In October, people wear pink. They also eat, drink, or buy products that are pink. It's hard not to when National Breast Cancer Awareness Month means rosy products are lining the shelves and pink ribbons are spotted on everything from makeup to snack foods. It may seem fitting to purchase as many as you can to do your part for breast cancer research, but the fact is, not all ribbon-printed products are created equal. So really, how do you know where your money is going?

The good news is that you can become a more informed consumer while still helping to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research. Think Before You Pink, a campaign from Breast Cancer Action, was launched to help you become more critical about your purchases and to avoid "pink washers," which they define as companies and organizations who put out pink ribbon products while also manufacturing or selling products that could be linked to the disease (for instance, a company selling pink water bottles that contain BPA). Read more about the problems with "Pinktober" here.
 

To make sure your money is being spent wisely, ask yourself the following questions before you buy a pink ribbon product this year:  

MORE: Breast Cancer FAQs

1. Does any money from this purchase go to support breast cancer programs? How much?

The pink ribbon on a product doesn't necessarily mean that your money goes to breast cancer programs. In fact, anyone can put this on any product. Some companies use the ribbon to denote that this product is "healthy" or doesn't contribute to breast cancer. Other companies use it to imply they support this cause, even if the funds from this particular product won't be part of the contribution. For instance, a company may already be donating a set amount to a breast cancer-related organization, regardless of how many pink products they sell or don't sell. If you don't know what dollar amount or portion of your proceeds is being donated, you may want to just give directly to the organization of your choice instead.

2. What organization will get the money? What will they do with the funds, and how do these programs turn the tide of the breast cancer epidemic?

Unless you know which programs will be receiving a percentage of your proceeds, there's no way to know what kind of work would be funded by your donation. If you know what organization the company in question has teamed up with, check that organization's Web site to see if you agree with their mission and activities.

MORE: No, Bras Will Not Up Your Risk of Breast Cancer

3. Is there a “cap” on the amount the company will donate? Has this maximum donation already been met? Can you tell?

There's a chance that a company has an arbitrary cap on how much money they will donate from their pink ribbon profits--and if this limit has already been reached, then your purchase won't make the difference you want it to.

4. Does this purchase put you or someone you love at risk for exposure to toxins linked to breast cancer? What is the company doing to ensure that its products are not contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?

Here's the real kicker--some companies put pink ribbons on products that are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Check out these environmental factors linked to breast cancer to ensure that the item you're buying won't up anyone's odds of getting the disease.

Get more information at Think Before You Pink. As a general rule, if a company is not transparent about the answers to these questions, it's a good idea to donate directly to an organization you trust.

MORE: 7 Ways to Keep Your Breasts Healthy