Tacoma, WA (written by Kim Painter/USA Today) -- When you send a kid to school or camp, you worry about lots of stuff, from bullies to bus accidents. But unauthorized sunscreen use?
It turns out that many schools and camps do that worrying for you, with policies that ban kids from carrying sunscreen without a doctor's note and warn staffers not to dispense it.
Such policies are are getting new scrutiny this week, thanks to Jesse Michener, a Tacoma, Wash., mom who was horrified to see her two daughters return from a school field day with severe sunburns.
The girls have extremely fair skin and none of the adults at the event offered them sunscreen -- or shade, for that matter -- as a rainy day turned sunny, Michener wrote in a blog post. The policy that forbids sunscreen use at their school already is under review and will be changed by fall, school officials say.
But why do such rules exist in the first place? They typically stem from policies that stop kids from bringing any drug -- including non-prescription drugs -- to school, says Jeff Ashley, a California dermatologist who leads an advocacy group called Sun Safety for Kids. Sunscreens are regulated as over-the-counter drugs, so many districts treat them like aspirin or allergy pills, just to be safe, he says. Ashley helped get California to pass laws that say kids have a right to bring sunscreen, hats and other sun-safety gear to school. That was a decade ago, but as far as he knows, no other state has done the same.
So there's a mish-mash of policies. "Basically, sunscreen application at school seems to be an issue that each individual school district rules on," says Jennifer Allyn, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology. "Some treat sunscreen as they would any other fragrance-type product, and forbid their use to avoid allergic reactions. Others require a doctor's note and others treat sunscreen like something as basic as Chapstick."
Some states, including New York, try to get all schools and camps to follow the same rules - but those rules often are interpreted differently by different schools and camps.
Allergy concerns were behind the Tacoma policy, a district representative told ABC News. But Ashley says such fears are overblown: "Sunscreen allergies are no more common than allergies to soap," he says. "Are schools going to take soap out of their bathrooms?"
Another common concern: Adults will get in trouble for inappropriately touching kids if they help youngsters apply sunscreen. That was the issue in Maryland in summer 2011, when the state enforced, then repealed, a rule forbidding camp staffers or even other kids from slathering lotion on campers. Under the revised rule, it's OK as long as parents say it is.
Michener says her daughters also were forbidden to bring hats to school. That's another common policy, Ashley says. "Schools will tell you hats can be signs of gang affiliation... the other thing they say is that boys that wear hats are more unruly." Some schools in California have avoided those pitfalls, he says, by selling or supplying identical sun-safety hats and only allowing kids to wear them outside.