The more we learn about the importance of proper skin care and the risks of skin cancer, the more blindingly obvious it becomes that it’s very important to regularly apply sunscreen. But the parents of children in San Antonio’s Northeast Independent School District can’t send the lotion with their kids to school for mid-day self-applications. As KEYE-TV reports:
Christy Riggs is upset. Her 10-year-old-daughter went on a school field trip recently and came back with a sun burn. Riggs says the Northeast Independent School District did not allow her to bring sunscreen with her to reapply.
Riggs says skin cancer runs in her family, in fact, her father recently passed away from it. But, Northeast ISD says sunscreen is considered a medication, and a student would need to bring a doctor’s note in order to have sunscreen at school. “Typically sunscreen is a toxic substance, and we can’t allow toxic things in to be in our schools,” says Northeast ISD spokesperson Aubrey Chancellor. “But when you have a school field trip or a field day which they’re out there for an extended period of time, they should be allowed to carry sunscreen and reapply,” says Riggs.
Chancellor says if parents know their child may be outdoors, they should come to school fully covered in sunscreen. “We have to look at the safety of all of our students and we can’t allow children to share sunscreen, they could possibly have an allergic reaction, they could ingest it, it’s really a dangerous situation,” she says.
“Really a dangerous situation” seems like a bit of an overstatement, in terms of the risks of sunscreen use among students. The idea that students can’t take sunscreen with them on a field trip because their friends might start guzzling it in the back of the bus is pretty much absurd on its face, and while contact dermatitis is a real condition that can occur in a small number of people who are allergic to sunscreen, the symptoms of an outbreak are not particularly severe—it mostly occurs due to soap allergies, and results in an uncomfortable, but temporary, rash that’s accompanied by an itching sensation. In other words, the risks are similar to that of a sunburn, without the risk of skin cancer.
Even if students were pouring tubes of sunscreen down their throats, though, the risks there are usually less severe than the risks that come with long-term overexposure to the sun without protection: According to the NIH, “Sunscreens are generally considered nonpoisonous (nontoxic),” and while medical attention would be called for should someone gorge themselves on the stuff, the same could be true of someone with a severe sunburn.
The school district may mean well (and want to protect itself against, to a degree), but banning sunscreen because kids might eat it is pretty much the definition of “overprotective,” with a fair amount of “short-sighted” thrown in the mix. A kid might get sick if she eats a pencil, but do you ban those, too? Ultimately, if schools want to protect students, it might make sense for them to protect kids by encouraging them to develop lifestyle habits, like regular sunscreen use, that can keep them safe over the years. In the long run, that seems like a healthier solution.