Despite Victoria’s denials, customers still report breast rashes

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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 me, 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, have 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 blogging about VS bra rashes (www.debradeangelo.com), 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.

— Email Debra DeAngelo at debra@wintersexpress.com; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com

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