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.

Is formaldehyde Victoria’s biggest Secret?

October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, it’s the perfect time to talk about boobies, or more specifically, things that harm them. Like our bras.

In May 2013, I wrote about a horrific rash I kept getting on my breasts, and over time realized that it reoccurred every time I wore a particular Victoria’s Secret bra. I googled around and discovered other women reporting the same thing, as far back as 2008. The culprit? Formaldehyde in the fabric. The problem began when Victoria’s Secret switched from an Indian manufacturer to a Chinese one. Women who wore their product for years suddenly started having reactions. Like myself, they didn’t initially suspect a product they’d been wearing for years without incident.

But, little by little, I figured it out: Stop wearing the bra, and the rash gradually subsides. Put it back on, and it comes screaming back.

It’s the bra.

As for the rash, it’s not just any rash. It itches like poison oak or chicken pox. You can’t NOT scratch it, which causes welts, bruises, broken skin, and even then… you can’t stop scratching.

A lawsuit was filed over the issue (Roberta Ritter v, Victoria’s Secret Stores, Inc., et al, Case No: CV 08 659494) but Victoria’s Secret and its parent company, L Brands, having deep pockets for legal protection, and convinced the plaintiff to drop the lawsuit. Their lawyer’s statement is posted on the L Brands website (follow the links under “Our Bras Are Safe”). The lawyer states that formaldehyde at less that 20 parts per million (ppm) means a product is legally “formaldehyde-free,” therefore declaring that VS products are “formaldehyde-free” because they’re within the legal range.

The remainder of the statement focuses on denigrating Roberta Ritter. Blame the victim, blame the plaintiff — same diff.

On the L Brands website, under “Do your bras contain formaldehyde,” is this statement: “Victoria’s Secret does not add formaldehyde to its bras…”

But: It doesn’t say that formaldehyde isn’t already in the fabric before being purchased to make the bras.

“… and multiple, independent tests confirm that Victoria’s Secret bras are formaldehyde-free or contain only traces which are significantly lower than allowed by the most stringent textile guidelines in the world…”

“Or.” Or! Is formaldehyde there or not? It can’t be both. Unless you’re a lawyer.

“…Dermatologists and various authorities all confirm that even those individuals who are allergic to formaldehyde would not have a reaction at this low level.”

Really.

I have a few “various authorities” who beg to differ.

Since I began writing about VS bra rashes here on this blog, women came out of the woodwork reporting the same horrific rash associated with VS bras exclusively. Most disturbing — their complaints are current. The bras are still on the shelves. Even though Victoria’s Secret knows their products may cause excruciating discomfort to some of their customers — they’re still selling them. And of course they are! Removing ALL the formaldehyde from their products now would be acknowledging the problem!

As for the reliability of the lab results on the formaldehyde content of VS bras, I’m skeptical. Not all the bras cause a rash. I still wear some of my VS bras with no problems. The only one that caused the rash was the 100 percent cotton bra in heather gray. Beige or black — no problem. Only the gray. Others also report that the rash only occurs with a particular style of VS bra. With hundreds of bra styles in hundreds of colors, unless they’re all tested, as far as I’m concerned, the lab results are meaningless.

On my blog, I advise women to put those bras in a ziplock bag for evidence, to see their doctors and get the diagnosis of “allergic contact dermatitis” documented, and to take photos of the rashes. Since no lawyers seem to be interested in this case, I’m hoping a government agency will take notice. The issue of formaldehyde in fabric is much larger than simple breast rashes. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, recognized by both the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society. Could formaldehyde in bras, to which our breasts are regularly exposed, contribute to breast cancer? Don’t you think it’s time someone found out? Maybe those of us who react to formaldehyde are lucky. We take the bras off. Those who keep wearing them are being exposed to formaldehyde every day.

So far, I’ve contacted the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which was no help. They said the bra itself didn’t cause the injury, the chemical did, and referred me to the Environmental Protection Agency. Both phone numbers they gave me connected elsewhere. One was some unidentified entity offering Walmart gift cards for only $1.99, and to “have your credit card ready.”

Great. Our federal government at work. But who else is there to turn to?

Yes, I hit some dead ends, but I’ll keep searching for the needle in the governmental haystack responsible for monitoring chemicals in fabrics. I’ll lobby for another look at “acceptable” amounts of formaldehyde in fabrics. If you’re allergic to formaldehyde, the “acceptable” amount is zero. If the product contains formaldehyde, it should have a warning label, just like products containing eggs, peanuts or dairy.

There’s the real irony — despite the misery their product has caused, VS customers would come running back if the products containing formaldehyde were labeled so we could purchase something else. We can’t find another product we like as much.

The simple solution would be for Victoria’s Secret to use truly — not legally — formaldehyde-free fabric. Sadly, Victoria’s Secret would rather lose our business than admit there’s a problem. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t take it seriously. Since I began blogging about this, and googling “Victoria’s Secret bra rash” shows a link to my blogs with many women reporting the same problem, Victoria’s Secret started paying attention. They follow me on Twitter. And I rather doubt it’s because they love tweets about my cats.

 

This piece of paper is priceless

So, I get a letter from the UC Davis radiology center, telling me that once again, my mammography is clear. No sign of cancer or anything to be concerned about.

“Meh,” I shrug. Breast cancer is not something that’s prevalent in my family, and not something I am particularly concerned about. Other diseases or health concerns? Oh hell yes. Brain aneurysms — right at the top of that list, and far and away out in front of anything in the second spot. As far as health concerns go, I’d say brain aneurysms occupy 99.9 percent of my health anxiety. But, as they aren’t something you can predict, or even prevent (barring, of course, healthy eating, regular exercise and reducing your stress), there’s not much I can do with that anxiety but put in a “I’ll think about that later” box in my head, put it on the shelf, and do my best not to ever open it.

But breast cancer? Meh.

And I stood there, holding that piece of paper from the radiology center, just about to file it with my other medical papers… and it struck me: There are thousands upon thousands of women out there who would give ANYTHING to be holding that letter. For whom the “all clear” report would be priceless.

Four out of ten women, I believe the current statistic is… who WISH they were holding that piece of paper with THEIR name on it. For whom that little piece of paper would bring such joy, and eliminate such fear and worry.

And… many, many things snapped into focus at that moment, holding that piece of paper… I am so very lucky, so wealthy in fact, to be holding a piece of paper that is truly priceless.

#KeepThingsInPerspective