Breast cancer awareness: the history of the pink ribbon

Of all the ribbons that serve as symbols for different cancers, the pink ribbon is arguably the most recognizable one. Prior to 1991, discussing breast cancer was still taboo, and funding for research was not what it is today. Today, there are countless ways to get involved in helping to find a cure for a cancer that will affect an estimated 287,850 women this year. 

How it all started 

In 1991, the iconic logo for breast cancer was created. A woman named Charlotte Haley began a humble campaign in her community to raise money for breast cancer research and prevention. She handed out postcards that cited a shocking statistic: the National Cancer Institute’s annual budget was $1.8 billion, yet only 5% of the budget went towards cancer prevention. She attached peach-colored ribbons (not the pink ones we know today) to the postcards for people to wear and raise awareness of this pressing issue. 

After hearing of her local fundraising, Self magazine wanted to include Haley’s peach ribbon in their issue on breast cancer in early 1992. Haley did not want her symbol to become corporate, but the editor-in-chief of the magazine, Alexandra Penney, saw massive potential in using this as a logo for breast cancer awareness. 

She reflected on a recent successful issue of Self that featured the guest editor Evelyn Lauder- the senior corporate vice president of Estee Lauder, a cosmetics company. Penney proposed the idea of passing out pink ribbons at Estee Lauder makeup counters in New York City. Lauder was completely on-board! As a breast cancer survivor herself, Lauder saw this as an incredible opportunity to spread the message across the country. The ribbon was changed from peach colored to pink to avoid the original grassroots campaign set up by Charlotte Haley. 

Estee Lauder’s fight against breast cancer 

Though the company’s breast cancer campaign began 30 years ago, their contributions towards research and prevention have not stopped. These are the brands of Estee Lauder that have continually raised funds for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (also founded by Evelyn Lauder): 

  • Clinique
  • Michael Kors
  • Origins
  • Lab Series
  • Donna Karan
  • Bobbi Brown
  • La Mer 
  • Bumble and Bumble 
  • Jo Malone 
  • Aerin 
  • Darphin 
  • Too Faced 
  • Dr. Jart+ 
  • DKNY
  • Aveda 
  • Smashbox 
  • Tom Ford Beauty
  • And more!

In total, more than $108 million has been raised to fund medical services, education programs and research on breast cancer. Best of all, it’s estimated that over 180 million pink ribbons have been given out at Estee Lauder beauty counters all over the world!

Where the pink ribbon can be found 

Today, the logo for breast cancer and the color pink have been used as symbols that allow survivors and their loved ones to show solidarity, support for a cure and accessible prevention methods for all women. You can find the pink ribbon being used in other organizations, at fundraising events and walks (Ex: Making Strides Against Breast Cancer by the American Cancer Society), and of course, on merchandise. 

It’s such a popular symbol within the media that many people will instantly recognize its significance in the month of October. During breast cancer awareness month, pink ribbons pervade throughout the United States and internationally as a symbol of hope. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top