Boob Blog: Are our bras killing us?

Four years ago, I wrote about the horrific breast rash I’d finally pinned to two of my Victoria’s Secret bras. They were the same style and color I’d worn for years, except these two were made in China, whereas the older ones were made in India.

Since then, I’ve written several blog posts on this topic, so many that I’ve nicknamed my blog site the “Boob Blog.” Over the years, women kept coming to me about the same excruciating symptoms I’d had while wearing VS bras. More recently, a couple other brands caused the rash too, which isn’t surprising because the issue isn’t Victoria’s Secret bras, per se, it’s the fabric/materials used in the bra, which aren’t manufactured by Victoria’s Secret — only purchased.

The fabric, as is the case with anything made in China, could contain anything and everything. Harmful? Poisonous? The Chinese don’t care if they’re harmful, and neither do the corporations that sell these cheap products at huge markups. The ka-ching ka-ching ka-ching of corporate profit drowns out the objections of a few itchy, unhappy customers.

The tidal wave of toxic products coming out of China is too huge for our government to track. Only a small percentage of Chinese imports are inspected, unless of course, someone dies. Then the U.S. government is interested. Until someone dies from a breast rash, neither the government nor the company that makes Victoria’s Secret bras — Limited Brands — gives a shit.

While our government may not be aware of the breast rash issue, VS/Limited Brands certainly has been aware since at least 2008, when they were sued for allegedly having formaldehyde in their bras. However, Limited Brands squashed that lawsuit by blaming the plaintiff for her condition. She was defective, not the bras.

I had a chat with VS reps a couple years ago, and they essentially told me the same thing, by offering to guide me “toward a product that will work for you.” That implies that VS knows which bras have chemicals in them if they’re able to guide me away from them.

The reps also suggested that I get an allergy test for formaldehyde, which I did, and lo and behold, I’m not allergic to formaldehyde. But I could still be sensitive to it. Example: Although I’m technically not allergic to perfumes, I’m hypersensitive to them. Too much perfume makse me wheeze and cough, and if you’re one of those gals whose perfume cloud announces your entry 20 feet before you walk through the door… I kind of hate you. Here’s the deal: If I can smell your perfume farther away than I could kiss you, it’s too much. You’re a walking biohazard to someone like me.

So. Maybe it’s not formaldehyde in the bras. But if not… what? It’s something, because women are still getting breast rashes. VS knows it’s something too (for sure since that 2008 lawsuit) — they’re aware of my “Boob Blog” because they contacted me, not vice-versa. They also follow me on Twitter, and it’s not because they think I’m super cool and funny.

They also know about the 2012 Greenpeace International report, “Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch-up,” which includes Victoria’s Secret amongst the garment manufacturers discovered to have toxic chemicals in their products. NaturalHealth365.com reported in 2015 that “Limited Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, agreed to give in to mounting pressure by Greenpeace over two years ago and halt the use of the deadly chemicals, but since then, little is known about the mammoth lingerie retailer’s progress to ensure that dangerous toxins are no longer a part of their fashions,” and adds, “At that time, Limited Brands made a commitment to eliminate all hazardous chemicals from its supply chain and products by 2020. But unlike the media sought by Greenpeace in releasing its investigative report in late 2012, there has been little public acknowledgement from Victoria’s Secret or Limited Brands regarding its decision to do away with the deadly chemicals.”

Word, that. Victoria’s Secret isn’t about to announce a solution to a problem that they deny exists. And, women have contacted me as recently as last week about breast rashes from new VS bras, so there’s apparently no quiet solution in place either. But the problem’s definitely still there.

One gal, who posts on my blog as “MyBoobsArePissedOff,” theorized that formaldehyde isn’t the problem — it’s spray polyurethane, used to glue layers of fabric together in the bras. Is it that? Formaldehyde? Something else? I don’t know what causes the rash, I only know that it’s still happening, based upon reports from women currently suffering. They often ask me what they can do. I tell them all: Stop wearing the bra. If the rash goes away after a couple weeks and comes roaring back when you put the bra back on… mystery solved. The really sad part is that so many of them have been living in terror of having some horrific disease and have been tested for everything under the sun, and all along, it was their bra.

Some ask about suing, but Limited Brands has very deep pockets (thanks to all those bras we’ve purchased over the years) and the cost of fighting them is prohibitive. And, ultimately, I don’t think lawyers are the answer. I think medical research is the answer. I predict that scientific scrutiny will discover more to this fabric chemical issue than mere itchy breasts, and that may finally get the government’s attention.

True, the government isn’t interested in hazardous products until someone dies. But what if women have already died from chemicals in their bras? The bras contain chemicals. Some of us react to those chemicals and take the bras off. Vastly more, however, don’t react to the chemicals, and continue wearing the bras, thereby having daily direct skin contact with known carcinogens over many years. Chemicals can be absorbed through the skin and, obviously, our breasts are covered with skin.

One in eight American women gets breast cancer. Could chemicals in our bras be a factor? Shouldn’t we find out?

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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.

Are you wearing poison?

About a year ago, I blogged about a horrific rash I got from a Victoria’s Secret bra, and my discovery that when Victoria’s Secret moved their manufacturing to China in the mid-2000s, customers began complaining about rashes everywhere the bras touch their bodies. The culprit? Formaldehyde. You know… the stuff they embalm bodies with? Pickle animal parts in for dissection in biology class? If you’ve ever smelled it, you’ll never forget the noxious, overpowering smell.

Of course, there’s not enough formaldehyde in the fabrics to detect by smell, but the skin test works: Just put it on. Do you soon have itchy, red welts and an insatiable urge to scratch, even to the point of bleeding? There you go. Something is in your clothing that you body is trying desperately to reject.

I say “clothing” because apparently the issue isn’t simply with Victoria’s Secret, but is rampant through the clothing industry. Check out this blog, O Ecotextiles, which lists the various types of fabrics that are suspect for containing formaldehyde: http://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/formaldehyde-in-your-fabrics/

Some key tip-offs: if the fabric is wrinkle-resistant, permanent press, or anti-cling or anti-mildew.

But wait, there;s more!

That formaldehyde? It’s nasty stuff:

Formaldehyde is another one of those chemicals that just isn’t good for humans.  Long known as the Embalmer’s Friend for its uses in funeral homes and high school biology labs, formaldehyde effects depend upon the intensity and length of the exposure and the sensitivity of the individual to the chemical. The most common means of exposure is by breathing air containing off-gassed formaldehyde fumes, but it is also easily absorbed through the skin.  Increases in temperature (hot days, ironing coated textiles) and increased humidity both increase the release of formaldehyde from coated textiles.

This link provides information about skin reactions to formaldehyde, as well as lists of other products besides fabrics that contain it. It also notes that some people are actually allergic to formaldehyde and has a photo of a typical reaction (look familiar, ladies?):

http://dermnetnz.org/dermatitis/formaldehyde-allergy.html

Here’s what the New York Times wrote on the topic. Is it worth exposing yourself to allergens at best and toxins at worst, just so you can skip ironing?
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/11/your-money/11wrinkle.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

The story notes:

“The textile industry for years has been telling dermatologists that they aren’t using the formaldehyde resins anymore, or the ones they use have low levels,” said Dr. Joseph F. Fowler, clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Louisville. “Yet despite that, we have been continually seeing patients who are allergic to formaldehyde and have a pattern of dermatitis on their body that tells us this is certainly related to clothing.”

A common thread in all these stories is that skin reactions to formaldehyde in fabric has been going on for years…. and yet, it’s still there. Check out the quote from the Times article – the manufacturers simply LIE about the presence of formaldehyde.

Bottom line, it seems, is that consumers can’t look to manufacturers to solve the problem, nor can they look to the US government to start screening clothing. It’s not likely the government will take action unless someone dies. As consumers, our only option to fight back is to refuse to purchase items that cause suspect skin reactions. No matter how much you love that product, as was the case with Victoria’s Secret bras (my absolute favorite) you must fight back with the only weapon you have: your wallet.

 

 

No more BS, VS!

Several months back, I blogged about a very unpleasant skin reaction after wearing a Victoria’s Secret all-cotton bra — something I’d worn for years without incident, and then suddenly started experiencing severe itching, redness and welts on my breasts. I started Googling around and discovered several news stories about women experiencing the same problem, and all the arrows pointed to the fact that Victoria’s Secret had switched from a manufacturer in India to one in China. Formaldehyde was detected in the fabric of the bras made in China. Bingo. The popular embalming fluid (I know, yuck, right?) is also a known skin irritant.

Following the blog post, which also ran as a column in print newspapers and on iPinion Syndicate, women who were having the same problems started leaving comments on the blog — each one reporting exactly the same thing and each one frustrated by nothing but stonewalling and denial from Victoria’s Secret, which flatly denies that formaldehyde was ever in their bras.

Oh, those pesky lab studies! And oh those even peskier lawyers! Apparently even MORE women have experienced the rashes and itching, and they didn’t just get mad — they took ’em to court (with nods to the beloved Judge Wopner). Check out these lawsuits that have been filed over the poisoned bras: http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/victorias_secret_bra_rash

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/bras-burn-women-claim-lawsuit-victoria-secret-bras-rashes-scars-article-1.362528

It’s great that women are objecting to being poisoned for their loyalty to a brand but is it enough? I think not. I think the objection needs to be even louder. The only people aware of the problem with the bras are mainly those experiencing the rashes. It would be better if everyone was aware. A person who left a comment on my initial blog had a great idea: How about all of us taking our bras back to the VS store and demanding our money back? Well, that may or may not work. One at a time, probably not. But if we could all group together… maybe pick one day where everyone does it, or pick one store… it might capture some media attention.

And if we can’t get our money back? How about a good old ’70s style bra-burning? A huge bonfire, but this time women will be liberating ourselves from being manipulated and poisoned. I think that might get the attention of a news camera or two. Maybe right outside the VS main office? Ladies, anyone up for a trip to New York?

The address for the American corporate office for Victoria’s Secret is 1740 Broadway, #210, New York, NY 10019. The phone number is (212) 904-7200.  If nothing else, maybe we could collect all the bras in a dump truck and leave them on the front door?