortable. It keeps you coming back.

So, therein you have the reason for customer loyalty. How shocking to discover that customers are being repaid for that loyalty by products infused with toxins that cause allergic reactions. I could understand that Victoria’s Secret didn’t realize what was going on in their Chinese manufacturing in 2008. But in the four years since — they apparently haven’t done anything to address it either. They know we’ll keep buying their products and figuring that we’re just allergic to the laundry soap we use. That really pisses me off. Enough to start looking for a different company to support my girls.

So, Victoria, your secret’s out: It seems you’re putting a lot more into your bras than boobies.