Black people need to take sun protection seriously

OPINION

Sun damage related diseases like skin cancer are real. They do not discriminate between races and whether you’re black or white you can be susceptible to one of the most preventable diseases that exists in the world today.

I appreciate and accept that skin cancer is more prevalent in Caucasian skin tones. Their light skin doesn’t afford them the same immediate sun protection as dark melanin skin gives black people. By the same token, I also know that the presence of melanin alone in black skin is insufficient protection against sun damage related diseases.

When you look at the statistics, they show that black people are more likely to die from skin cancer than Caucasians. Why? Because for years, maybe even centuries, we have been taught that we can withstand sun rays, leading to a culture of indifference and an unfounded belief that sun protection measures such as the application of sunscreen is for white skin only.

There are no grey areas in statistics and they clearly show that a cavalier attitude towards sun protection leads to skin cancer and because the majority of black people also don’t engage in the regular skin inspections, some of the tell tale signs are missed, until they can no longer be ignored.

As recently as December 2016, a study of racial disparities in cancer survival (published by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology - JAAD) showed that whilst Caucasians are more frequently diagnosed with Melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer), the survival rates for Black people diagnosed with the same cancer in lower.  Another JAAD published study from 2011, concluded that “non whites were more likely to have advanced and thicker melanomas at diagnosis and lower melanoma-specific survival compared with whites.”

Time and time again, research concludes that skin cancer screening and raising awareness in black communities is crucial to improve survival outcomes for black people.

As a community we just don’t talk about sun protection enough. Just because our risk is somewhat lower doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist amongst us. This lower incidence rate has also meant historically cosmetic companies that produce sunscreens have largely side-lined us. Tell me the last time you saw a sunscreen advert with a black model? Positively, the landscape is changing and Black Skin Directory is proud to be highlighting this.

If we have people with views like this in our community, then people like me who passionately believe that black people should take sun protection as seriously as Caucasians, will just have to shout louder.

It doesn’t help that there is a significant amount of black people who also believe that sun protection is a money-spinning racket from pharmaceuticals companies. Back in 2015, I uploaded a video about sunscreens on my now retired YouTube channel Dijasworld. It’s amassed over nine thousand views and whilst most of the commentary has been sensible, some have revealed a deep lack of education on the facts that truly matter. 

“Do you work for the sunscreen industry or something (sic). Because you are you are doing your fellowman a dis-service, and you are putting your black skin (with respect) brother in mortal danger with speaking such rubbish. Tony_LivesinSonNsun, 2016.

I’ve also heard the slavery argument, not only online but in various personal discussions over the years. Black people were forcibly taken as slaves so that they could work on the plantation fields because white skin would burn red and turn crisp in the hot sun, whereas black skin was built for the sun.  Again, on YouTube another ill informed commenter had this to say, “….during  slavery Blacks did not wear any sunscreen. The main reason we were stolen from our homeland was because we could take the Sun and white couldn't...” Yahdiah Yahdiam, 2017.

This argument is old and it's time we retire it. We now know much more about the effects of the sun, so using an argument a few hundred years old in the face of 21st century research simply doesn’t muster any credibility.

If we have people with views like this in our community, then people like me who passionately believe that black people should take sun protection as seriously as Caucasians, will just have to shout louder. Skin cancer is largely preventable, if one protects themselves from excessive unprotected sun exposure!

That point is - why dice with death? It doesn’t hurt to apply sunscreen and follow sensible sun protection methods, so why not? You’re not going to be any worse off by exercising sun safety. If anything, you may be prolonging your life. What is there to loose?

And for those in the black community who’s argument against using sun protection revolves around ‘Well people in Africa don’t use sunscreen and they are fine.’ I say show me your statistics. How are you so sure?

I’m from Sierra Leone, a diamond rich nation of eight million people slightly above the Equator. We have no certified Dermatologists. We can barely produce full and complete statistics on maternal mortality let alone sun related deaths. I would extend that generalisation to a lot of the African continent and hazard a guess that people in Africa are dying from sun related skin cancers; it’s just that there are no reliable statistics to prove it.

If research from more advanced nations like the USA, Europe and Australia is telling us that black people are more likely to die from skin cancer due to our ignorance, just imagine what research coming out of Africa may reveal. I hope in time, this is research that will be forthcoming.

That point is - why dice with death? It doesn’t hurt to apply sunscreen and follow sensible sun protection methods, so why not? You’re not going to be any worse off by exercising sun safety. If anything, you may be prolonging your life. What is there to loose?

The technology behind current sunscreens is so much more sophisticated, even amongst physical sunscreens so that the tell tale white cast of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are minimised or as in the case of tinted sunscreens completely obscured.

If physical sunscreen isn’t for you, then there are chemical sunscreens, which can be topped up with powder sunscreen. The choices and options are endless, which means that as a black person your ability to take sunscreen seriously is made easier. There is no leg work. We know that education is key, so over the course of Black Skin Directory Sun Awareness Month, different types of sunscreen suitable for black skin will be discussed and presented.

Melanin will always afford black skin some protection against the harmful effects of the sun, but as the incidences of skin cancer show, it’s not enough and if we’re not brave enough to challenge our mindset and want better health outcomes for ourselves, the rates of skin cancer and the associated low survival rates amongst blacks will only increase.