Kerry Washington on 'Addressing the Myths' About Safe Sun in the Black Community: 'Skin Cancer Doesn't Discriminate'
Kerry Washington is shining a spotlight on the importance of sun safety in her latest project.
The Scandal actress, 44, appeared on Thursday's episode of the PEOPLE Every Day podcast and spoke to host Janine Rubenstein about her new documentary In the Sun, which highlights seven families who face the consequences of spending too much time in the sun.
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.
One common refrain she heard 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.
She did, however, have to give sun protection more thought when she began filming Scandal. "There would be some times where we would [leave] for Christmas break in the middle of an episode for Scandal," she said. "And they'd be like, 'Don't come back three shades darker, because we're in the middle of this episode.' You can't be jumping skin color from one scene to the next!"
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 skincancer.org, 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.
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For Washington, making sure that her message reached a diverse group of people was a priority for her.
"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."
With a newfound awareness of sun safety, Washington said she often uses SPF spray products from Neutrogena on both herself and her family to keep them safe outside.
"It's vital that we put sunscreen on our kids," says Washington, who shares daughter Isabelle Amarachi, 7, and son Caleb Kelechi, 4, with husband Nnamdi Asomugha. "But one of the most important things we can do as moms, as parents in general, is to put sunscreen on ourselves. That is the thing: When kids see us apply our own sun protection, they are more likely to allow us to apply sun protection, because we're living in the reality that it's a priority."
"So that example of behavior is one of the most important things you can do for your kid, because it really says, 'I know this is important for me. I know it's important for you," she adds. "Kids are more likely to be lifelong SPF users when we do that."
In the Sun is available now on-demand.
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