My 5-year-old has what we like to call "sensitive skin." It's lily-white, soft, and so translucent, it nearly glows. She has a scar on her forehead that needs extra care. And after 15 minutes of recess without sunscreen, she's as red as lobster.
My daughter puts on her own sunscreen in the morning, but in order to be effective, it has to be reapplied. But here's the issue: My daughter is not allowed to bring sunscreen to school.
Sunscreen is prohibited at our New York school, as it's considered a drug.
I had to get a doctor's note in order to send it with my daughter so she could apply it before recess. She has to go to the nurse's office to have it applied, eating into her precious play time. Her playground at school is in full sun, and they play at 12:30, when the sun is at its peak strength. Without her sunscreen, she'd be coming home with a sunburn every day. Her school runs until the last week of June.
At school, kids learn about brushing their teeth, eating well, and exercising, but sun protection rarely makes an appearance. Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for people in their 20s, and the damage, which is entirely preventable, typically occurs during childhood.
I recently attended a lecture by Dr. Ellen Marmur, a leading dermatologist, and Dr. Anna Pavlick, Director of NYU's Melanoma Program. Here are a few of Dr. Pavlick's startling statistics:
• 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
• Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer
• Cancer risk doubles if someone has had more than 5 sunburns.
• One or more blistering sunburns during childhood doubles melanoma risk.
So how do we protect our children? How do we start the education process? We need to bring sun protection into the spotlight, both at home and at school. Let's get our teachers, camp counselors and caregivers involved in this mission. Everyday is a day to wear sunscreen. UV penetration occurs anytime the sun hits your skin, whether inside or on a cloudy day.
We don't have to reinvent the wheel. Australia is forging ahead when it comes to sun safety and their Sunsmart policies are a perfect model. In Australia, a school must meet the following guidelines to receive their Sunsmart certification:
• They must have a written sun protection policy meeting minimum standards relating to curriculum, behavior and the environment.
• They must be working to increase shade.
• They must minimize outdoor activities during peak UV periods of the year.
• They must teach, model and reinforce positive sun protection behavior.
• They must agree to undertake periodic policy reviews with its state Cancer Council and update their policy accordingly to meet SunSmart standards.
California is the only state to have a law allowing sunscreen at school without a doctor's notice or prescription. Each school site may set a policy related to the use of sunscreen during the school day. How is it that only one state has this education code?
It's clear that prevention is key, and it starts both at home and at school. The tools are there, and we just need to know how to use them. As parents, we have the opportunity to protect our children from sun damage and cancer. Let's make it happen!