White People, Melanin & Skin Cancer #PettyPatty


This week a coworker and I, on our scheduled  daily walk, went over our vitamin supplements and deficiencies. One of mine, like many other Black women, is Vitamin D. I am told this is due to the melanin and how my brown skin absorbs and processes Vitamin D. Also, I live in Detroit and Lansing, two of the cloudiest places in the country, no bs.

He began to tell me that Black people are in the “dark” about their susceptibility to skin cancer caused by UVA and UVB rays. He said many Black people think they don’t need to use sunscreen and this puts them at greater risk for skin cancer. Side note: White people this isn’t racism but a racial micro-aggression. Professing to know and assess the demographics of a culture you don’t belong to without proper study is ignorance that Black people are plagued with in this country. Carrying on, I asked where he acquired this great knowledge about Black people, just in case I would be putting my foot in my mouth with my subjective counterarguments.

“Where did you learn this?”

“Dr. Phil.”

“A TV show?…… A white man?”

“Haha, well yeah, ok, but everyone can get skin cancer.”

“That means the majority of the world should be plagued with skin cancer. All of the people in East and Southeast Asia, Africa, Central and South America… why are they not screaming of skin cancer epidemics? I don’t doubt there are cases but no where near as many white cases. I doubt the risk is as high, melanin reduces absorption of UVA and UVB rays. It’s why I have a Vitamin D deficiency.  It’s wonderful to have Melanin!” – Said with the smirkiest smile.

I assured him that Dr. Phil was probably not the best source of information for medical studies on melanin rich skin.

I went further by saying it’s a defense mechanism we earned long ago from our African Ancestry and that more than likely his Scandinavian or Caucasian ancestors didn’t develop this due to their migration from the Motherland. I have no formal anthropological or medical education on people or melanin but my knowledge of self and common sense leads me in the right direction. It’s hard to imagine, by any reasoning, that people rooting from the sunniest places on earth are more susceptible to a skin disease caused by the sun. My reasoning in more recent history is slavery and how brown skin people worked fields for hours each day. My reasoning in far history is how would we have survived and why would melanin be the dominant gene if it didn’t have the superpower of protecting us from the sun.

I then think of all of the natural resources that people have used creatively. I’m sure Shea, Coconut and Olive oils, clays, herbs and muds did and do the job of protecting and nourishing melanin rich skin of those who don’t have “oxybenzoneavobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide” at their fingertips. Because I’m a #PettyPatty and believe in facts based on research I did some digging. I found several reviewed and published studies to substantiate my arguments. All the words in green/blue reference the links to each study and summary.

The study I place the highest trust in, listed on the NIH website, concluded that

Since the 1960s, incidences in BCC, SCC and melanoma among predominantly white populations have increased at a rate of 5% to 8% annually (125127). In contrast, the incidence of skin cancer has remained relatively constant in Blacks….

… But in terms of skin cancer risk, the protection is 500-1000 (6668) indicating that highly pigmented skin is profoundly protected from carcinogenesis.

melanin is definitely a defense mechanism that protects against UVA/UVB rays thru many layers of human skin but we should still take precautions to protect our skin.

Having melanin rich skin, although many would argue I am on the lighter end of the blackness scale, gives me some protection. I do wear sunscreen, even though my eczema begs me not to, on my face during midday summer runs but I’ve gone more days without than with. I also drink, used to smoke, drive on I-696 at 5:30 on a Tuesday and love roller coasters so if the Sun is my worry I’ll take my chances, I have built in protection.


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