Sunscreen is a must. I do not care how young, how gifted or how black you think you are, it’s the lotion none of us can afford to forget.
“Black don’t crack—but it does crease,” The Glow Up’s managing editor, Maiysha Kai, likes to joke. Black people can also fry, as our editor-in chief, Danielle Belton, discovered when she came home from Urban by Nature, The Glow Up and Very Smart Brothas’ recent event in California, sunburned from an afternoon spent by the pool.
Seriously, though, I can tell you we may not crack, but we do discolor, and we are all prone to melanoma. I need sunscreen like a fish needs water—at 53, I was born in the glory days before seat belts, car seats, “safe spaces” and “helicopter parenting.” On a summer morning, parents opened the door and you got on your bike to fend for yourself until the street lights came on at dinnertime. Sunscreen was far down on the list, if it was there at all.
My outdoor life has been epic from the time I was a kid. At about 35, while I didn’t see wrinkles, I did start to see little brown patches that would come and go until one day, in my 40s, the brown patches joined up and created brown islands (the medical term is melasma) on my forehead, cheeks and upper lip. This new real estate that maps my face could have been avoided in large part, and is now kept at bay—five unprotected minutes in the sun, and the melasma’s territory expands and grows darker.
But here’s the problem with sunscreen on dark skin: It can turn chalky and white when applied on its own. Under makeup, ingredients in the sunscreen used to block UV rays can mess with your perfect foundation shade, turning a golden or olive undertone to a sallow, sickly-looking pallor. And without fail, red undertones in foundation will go pink if you don’t choose the right sunscreen.
But recently, I ran across two videos that were on point when it comes to understanding not only the difference between chemical and nonchemical sunscreens but also, most importantly, which sunscreens protect your skin and serve your makeup, too.
But aside from knowing which sunscreens are best for our complexions and most compatible with makeup, here’s the real skinny on how skin cancer caused by sun damage can be prevented: It’s important for us all to put sunscreen on our hands and all the way down to our sternums. Those are the thinnest areas of our skin and are subject to hyperpigmentation and melanoma, a potentially fatal form of skin cancer.
According to the Skin Cancer Research Foundation, skin cancer affects people of African descent in ways we might not expect. In a quote on the Skin Cancer Research Foundation website, Dr. Maritza Perez says:
Certain skin cancers are caused by factors other than UV—such as genetics or other environmental influences—and may occur on parts of the body rarely exposed to the sun. For example, darker-skinned people are more susceptible to acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM), an especially virulent form of melanoma (the deadliest type of skin cancer) that typically appears on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
There’s no better time than now, at the beginning of spring, to scan your body for moles, freckles or birthmarklike dark spots. If you have them, take a quick picture with your iPhone for reference. As summer goes along, check in with yourself every 30-40 days. Perez offered the following guidelines via the Cancer Research Foundation website:
- A bump, patch, sore or growth that bleeds, oozes, crusts, doesn’t heal or lasts longer than a month. This may indicate basal cell carcinoma.
- An ulcer, scaly red patch, wart-like growth or sore that sometimes crusts or bleeds could be a sign of squamous cell carcinoma. This type of skin cancer can also develop in old scars or areas of previous physical trauma or inflammation.
- New or existing moles that are asymmetrical, have an irregular border, are more than one color, larger than a pencil eraser or change in any way may indicate melanoma. Pay special attention to suspicious spots on the hands, soles of the feet or under the nails, which could signify ALM.
Don’t be a statistic: Sixty-three percent of African Americans surveyed by the Skin Cancer Foundation had never used sunscreen. As with many ailments, we tend to die at a higher rate than other races when afflicted. Bob Marley died of ALM, a pernicious form of skin cancer that first appeared as a brown spot on his foot when he was only 36.
A sun protection factor, or SPF, of 30 or higher can go a long way toward making sure that sun is fun—and not fatal.