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Local dermatologists raising awareness of sunscreen laws as new school year approaches

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Published: Jul. 19, 2017 at 8:51 AM EDT
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News 12 NBC 26 News This Morning | Wednesday, July 19, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- We're in the middle of the dog days of summer and that means a lot of time for kids to spend outside using sunscreen. But with the new school season only a few weeks away for most students, keeping them protected from the sun at school isn't as easy as it might seem.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration treats sunscreen the same as many over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen, meaning students must have a doctor's note to bring it to school and can only put it on in the nurse's office. School districts across the country also don't allow students to share sunscreen due to the risk of an allergic reaction.

But the high risk of skin cancer from severe sunburn is the reason why Dr. Jigarkumar Parikh and dermatologists across the country are trying to make it easier for students to bring their own sunscreen with them to school.

"It’s important to protect your skin while enjoying your favorite outdoor activities,” Dr. Parikh says. “If the scorching temperatures we’ve seen so far are any indication, this summer’s going to be a hot one.”

Dr. Parikh, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University, says keeping students safe from the late-summer sun is a big reason for new sunscreen laws. Several medical groups, including the American Academy of Dermatology Association and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery Association, have raised more than $30,000 in state grants to lobby for sunscreen-protection laws.

"I think we've definitely seen an increase in incidents of skin cancers and having these protections," Dr. Parikh says, "and preventive measures should help us to identify the skin cancers at early stage so that they can be treated."

This push began after some school-sponsored events in several states banned sunscreen at after-school activities, which lead to many kids getting a serious sunburn. 13 states have already passed sunscreen protection bills, with four approving in just the past few months. Georgia's legislation drafted a similar sunscreen bill during this year's session but has since stalled in a State House committee.

Dr. Parikh is also raising awareness of keeping student-athletes, particularly those who play football, safe from the sun as the fall sports season approaches. His advice to parents - always keep water and sunscreen packed and ready to go in your child's gym bag just in case.

As for coaches, he suggests enough time out of the sun and away from the heat during outdoor practice to keep kids from getting severely sunburnt. One thing he's noticed in his four years at Augusta University is if a player's shadow is longer than their body, they have a higher chance of getting sunburnt during practice.

He says say skin cancer can hit any person, no matter their skin color or their age.

"Because this is the fall-time, more kids are going to be going back to their schools and will be having a lot sports activities," Dr. Parikh says. "So this is really the biggest time of the year where we need to have this awareness for kids and even younger adults who are going out."

As for the sunscreen itself, he suggests nothing less than SPF 30 for our region and the higher temperature count. Each SPF unit provides ten minutes of skin protection, meaning SPF 15 would provide 150 minutes of protection.

He also suggests checking yourself for moles after an any severe sunburn, but also checking yourself at least once a month. Black and purple moles are a red flag and could be an early sign for a skin-related condition.