How many times have you taken your kids to the park only to realize you forgot sunscreen? Now it won’t be a problem if you’re visiting one of eight city parks that started to feature free sunscreen dispensers.
City Councilman Dan Gilman partnered with Sun Smart Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization led by Dr. Christie Regula and Dr. Justin Vujevich, dermatologists who first donated a sunscreen dispenser in Mt. Lebanon’s Main Park. They have since expanded Sun Smart into the following areas:
- Mt. Lebanon Main Park near the lower playground
- Along the Montour Trail
- Fayette County Fair
- Schenley Oval near the restroom
- Anderson playground
- Frick Park near the tennis courts and the ball field concessions stand
- Blue Slide playground
- Highland Park between the pool and the lake
- Riverview Park Activities Building playground
- Brookline Center playground
- Mellon Park playground.
Regular and Vujevich say they are passionate about sunscreen as a public health initiative because over 8,500 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each day, making it the most common type of cancer in the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The ADA states that rates of melanoma, the most fatal form of skin cancer, have doubled since 1982. Experts say that daily application of a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher can prevent the contraction of skin cancer; a 2010 study found it cuts the risk in half.
Each dispenser contains 1,000 squirts worth of a zinc-based sunblock with broad-spectrum, SPF 30 protection. The zinc makes it a combined physical and chemical block.
“The sunscreen does not contain any of the most common sunscreen allergens. This is very helpful for kids who might have allergies,” says Dr. Regula, who also notes that the sunscreen is water-resistant.
Gilman says he’s excited by the partnership with Sun Smart Pittsburgh, which provides both the sunscreen and the dispensers while city public works employees provide the labor to install and maintain them.
“I’ve spent my entire life being reminded of the need to constantly wear sunscreen,” Gilman says. “I wanted this opportunity for our city residents to protect themselves, and we hope to expand to ball fields, pools, and other sunny places where people gather.”
The dispensers are placed in carefully selected, shaded locations in the parks to protect the sunscreen from the heat, Regula says. The dispensers are brightly labeled to educate people about the dangers of skin cancer; according to Regula, people get most of their sun exposure before the age of 30 and the effects of sunburn are cumulative over a lifetime.
“The use of sunscreen, for kids especially, prevents sun damage down the line,” she says, emphasizing that people really need to use much more sunscreen than they think. “An adult needs to apply about as much as a shot glass full,” she says, reminding us that sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours.
Public sunscreen dispensers are already a growing trend in cities including New York City and Boston.
While some people have mistaken the sunscreen dispensers for hand sanitizer stations, Gilman is hopeful Pittsburghers will start looking for the stations and using them frequently.
Brookline mom Kara Kernan joins in the chorus of support for the initiative, remembering how she once forgot to bring sunscreen to a Pirates game and had to buy some for her family.
“Sunburns are incredibly painful,” Kernan says. “I think these dispensers are ingenious.”