Could the Next Public Utility Be Free Sunscreen?

Skin cancer is on the rise even though it’s easily preventable. Miami, Florida is trying to do something about it.

By Jacqui DevaneyJuly 16, 2015 3:37 pm

Summer in Texas means one thing: it’s hot. For most families, it also means trips to the pool or the beach on days when temperatures could reach well over 100 degrees. What follows are days and days of nursing your miserable, beet-red sunburns.

The sunburn may be a relatively fleeting pain, but this year 74,000 people in the U. S. will be diagnosed with melanoma, the most severe and preventable type of skin cancer. With numbers like that, it’s becoming a public health issue. Just like water and hand sanitizer, should we make sunscreen free? The Standard’s David Brown talks with Dr. James Hamblin, a medical professional and senior editor at The Atlantic.

“The Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach has partnered with the city and has put up right now 50 dispensers of free sunscreen for people to take,” Hamblin says. “They’re in public spaces; some are on the beach, some are in parks. They’re erected on sign posts and people can come get some SPF 30 broad spectrum sunscreen and lather up.”

Hamblin says it’s cheaper to pay for sunscreen than medical bills. It costs money either way, he says, so the question on the table is at what point do we need a public health intervention?

But sunscreen isn’t perfect, he says. “The best it can do is help. If you stay out an extra hour or two hours just because you’re wearing sunscreen… or worst case you wear a little bit of sunscreen but didn’t apply it right… you can actually end up worse off,” he says.