By Sydney Stallworth
With summer on the horizon, hundreds of thousands of vacationers will flock to the nearest beach to enjoy some time in the sun. Suitcases will be stuffed with swimsuits, flip flops, and club ‘fits. But what’s one crucial item being left off so many young black millennials’ packing checklist? Sunscreen.
Ever received the side-eye when asking a friend for some sunscreen at the pool in the summer? I think we’ve all grown accustomed to hearing the oh so common response: “Now you know, black people don’t get sunburn.”
It’s well past time to address this age-old myth that has been spread across the black community like wildfire.
Black people, especially young black people, often neglect to apply sunscreen before heading outside because they often rely on their melanin to protect them. We know better than to leave the house without moisturizing, however. No matter the temperature, we’ve been brought up to lotion up before leaving the house to give our skin that healthy glow. During beach trips, most black people will even lather up with oil before bathing in the sun. But why isn’t sunscreen a part of this common routine?
Okay, let’s be fair, people of color obviously have a higher amount of melanin in their skin. And as a result, people of color can withstand the sun much better than their less-melanated counterparts.
This “myth of melanin” is not entirely fabricated. Human skin is constantly exposed to ultraviolet, or UV rays. According to the National Institutes of Health, melanin serves as an absorber of UV within the skin cells, it also has high antioxidant and excellent nutrient scavenging properties for skin cells. So, the more melanin you have, the greater protection you have against UV rays.
Melanoma is the most common form of skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma is 20 times more common in white people than in black people in the United States, with black people being diagnosed at a rate of about 0.1 percent.
So, why should you think twice about poppin’ out without protection? A study in the November 2016 Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that although white people have the highest diagnosis rate, they also have the longest lifespan following diagnosis. Black people, who are the least diagnosed group, have the lowest survival time post-diagnosis. In other words, black people are more likely to die of melanoma than those of any other race.
This happens because black people are diagnosed at much later stages than their white counterparts. This could be because we are less likely to see discoloration, patches or moles on our skin. Or, it could be because this is a threat we are not likely to be concerned with. A new mole popping up is just a new mole, because we don’t consider it to be a potential threat of cancer. This vacation season, don’t forget to pack your most essential item. Check yourself for any new moles or lumps on your skin. And be sure to pop open that bottle of sunscreen before putting on your new bikini.