Sunscreen Debate

Schools can’t apply without doctor’s note

With sunscreen classified by the Food and Drug Administration as an over-the-counter medication, many schools across the country, including Ohio and West Virginia, require a special doctor’s order to apply it to students. Several states have began to push for loosening restrictions to make it easier to protect children from skin cancer but many parents in both states say they didn’t even realize a doctor’s order was required.

“I don’t think that parents should have to have a doctor’s note for their children to have sunscreen accessible during school,” said Emily Perdue, of Vienna, mother of a 2-year-old. “Sunscreen should be accessible in schools to prevent sunburns. It not only teaches a child to be responsible for their well-being but also is important when they are playing outside when the UV rays are high.”

Rules are similar in many summer program and daycares across the country as well.

According to the American Skin Cancer Foundation, each year, more than 5.4 million cases of melanoma skin cancer are treated in the United States in more than 3.3 million people.

Little Hocking mother Adryanne Garrett, who has a 5-year-old, said she understands the need for parental permission for sunscreen use but thinks the current laws are extreme.

“I think a parent’s note should suffice. I agree people are getting ridiculous with some things, but I am sure someone somewhere has filed or threatened a lawsuit involving sunscreen,” she said. “It does have medical ingredients in it and someone could have a reaction. If a parent provides permission and the teacher applies it at the parent’s request, I would think that would be enough.”

But a doctor’s note is required for students in kindergarten and above locally. Williamstown Elementary School Nurse Terra Yoak said the restriction is frustrating.

“We preach and preach all about how damaging the sun is but can’t use sunscreen unless a doctor’s note is provided,” she said. “If we could just have it ready that would be amazing but I realize that some kids may have allergies to the chemicals in the sunscreen.”

Yoak said that no students this year have brought in sunscreen with a doctor’s note. Same goes for Marietta City Schools’ elementary schools. Marietta City Schools Nurse Tonja Cullen said she agrees with the need for a doctor’s note.

“We try to be as safe as we can. I’ve never had to use it here but if I did, I would follow protocol just like for anything else in the nurse’s office,” she said. “We keep all drugs that students need locked up and document everything that’s used. We would do the same for sunscreen.”

Dr. Shinoj Pattali, an oncologist for the Memorial Health System, said even a 15-minute recess can be damaging to the skin.

“Any amount of time in the sun can be damaging,” he said. “Even if you are exposed for 10 minutes, it still can be damaging, especially to those that aren’t exposed to the sun for long periods of time regularly. Those individuals are more likely to get skin cancer than those who are regularly in the sun.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children should apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors. That can lessen exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun’s rays. Melanoma is the most common type of skin cancer in children, encompassing about 7 percent of all cancers in children ages 15 to 19.

Washington, Arizona, Utah, Oregon, Texas, New York and California have laws in place to allow students to use sunscreen at school with no doctor or parent permission. Rhode Island, Louisiana and Florida are currently considering similar legislation.

“You can really see what some states see as important,” said Val Betkoski, director of nursing for the Washington County Health Department. “For example, in West Virginia children are required to get the hepatitis A vaccine before they go into kindergarten but in Ohio they do not.”

At Parker’s Playhouse and Child Care in Williamstown, owner Jobria McCray said it’s important for several of the children to have sunscreen, especially in the summer.

Day cares are also able to apply the sunscreen after parents have given permission in Ohio, according to state regulations.

“We send home a permission form letting parents know what kind of sunscreen we have,” McCray said.

“We will even use sunscreen in the winter for protection from the sun. Anytime they are outside for more than 15 minutes, we put sunscreen on them.”

Skin cancer facts

¯Each year in the U.S. more than 5.4 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer are treated in more than 3.3 million people.

¯Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.

¯Over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined.

¯One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.

¯Between 40 and 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have either basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma at least once.

¯About 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.

¯The annual cost of treating skin cancers in the U.S. is estimated at $8.1 billion: about $4.8 billion for nonmelanoma skin cancers and $3.3 billion for melanoma.