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Many Schools Still Don't Allow Kids to Use Sunscreen

Photograph by Twenty20

If you're planning to send your kids to school or on an outdoor field trip with some sunscreen, you might want to check your state's laws. Because depending on where you live, students may need a doctor's note just to bring a tube of sunscreen to school.

The Pew Charitable Trusts' Stateline reports that in Indianapolis, for example, where kids return to school at the height of summer on July 31, they must have a doctor's note to bring sunscreen to school and visit the school nurse to have it applied. In many states, school employees also aren't allowed to offer sunscreen to their students.

One Washington mom's outrage made headlines a few years ago when her daughters, who have a form of albinism, came home from a field day and were so sunburned that the mom rushed them to the hospital. The tweens were not allowed to reapply sunscreen without a doctor's note.

Thanks to the push of parents and state lawmakers, Washington and five other states—Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana and Utah—have all changed their policies within the past four months, declaring that students may use sunscreen in school and after-school activities without a doctor's note. They now join New York, Oregon, Texas and California, the first state to lift the ban in 2002.

OK, Why is there even a ban on the first place?

Sunscreens, as well as ibuprofen, cough medicine and some allergy medications, are considered over-the-counter drugs by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so they're treated like medicines at schools and require a doctor's note. Those supporting strict sunscreen regulations say some ingredients in the products can cause allergic reactions in other students.

Diane Kowal, president of the Rhode Island Certified School Nurse Teachers Association, tells Stateline that two children in her Coventry school district carry EpiPens because of sunscreen allergies, though doctors say serious allergy risks are unlikely.

“We’re not against sunscreen,’’ Kowal said about a Rhode Island proposal that allows students to bring sunscreen into schools with a doctor's note. “There just needs to be language to protect everyone, from the person putting it on to the kids sharing it.”

What are the benefits of allowing kids to apply sunscreen at school themselves and without doctor's notes?

"The kids are impatient. They’ve got 20 minutes. They’re not going to stand in line for 20 minutes" for a nurse to apply sunscreen, says Rhode Island Rep. David Bennett, who's sponsoring the Rhode Island bill.

Lawmakers also argue that schools should not interfere with parents' decision to protect their child.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association and American Society for Dermatologic Surgery Association are also pushing for similar sunscreen legislation, emphasizing that sunscreen can help prevent skin cancer. One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence can more than double that person's changes of developing potentially deadly melanoma later in life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges parents to advocate for sun safety policies and practices. Kids should use sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection every time they go outside.

"Unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun’s UV rays in as little as 15 minutes. Yet it can take up to 12 hours for skin to show the full effect of sun exposure," the CDC warns.

Now, as to which sunscreen your kid should use, here's a handy list of the 14 worst sunscreens and the 19 safest sunscreens. You're welcome.

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