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?

 

 

 

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.