Kerry Washington is raising awareness about the dangers of prolonged sun exposure. The actor, along with Neutrogena Studios, is executive producing her new documentary, “In the Sun,” which features seven families who are dealing with the fallout of extended skin contact with the sun.
Washington interviewed on the “PEOPLE Every Day” podcast Thursday, April 29, to talk to Janine Rubenstein about the project and revealed that the documentary taught her a lot about the erroneous beliefs about sun protection from within the Black community.
She spoke of one particular perspective she commonly heard while growing up: “Having usually older relatives say, ‘You don’t want to get dark, you’ve got to cover up,’ ” she said. “And me saying, ‘I don’t mind.’ But I love my brown skin. I love it in all its colors. I tan really easily and I love it.”
However, Washington felt that as she grew older, the reasons for practicing sun safety became a practical by-product of aging.
“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 represents 1 to 2 percent of all cancers in Blacks, and Black patients with melanoma have an estimated five-year melanoma survival rate of 67 percent, versus 92 percent for whites, according to skincancer.org.
Washington said she wanted to help dispel the myths about sun cancer for people of color, who are more likely to not check for the disease until it is too late.
“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.”
She added, “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. 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.”