I’ve survived the coldest May I have ever seen in my 21 years of living. I, like many others, am ready to bring the Summer on with open arms. My bikinis have been dug out of my drawers, my sunglasses are shined, and my flip-flops are matched up.
There’s only one last thing I need: sunscreen.
One thing I will never need is all of the ignorant questions that I have to inevitably face every summer. There’s always someone who asks it: Why are YOU wearing sunscreen?
To which I can only answer, “Well, I am human.”
I continuously get the odd side-look when I pull out my spray bottle of SPF 50 to mist on my toasted caramel skin. What do you need that for? You don’t get sunburned, do you? Can you even tan?
Yes. The answer is always, “Yes!” I have skin!
Contrary to popular belief, POCs can and do get sunburned. Worse, we do suffer from skin cancer, and it’s a myth that POCs tote as much as non-POCs believe. The truth is, while we’re not as likely to be sunburned, we are still at risk of causing life long damage to our skin. Within the epidermis, cells called melanocytes produce the melanin that give our skins pigment; more melanin equals a darker skin pigmentation. While I may have more melanin than someone with pale skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes; I still have melanin, and it still needs to be protected.
My olive skinned mother is at risk of melanoma. My dark cocoa skinned father is also at risk. I, an equal mix of them both, am undoubtedly at risk. However, symptoms of melanoma in a POC will present itself in different ways – much like how women will have different symptoms of a heart attack than a man would. Dark spots on the palms, the soles of the feet and under fingernails are some spots where melanoma will make itself present in POCs, but diagnosis and treatment are usually only discovered after the cancer has advanced. Bob Marley suffered from a type of melanoma called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) found under a toenail, which eventually led to his death in the early eighties. For a period of time, his cancer went untreated because the mark was believed to have been a result of a soccer injury. Today, SCC is the most common form of skin cancer faced by African-Americans.
Mortality rates in the African-American community around this type of skin cancer are usually disproportionately high compared to our white counterparts, because there is so much ignorance surrounded by this topic. Early detection rarely happens in our community, and we miss the opportunity to save ourselves before it’s too late.
Do think the next time before you make your POC friend feel uncomfortable when applying sunscreen. And to my POC sisters and brothers, please let this myth die with the times. Sunscreen benefits everyone with skin. We need to protect ourselves and our skins. Go have fun in the sun, but do be smart about it.