School Sunscreen Bans Questioned After Two Students Hospitalized for Burns
Nationwide regulations that prohibit children from bringing sunscreen to schools and camps are being criticized after two Washington sisters were rushed to the hospital with severe sunburns.
Violet and Zoe Michener, aged 11 and 9, returned home after a five-hour school field trip with painful burns that left the girls crying. The fair-skinned girls, one of whom has a form of albinism, were not allowed to bring sunscreen with them and were not offered it by any of the supervising adults, according to their mother, Jesse Michener.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers sunscreen to be an over-the-counter drug, and most state education departments ban students from bringing any those or prescription drugs to school without a doctor's note. California is the only state to allow students to bring sunscreen and other sun prevention products to school, the result of a lawsuit earlier in the decade.
"Sunscreen application at school seems to be an issue that each individual school district rules on," said Jennifer Allyn of the American Academy of Dermatology. She added that some schools treat skincare products similar to a fragrance, banning them due to student allergies, while others restrict their use as medications.
Similar guidelines are in place for other over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, such as lip balm, cough drops and antibiotic ointment. Policies vary depending on state and school district, but almost all have some regulations on the personal care products, which also prevent adults from administering anything to the children without prior parental consent.
Schools are also hesitant to apply sunscreen to children amid fears of molestation accusations. Last year, a Maryland law attempted to address this by making it illegal for counselors or campers to aid one another in applying sunscreen. The law was later amended to allow employees to apply sunscreen with a parent's permission.
Following the news of the Michener sisters, some states and lawmakers are taking steps to change laws they consider to be overprotective or misguided. Sen. Michael Gianaris of New York has proposed rewriting the Education Department's guidelines to allow students access to sunscreen if they have a note from a parent, as opposed to a doctor. Jesse Michener said that school officials in Washington state promised to change their policies by the fall.
Related story: New Sunscreen Labeling Regulations Delayed Until December
Kyle A. Richardson is the editorial director of Promo Marketing. He joined the company in 2006 brings more than a decade of publishing, marketing and media experience to the magazine. If you see him, buy him a drink.