Sunscreen Ban Leaves Students Severely Burned
June 25, 2012

Sunscreen Ban Leaves Students Severely Burned

Lawrence LeBlond for

Two young, fair-skinned sisters who were not allowed to wear sunscreen during field day at their Tacoma, Washington-area school were so severely sunburned that they had to be taken to Tacoma General Hospital for treatment.

Jesse Michener said she was horrified when her two daughters, Violet, 11, and Zoe, 9, came home from school last Tuesday (June 19) with severe burns after spending more than five hours outdoors with no protection, according to her blog post.

She said she hadn´t put sunscreen on the girls that morning before school because it had been raining. But when the sun came out and the girls later asked for sunscreen, their school wouldn´t allow it because of a little known state law that considers sunscreen a medication, and therefore, is banned in the schools.

Currently, all states except California have laws in place that do not allow sunscreen to be carried to school because -- despite the fact that it is freely available on store shelves -- it is deemed a prescription medication, reports ABC News.

Sunscreens are currently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an over-the-counter drug.

While the two girls are fair-skinned, Zoe has it worse due to a form of albinism that makes her even more sun-sensitive. Michener noted that the school knew that Zoe, in particular, was more sensitive to the sun than normal kids. Even if Michener had applied the sunscreen that morning, doctors recommend that it should be reapplied every 2 to 3 hours to protect against the sun´s damaging ultraviolet rays.

“They couldn´t even reapply sunscreen without a doctor´s note. They couldn´t carry that in their backpacks,” she  told ABC News reporter Tanya Rivero.

What was even more infuriating for Michener was the fact that teachers, staff, and other parents noticed and made comments about her daughters´ burns but did nothing to help.

“One of my children remarked that their teacher used sunscreen in her presence and that it was ℠just for her´,” Michener wrote on her blog. “At the very least, a hat might have protected the girls, but, alas, hats are not allowed at school, even on field day.”

“While I can sort of wrap my brain around this in theory, the practice of a blanket policy which clearly allows for students to be put in harm´s way is deeply flawed,” she wrote.

Both girls were out sick from school on Wednesday, as a result of the severe burning, according to Michener.

Dan Voelpel, a spokesman for Tacoma Public School, said the policy forbids teachers from applying sunscreen to students for liability reasons. And children cannot apply it themselves unless they have a doctor´s note allowing them to have it on hand, he added.

“Because so many additives in lotions and sunscreens cause an allergic reaction in some children, we have to really monitor that,” Voelpel told ABC News.

Since the incident, Michener has taken it upon herself to raise awareness about school policies forbidding the use of sunscreen. In doing so, she has seen some success, receiving a call from the director of Elementary Education in Tacoma Public Schools informing her of a new law passed allowing individual districts to decide for themselves what is allowed and what is not.

With summer camp and daycare now on the horizon, children will be much more exposed to midday sun and that has doctors very concerned.

“Having a sunburn in childhood dramatically increases your risk of skin cancer later in life,” said dermatologist Doris Day, who notes that sunscreen allergy concerns do not justify a ban, as allergic reactions are quite rare.

“I can´t see any justification for any school to tell a child that they are not allowed to apply sunscreen,” she added.

When asked by the Huffington Post on Friday the condition of her daughters, Michener said: “They will heal this week, but long term effects are yet to be seen.”