We want children to be outside and enjoy sunshine when the weather permits. It is crucial for them to get some movement into the school day when they often sit for hours at a table or desk. There is a concern for some students and parents without outside time: exposure to the sun and potential sunburn. While some may not think about this, others do, because children are sensitive to the sun and have come home with sunburns after 30 minutes of recess.
Many may simply think that they should send in sunscreen with their children. The problem is that, in the United States, sunscreen has been labeled an over-the-counter drug by the Food and Drug Administration. This means that for children to bring sunscreen to school, they must have a note from a doctor and bring it to the school nurse to use. Any over the counter medication must have a doctor’s note, and this complicates things for many families. It means getting to their doctor, asking for a note, and making sure it arrives to take it into school. It also means more paperwork and tracking of sunscreen use for school nurses. Families will often skip the process and simply hope that their children won’t get sunburned at recess; however, field trips and afterschool events often involve more sun exposure. If a child does not have a doctor’s note, a teacher may protect their own skin but not that of their students.
The good news is that many states are moving to allow children to use sunscreen in school without a note from a doctor. The first states to remove the ban on sunscreen in school are Texas, New York, California, and Oregon. Additional states that have passed laws in 2017 include Washington, Florida, Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, and Utah. Washington, New York, and Arizona also included laws that allow kids at camp to bring and apply their sunscreen. While not all of the states have laws completed, additional ones like Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania have been working on them. Meanwhile, Georgia had a bill stall when it was introduced, and Mississippi had a bill clear the Senate but die in the House committee.
Teachers and school nurses must be aware of the current state laws. Know what must be on record if a child needs to use sunscreen for recess or to bring it along on a full day field trip. Send home information to families at the start of the school year so they understand their potential responsibility. If a note from a doctor is needed, make sure that children and parents understand how it is to be brought in, stored, and used within the school. Making the law clear from the start will help to put more pressure on states which do not allow sunscreen application at school without a note from a doctor. All of this is necessary to keep children are protected from the sun and allowed to apply their own sunscreen before outdoor time.