Our breasts are angry, and they want some answers

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The last time I wrote about my Victoria’s Secret breast rash issues, it was about a nice little chat I’d had with some VS staff who recommended that I get tested for chemical/textile allergies.


They staunchly maintained their position that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with their bras, that it’s something wrong with me, and in their extreme benevolence, once I found out what I’m reacting to, they would advise me which of their bras are safe for me to wear.

Wait a minute — that means that they already know which chemicals are in which bras, doesn’t it? I mean, if I turn out to be allergic to formaldehyde, then they’ll guide me toward the bras that don’t have it in the fabric? Isn’t that essentially an admission?


However, I told them I’d play along. I went to see a leading UC Davis allergist, and explained my situation. First, he informed me that the skin patch test for textile allergies the VS rep recommended doesn’t exist. Secondly, he said, without the item of clothing that caused the problem, there’s no way to test for what I might be reacting to.


Long before I drew the connection between my miserable rashes and certain VS bras, I’d thrown away the two bras that caused weeks of rashes, welts, bruising and broken skin, all compounded by irresistible itching that makes the symptoms even worse. Into the garbage, vile things!

Huge mistake. I threw away my evidence.

Now, when women visit my blog (debradeangelo.com) — and yes, they continue to trickle in week after week — I advise them to save their bras in zip-lock bags. Whatever is in the fabric of those bras (based on a CBS news report, I still suspect formaldehyde, although VS patently denies this) is causing the allergic reactions.

As far as I can tell, breast rashes associated with bras weren’t an issue until VS moved its manufacturing site from India to China and then — bam! — breast rashes started bubbling up all over the place. And then I started blogging about it. And then women with the same problem came pouring in with the same issue. And now, it’s not just VS, but other bra manufacturers as well. The common denominator? China.

My fellow itchy sisters aren’t the only ones reading my “Boob Blog.” The VS rep admitted they’d read it. VS also follows me on Twitter, and I guarandangtee it’s not because they think I’m super hilarious or because they’re considering me as their next Dream Angels supermodel. VS is aware of my blog and all the women commenting there, they’re aware of the breast rash controversy, and apparently they’re also aware of the fact that without the physical evidence, there’s no way to connect the biochemical dots.

You see, when the breast issue began simmering, VS advised customers to return the bras for a full refund at any VS store, no questions asked. OK, fine, you get your $40 back, but the overall issue proliferates. Lately, however, a rash-ridden woman told me that VS said they’d refund her money, no problem, and advised her to throw the bra away.

A tad suspicious, don’t you think? OK, maybe so many used VS bras are being returned, they’re running out of Dumpster space. Or maybe those women lined up for returns at the stores are not only a headache for overwhelmed employees and customers stuck in line, there’s plenty of time for afflicted women to inform others about why they’re returning the bras — a PR nightmare. But I suspect the real reason is that VS is convincing their customers to unwittingly destroy the evidence.

Don’t throw those bras away, ladies! And don’t return them either, and don’t even boycott VS! I have a new plan: Let’s buy more bras, and find the common denominator. Is it a certain color? Style? Fabric? Me, I’m going to stock up on my beloved cotton VS bras and wait for the worst. If nothing happens, great. But if something does, I’m marching right back to that allergy doctor with evidence in hand.

Ironic, right? We need to buy more VS bras and become our own laboratory rats. When there are enough of the culprit bras, I’m hoping a laboratory will collect them and determine what’s causing the rashes.

Pity there isn’t a nearby university that specializes in human biology and medicine to do this research.


While we wait for a laboratory or university to tackle the issue of contact allergic dermatitis caused by chemicals in fabric, the allergy doctor I saw scheduled me for a blood test specific to formaldehyde allergy. However, even if I’m found to be allergic, I still don’t have the offending bras to prove the source of the rash.

And what if it’s not formaldehyde? What if it’s something else?

Greenpeace recently did a chemical analysis of a swath of major clothing manufacturers, including Victoria’s Secret, and found that all products tested contain phthalates, which are known carcinogens and linked to breast cancer, and 50 percent of them contained nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), which wash from the clothing into the water, and are hazardous to marine life.

Eat the fish, eat the NPEs. Talk about ecological karma. We make the fish sick, they return the favor.

Finally, there’s some hard evidence about hazardous chemicals in fabric, chemicals that do far worse than make our breasts unbearably itchy. Now, what about formaldehyde? It’s a known carcinogen too. As consumers, we have the right to know what’s in the fabric. Just as food manufacturers must alert consumers with allergies when their products contain peanuts or eggs, clothing manufacturers must be required to do the same. But first, we have to find out exactly what’s in the fabric.

So hold onto those bras, itchy sisters. Don’t contribute to the problem just to get your $40 back. Our health is more valuable than that.

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

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