skin cancer


Note From A Civilized City: Boston Parks To Offer Dispensers Of Free Sunscreen

Got sunscreen? A sunbather on the Boston Common, one of the city parks that will offer free dispensers of free sunscreen. (Alonso Javier Torres/ Flickr Creative Commons)

Got sunscreen? A sunbather on the Boston Common, one of the city parks that will offer dispensers of free sunscreen. (Alonso Javier Torres/ Flickr Creative Commons)

In winter, season of germs, we can turn for a squirt of protection to the multitudes of handy sanitizer dispensers that have cropped up everywhere over the last few years, from gyms to workplaces to public buildings.

And in summer, when the blue skies raise the risk of skin cancer, we here in the civilized city of Boston will now be able to turn to 30 dispensers of free sunscreen that are being installed in the central Boston Common and four other popular parks. They’re expected to be up by July 1.

“Skin cancer and melanoma are among the most prevalent cancers and they’re also among the most preventable,” says Matt O’Malley, the Boston city councilor who proposed the sunscreen initiative in April.

“So what we are doing in Boston is, we’re offering a service, we’re promoting public health and we’re reminding folks of the importance of sunscreen — at no cost to the taxpayer. It’s an incredibly wonderful initiative and I look forward to seeing it spreading across the country much like the way my freckles spread every summer.”

The dispensers being installed in Boston parks (Courtesy of the Melanoma Foundation of New England)

The dispensers being installed in Boston parks (Courtesy Melanoma Foundation of New England)

The idea for dispensers sprang, he says, from a medical student who argued that installing them was a growing practice, including at Hershey Park in Pennsylvania. But no major city has adopted it as a citywide initiative, O’Malley says — until now.

If the pilot project with 30 initial sunscreen dispensers works out well, he says, the plan is to extend the dispensers to all the city’s playgrounds and parks — more than 200 of them.

The dispensers cost between $100 and $200, O’Malley says, so the ultimate price tag could be close to $50,000 — but not to the taxpayers. The dispensers are a public-private partnership including the Melanoma Foundation of New England and Make Big Change, both organizations that fight skin cancer. The foundation is covering the cost of the dispensers, according to a press release, and Making Big Change provides the dispenser units; it has also been placing them in New Hampshire beaches and parks.

So how might Bostonians respond to the new dispensers? Continue reading


What The Sun Can Do To You — Even Through Glass

A truck driver featured in The New England Journal of Medicine

A truck driver featured in The New England Journal of Medicine ©2012. The NEJM asks that there be no resale of this image or use of the image by a commercial agency.

“Wow,” I said as it slowly dawned on me what I was seeing. This case appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine in April, but now that summer’s truly kicking in, this is the time to send it around to all the people you care about enough to remind them to wear sunscreen.

The man in the picture had been a delivery truck driver for 28 years, according to The New England Journal of Medicine case study. The journal calls his condition “unilateral dermatoheliosis,” which I would translate as “The sun has fried the side of his face that was next to the truck window.”

The explanation from doctors Jennifer R.S. Gordon and Joaquin C. Brieva of Northwestern University: “Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays transmit through window glass, penetrating the epidermis and upper layers of dermis. Chronic UVA exposure can result in thickening of the epidermis and stratum corneum, as well as destruction of elastic fibers.”

The prescription: “The use of sun protection and topical retinoids and periodic monitoring for skin cancer were recommended for the patient.”

(Hat-tip to Boston University School of Public Health and

FDA Issues New Rules On Marketing Sunscreen — After 33 Years

I remember my grandmother sitting on the boardwalk in Brighton Beach, holding up one of those cardboard reflectors trying to get a nice tan. I tried to explain those reflectors to my kids, but they didn’t really get it. Every morning these days, they stand, dutifully, arms and legs apart, waiting for the morning sunscreen ritual.

Now, just as their summer vacation begins, the FDA has issued new rules on marketing sunscreens to help consumers figure out which products are most effective. Notably, in order to now claim “broad spectrum” coverage, sunscreens must protect against both UVA and UVB radiation.

The New York Times notes that the FDA has been considering these sunscreen rules, “since 1978, when “Boogie Oogie Oogie” was a hit on the radio and most beach lotions were intended to encourage tanning, not protect against it. But federal regulators said they had yet to decide whether to end an SPF arms race in which manufacturers are introducing sunscreens with SPF numbers of 70, 80 and 100 even though such lotions offer little more protection than those with an SPF of 50.”

From the FDA’s web site, here’s why the rules (which will take effect next year) are being changed:

FDA is making changes to how sunscreens are marketed in the United States as part of the Agency’s ongoing efforts to ensure that sunscreens meet modern-day standards for safety and effectiveness and help consumers have the information they need so they can choose the right sun protection for themselves and their families. Prior rules on sunscreens dealt almost exclusively with protection against only ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation from the sun, and did not address skin cancer and early skin aging caused by ultraviolet A (UVA) rays. Continue reading