Kerry Washington: Skin cancer does not discriminate, brown skin people get it

Kerry Washington stays booked and busy. Beside producing and starring in shows like Little Fires Everywhere and being a spokeswoman for Neutrogena, Kerry continues to level up. Kerry is executive producing a documentary with Neutrogena Studios about skin cancer and the damage caused by sun myths in the Black community. In an episode of the People Every Day podcast with Jane Rubenstein, Kerry discussed her relationship with the sun and why she chose a diverse group of seven participants to be in her documentary. Kerry wants to tackle the misconceptions about sun exposure and skin cancer in the Black community. Here are few highlights via People:

Washington, who executive produced the project with Neutrogena Studios, told Rubenstein that she learned a lot about misconceptions regarding sun safety in the Black community when creating the documentary.

And over time, the Little Fires Everywhere actress had personal reasons as well as professional ones to protect herself. “I think for a lot of my life, I have tended to focus on the vanity around my relationship with the sun,” she said, adding, “People say … ‘black don’t crack,’ but we know that sun is one of the things that really causes aging in the skin. Those are things that I’ve thought about through the years.”

“It was really important to me in the documentary to address a lot of those myths,” she explains. “Because people … tend to think that skin cancer doesn’t have anything to do with them. Obviously that’s not true, when you look at the numbers of how many people are diagnosed every year.”

Skin cancer, as Washington noted, is considered the most common cancer in the U.S. and worldwide. According to, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70 and more than two people die of it in the U.S. every hour. In addition, the site states, having five or more sunburns can double your risk for melanoma.

“Our misconception that we’re not impacted means that oftentimes, black people or people of color are diagnosed later with later stage in cancer, because we’re not checking for it,” she said. “We’re not looking for it. We’re not aware. And so that increases the danger.”

“I’m very grateful to the seven families who appear in the documentary, because there’s incredible diversity in these stories around diverse ages and races, ethnicities, gender,” the star says. “Skin cancer does not discriminate and brown skin people get skin cancer, fair skin people get skin cancer. So it’s important that we understand our risks, that we protect ourselves.”

[From People]

I’ve been a fan of Kerry’s since Save the Last Dance and I have truly enjoyed watching her career and activism flourish these last two decades. I am looking forward to this documentary, especially as a Black person who has had at least three decades of over exposure of the sun thanks to the myths about Black skin being a layer of protection. It isn’t. And as dark as I am, I actually burn, badly. I did not know this until the sun damage (spots) started showing up. In fact, I must admit that my dislike of tropical climates has a lot to do with the fact that I burn easily (tears). Now, every spot that crops up on my skin I freak out. Now I definitely use sunscreen, especially the spray kind because the ointment always leaves that horrible white film on dark skin. And the one thing I am not gonna do is look ashy all day.

I applaud Kerry for focusing on the dangers of skin cancer in our communities. Many Black and Brown people still live under the delusion that they are safe from sun damage and skin cancer. The numbers for skin cancer are appalling and I can’t believe two people in the U.S. die from skin cancer every hour. I actually believed that we had gotten skin cancer under control because you rarely hear about it. The fact that one in five Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70 is scary. As far as black not cracking, I guess this statement is only true if Black women and men take care of their skin and protect it from sun exposure. So lather up babes, pull out that parasol and buy that sun hat because it is never too late to start protecting your largest and most important organ, your skin.

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23 Responses to “Kerry Washington: Skin cancer does not discriminate, brown skin people get it”

  1. Eleonor says:

    This is interesting, and important.
    As a latina myself I can say the myth on our skin still exist in medical community too, where doctors don’t know how to treat us, unless is too late.

  2. Well Wisher says:

    Our Health Department warned about the dangers of exposure of the sun to all skin types due to lessening of the Ozone layer. We were advised to take the necessary precaution by wearing protective clothing and sunscreen lotion with a particular SPF. This was more than 25 years ago before FTA.

  3. Seraphina says:

    This is such an important message and so glad she shared. I remember being in my mid twenties and I had a mole removed. I have olive skin and my dermatologist put the fear of Jesus in me about sun exposure and sunscreen use. She repeatedly said that no matter how much melanin I may have, I can still burn and get skin cancer. She took it further and said that due to my darker skin, it’s more dangerous for me because I don’t realize if I have had too much sun since I hardly ever burn. Well, that was all I needed. SUNSCREEN and a big wide hat from spring to fall. A few years back, a neighbor commented on my hat use and when I removed my sunglasses she commented on my skin. I replied: that is why I wear the hat along with sunglasses and sunscreen. She nodded and then said: Yeah I get it now.

    • Chaine says:

      Same here, I have a dark olive complexion and just assumed it protected me, until around 30 when I had to have several squamous carcinomas removed (big enough that I had to have stitches).

  4. Sophie says:

    The FDA must be pressured (forced) to approve better sun filters for sunscreens. The ones approved for use in the US are pathetic and don’t protect nearly enough. Europe and Asia make the best and most advanced products because modern filters like Tinosorb S are allowed there. I use Asian and European sunscreens exclusively because of this.

    • Veronika says:

      I’ve worn sunscreen everyday of my adult life but I wish I’d gotten into Korean sunscreen earlier, maybe I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in now.

    • Heather H says:

      Agree. I have started using Japanese and Korean ones with a long list of filters (avoid short lists) and love them. For US ones I use mineral only.

    • Seraphina says:

      thank you so much. That is what I love about this site, all the many things which I learn.

    • Seraphina says:

      Where can they be purchased?

  5. Hell Nah! says:

    The myth that those who are melanin blessed have a supernatural shield against the burning/aging rays of the sun needs to be erased once and for all. I grew up loving my beautifully caramelated skin tone and never considered it needed sunscreen protection just as much as my fairer complected friends. I was 21 years old, on vacation in Acapulco when after a day spent in the pool, I was convinced I had some contracted a severe skin allergy and raced to the hospital to learn, for the first time, that Yes, Black skin can and does BURN and absolutely needs to be protected.

    How many skin cancer diagnoses (and deaths) could have been avoided with the knowledge that all skin, no matter the complexion, will suffer from regular exposure to the sun’s scorching rays?

    I applaud Kerry and Neutrogena for getting the word out on the danger the skin poses to Brown and Black skin – this message needs to be heard in every corner. It is long, long overdue.

  6. Lauren says:

    I have seen too many black, afro-latin, afro-European people convinced that sun damage and skin cancer is a white people problem only. And a lot of white people surprised that I use spf “because you are black, you don’t need it”. I got into spf around 7-8 years ago, but started obsessing over it recently and my skin is all the more beautiful and healthy for it. I use AHA’s and BHA’s to deal with hormonal breakouts and hyperpigmentation and since they make the skin photosensitive, I apply my spf every couple of hours.

  7. Veronika says:

    This is wonderful timing as May is Skin Cancer awareness month and Melanoma Awareness month.
    I found out last week that I have melanoma. I have always been diligent about sunscreen so I was shocked.

    • Zantasia says:

      I’m so sorry to hear about your melanoma diagnosis. I hope they get it all on the first surgery and that it’s a quick recovery.

  8. Coji says:

    Most doctors primarily learn about how dermatologic disease looks on white skin and skin diseases can present very differently on other skin colors. It makes it harder to be properly diagnosed if you are not white. It’s yet another form of societal racism and another example of how racism doesn’t have to be intentional or wrapped in a confederate flag to be harmful.

    • KansasGal says:

      THIS! I am happy she is covering this topic, but I hope the documentary also covers how darker skinned folks are often treated in the doctor’s office. I am a Black bi-racial woman. My mom wasn’t able to pass along her flawless dark skin, but she did share some auto immune diseases that often affect the skin. My regular doctor sent me to a dermatologist because he was concerned a skin “event” I was having might indicate sarcoidosis. That woman squinted her eyes and made sad puppy dog face at me and actually, “I just can’t tell, your skin is so dark, I just can’t tell.” and seemed to think that was appropriate. She offered NOTHING. Not even a referral to a dermatologist who bothered to learn something in school! I am not even dark skinned, just that “generically ethnic”, obviously not white tone. I offered her some on the spot education. And reported her to the state medical arts board.

    • Midge says:

      This is an issue across the board in medicine. Black babies and mothers have significantly lower rates of survival when treated by white doctors.
      I remember even Serena Williams could have died after childbirth if she had not advocated so strongly for herself and demanded blood thinners and a CT scan.
      Support organizations like this:

  9. HK9 says:

    I’m a black woman, and many years ago, my friends mother, who is about 3 shades darker than me was diagnosed with skin cancer. The doctor told her if she had come in any later to get it checked out, it would have killed her. I started wearing SPF regularly after that.

  10. Midge says:

    Bob Marley died from metastatic melanoma at age 36. He had a lesion on his toe, which he ignored, thought was an injury from playing soccer.

  11. death by bacon says:

    The arguments I had on Fb over black people getting skin cancer. And no amount of research would change minds. We need better health and science education in Merica. Folks swore Africans never got cancer…

  12. Cafecito says:

    That’s a great idea for a documentary. My dermatologist did not tell me anything about sunscreen even when prescribing me a retinol treatment!

    He did tell me to get an un-tinted version of a certain cream, since the available shades clearly would not suit me…..

  13. elizabeth says:

    I really like Venus Williams Eleven brand of sunscreen. And I also use the Iris and Romeo Best Skin Days on my face when I don’t want to wear full foundation.

  14. Jessica says:

    I try a lot of different sunscreens. I personally use mineral (physical) sunscreens b/c of sensitive eyes. My favorite is Australian Gold spf 50 facial. They do have 3 basic shades (tint just to cut the white cast – not a shade range that, say, a foundation would have) so that helps. I tend to get oily and it has a matte finish, that isn’t too drying for me.

    I am grateful to Kerry for putting this message out there. Sun damage can take many forms: fine lines, hyperpigmentation (sun spots) and of course skin cancer. I definitely have the first 2, I really don’t want to get the 3rd! I will happily slather for the rest of my life.

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