‘Safe in the sun’: New sunscreen dispensers placed around UT Austin

Gracie Awalt

Students toasting under the sun’s rays next to the Gregory Gym Aquatic Complex for hours on end now have the option of using free sunscreen provided by the University to prevent the development of skin cancer.  

University Health Services and UT Recreational Sports placed six new sunscreen dispensers at Gregory Gym, the Gregory Gym Aquatic Complex, Whitaker Courts, Caven-Clark Field and Wright-Whitaker Sports Complex. One more dispenser will soon be placed near the newly constructed Student Activity Center patio.

Data collected by the National College Health Assessment at UT in 2016 was a motivational factor in initiating plans for the new dispensers. The data showed over half of students reported not using sunscreen regularly, and around 35 percent of students reported tanning outdoors regularly, which is considered a risky behavior.

“We heard from students that sunscreen often is not something you think about until you didn’t use it and have that sunburn, feeling the pain,” said Brittany O’Malley, manager of the Office of Health Promotion. “My hope is if you use the sunscreen and don’t have that sunburn, you realize that (it) was easy and it worked and it was free, and maybe that will lead to more consistent use outside of where the dispensers are.”

O’Malley said the office worked with students to determine where to put these dispensers. After receiving funding from the Student Services Funding Committee, they installed them with the help of Recreational Sports, which is responsible for refilling the dispensers.

“We had one dispenser that had been used enough that we thought it might be broken, so we had to address that problem,” O’Malley said. “That could be seen as a bad thing, but to me it’s good because we know people are using the dispensers.”

Adewole Adamson, assistant professor of dermatology at Dell Medical School, said frequent unprotected sun exposure can lead to three types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, which is potentially deadly. He said more young women are developing melanoma from using tanning beds and tanning outside. 

“Getting sunburns early on in life, like folks who are in their late teens (or) early 20s, can then lead to the development of skin cancers much later,” Adamson said. “Cancer doesn’t have to appear in the next five years, because it can be 20 years down the road. It’s important for teenagers to be safe in the sun, so it’s really awesome that they’re putting out these dispensers for people to use.”

The dispensers contain water-resistant and sweat-resistant SPF 30 sunscreen, which blocks 97 percent of ultraviolet radiation. Adamson recommends wearing sunscreen every day on exposed parts of the body and reapplying twice a day.  

Architecture graduate student Grace Esslinger, who runs on Clark Field between classes, said she is aware of the importance of sunscreen and tries to stay safe outdoors.  

“So much of my life is indoors, so when I exercise I try to do something outdoors every once in awhile,” Esslinger said. “I usually wear sunscreen, wear a hat and carry an umbrella. I will definitely use the sunscreen dispensers when I see them.”