Sunscreen and Roadblocks in Schools?

I can’t imagine anyone even pondering the idea of sunscreen being something that would be banned or strictly regulated anywhere, let alone in schools.  However, surprisingly enough, a recent article in The Wall Street Journal highlighted a problem with many schools not allowing sunscreen use because the FDA considers it over-the-counter medication.

Even in schools where the basics of sun protection are taught in conjunction with a curriculum developed by the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, many don’t allow students to bring sunscreen to school without a note from a doctor or their parents.  These same schools also won’t allow students to apply it themselves without taking a trip to the school nurse’s office first.

Because of this roadblock in the implementation of an arguably vital and potentially life-saving health habit, many states have passed laws that require schools to allow students to bring in and apply sunscreen.  Maine was not listed among the states that had passed or were considering this type of legislation, but I would certainly argue that this law is simply common sense.

Skin cancers of all varieties are the most common form of cancer.  Five or more sunburns in your lifetime increases your risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 80%, and non-melanoma skin cancer by 69%.

We also are exposed to 23% of our lifetime sun by the age of 18.  In other skin cancer prone countries such as Australia, sunscreen use in schools is mandatory as are wearing hats during recess.

Learning about sunscreen should be a basic health habit taught early on, like washing hands and covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing.  While there may be concerns by some about the chemicals in sunscreens or possible allergies, I would also argue that sunscreen use does not have to be mandatory, although the benefits of teaching it should be.

I would also advocate that students should be free to use their own sunscreen and be encouraged to do so.  There are several companies that are willing to provide the children’s version of their sunscreens to schools that include sunscreen use in their health curriculum.

I will do more research on the status of sunscreen use in Maine schools, although I have heard that parental or doctor’s notes are actually required in the local schools in this area.  To me as a skin care and health professional, I find that fact disappointing, although I realize that the schools frequently operate with an abundance of caution to avoid violating state and federal rules.

The Wall Street Journal article concluded by noting a very cute reference to a school in Texas that taught their students to apply their sunscreen thoroughly by doing it while singing a song to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine”: “This is our sunscreen, our special sunscreen. It keeps our skin safe when we go play.”   From the mouths of babes . . .

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