I spent $97 on products that support breast cancer, did it count?

Oct 1, 2014 at 9:00 a.m. ET
Image: Stephen Krow/iStock/360/Getty Images

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as if you hadn't already noticed the pink ribbons and merchandise adorning the shelves of your local stores.

Take a good look at the beauty and fashion products, in particular. You're likely to see more than one product beckoning your purchase with the promise that doing so will support breast cancer research and awareness.

Do pink products really count?

This trend got me thinking — does purchasing lip balm really fight cancer? I spent $97 on these breast cancer products to find out.

Avon Skin So Soft Bath Oil

Avon Skin So Soft Bath Oil

For every $10 bath oil purchased, Avon will donate $1 to charity. This brings my total giving so far to $1.

Essie Mini Cube Nail Polish

Essie Mini cube

This $17 set of pink nail polish promises to fight cancer. How? By raising awareness through its vibrant pink hues. I found no mention of charitable giving, which keeps my total giving at $1.

Philosophy Shower for the Cure Shampoo

Philosophy Shower for the Cure Shampoo

Philosophy promises to donate 100 percent of the proceeds from its $20 shampoo to charity. Generously assuming proceeds are $15 on this pricey shampoo, that brings my giving to $16.

Alex + Ani Arms of Strength Bangle

Alex + Ani Arms of Strength Bangle

This lovely $28 bangle bracelet is made by company Alex + Ani, which will donate 20 percent of its October bangle sales to support survivors. That's about $6, so I've now given $22 total.

Tweezerman Precision in Pink

Tweezerman Precision in Pink

These admittedly-amazing tweezers are $22, and the company promises $1 to charity for each purchased item — which brings my charitable giving grand total to $23.

Making sense of dollars and cents

OK, so $23 of my $97 went directly to charity. That's not so bad, right? Not so fast, says nonprofit consultant Rita McWaters of Fort Worth, Texas. According to McWaters, the bottom line on my direct support for cancer patients is further eroded by the day-to-day management of charitable organizations. "Most charities spend roughly 75 percent of their budgets on programs and services, but at least 25 percent typically goes to overhead," she explained. That means that my $23 to support cancer patients has now dwindled to $17.25.

It's hard to ignore the facts. If I had given my $97 directly to a breast cancer charity rather than funneling through a for-profit company, I could have reasonably expected that $73 would directly support awareness, research or support services for survivors. Instead, my $97 only yielded $17 of direct support.

"I have noticed there is a trend for people and companies to start online campaigns in which they ask people to pay them money and in turn, they will donate the money to charity," said McWaters. "I also see people claim to support a particular cause, but in reality they are profiting, or if they do donate, it is such a small percentage it is almost worthless." Her advice? Ask questions and buyer beware.

While I agree that every dollar counts, next time I'll put down the breast cancer lip balm so I can make my $97 dollars speak more loudly.

More about breast cancer support

Komen cancels seven races for breast cancer
3 Gifts for breast cancer survivors
10 Ways to support breast cancer research

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