When Dr. Ana Duarte became aware of a policy in many schools that bans students from putting sunscreen on themselves without a doctor’s note, she couldn’t believe it.
The only two states that allow students to apply their own sunscreen during the school day are California and New York. All other 48 states have some type of restriction: not allowing teachers, faculty or staff to apply sunscreen to children because of potential allergic reactions; only allowing the school nurse to apply sunscreen to children; or banning sunscreen use during school hours altogether.
“I was like, ‘What?’ ’’ said Duarte, division director of dermatology for Miami Children’s Hospital and founder and president of the Children’s Skin Center, P.A. “It is not a prescription medication, so to have to have a doctor’s note is not really practical.”
The American Medical Association adopted a resolution in June that “supports the exemption of sunscreen from over-the-counter medication possession bans in schools and encourages all schools to allow students to bring and possess sunscreen without restriction.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just a few serious sunburns can increase a child’s risk of skin cancer. The CDC encourages children to stay in the shade as much as possible, wear protective clothing such as hats and sunglasses and, most importantly, wear sunscreen.
Motivated to help spread the word, Duarte became a consultant to the makers of Coppertone and its Making the Sunscreen Grade campaign, which raises awareness of sun protection during the school year. The campaign provides a downloadable letter that parents can print out to get the conversation started in schools about the need for a sun protection policy.
“In the state of Florida, the Sunshine State, it would be great for our kids to be adequately protected throughout the school year,” Duarte said. “Right now in most states, every district has its own policy of what they will allow, so the main thing is to find out what the issues are because a lot of parents don’t know about it or they assume it is OK.”
The Food and Drug Administration released new rules governing sunscreen labeling, which have been in effect since December. Now, sunscreens must pass a “broad spectrum” test, which measures a product’s protection from ultraviolet A and B rays.
Sunscreens are not able to reduce the risk of skin cancer unless they are considered broad spectrum with an SPF value of 15 or higher. Sunscreens with an SPF from 2 to 14 can claim to help prevent sunburn, but not skin cancer. The FDA also states that sunscreen manufacturers cannot claim to be waterproof or sweatproof because it “overstates their effectiveness.” And when it comes to sunscreen being water resistant, the front label must state whether the sunscreen is effective for 40 or 80 minutes.
“I tell my patients that they need to reapply sunscreen every two hours at a minimum, or more frequently, especially if sweating too much or swimming,” Duarte said.
Sunscreen containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide is considered a “sunblock,” that is, it works instantly and acts as a shield against the sun. Other sunscreens need to be applied at least 20 minutes before sun exposure.