Expanding sunscreen dispenser program would protect students

Abby Springs

It’s finally summer, and you decide to spend some time studying for midterms on South Mall in the warm sun. Hours spent pouring over textbooks and class notes make you feel like your brain cells are dying. What you can’t feel are your skin cells — which actually are dying. 

In 2017, less than half of UT students reported using sunscreen regularly with sun exposure. This number may be even lower for daily use, as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported fewer than 15% of men and 30% of women use sunscreen regularly when outside for more than one hour. 

Sun exposure doesn’t just mean sunbathing or spending hours outdoors. According to Dayna Diven, professor of dermatology at the Dell Medical School, sun damage to cells can occur right away. 

“We get most of our sun exposure incidentally,” Diven said. “In Texas, we just have year-round sun, so we get a lot of sun exposure.”

Students spend time outdoors walking to class, studying or playing sports, putting them at increased risk of skin damage. Sun exposure may not always result in a sunburn, but it can still have long-term, negative effects for all skin types. Damage includes photoaging, wrinkles, freckling, discoloration and even skin cancer. As a result, Diven recommends wearing sunscreen every day.

“I get up in the morning and put on sunscreen because, chances are, I’m going to go outside,” Diven said. “If I’m going to work, I’ll put it on my face, neck, hands and wrists. We need sunscreen even if we’re just going to our car and driving somewhere.”

Last fall, University Health Services, Recreational Sports and University Unions worked together to place sunscreen dispensers at Gregory Gym, the Gregory Gym Aquatic Complex, Whitaker Courts, Caven-Clark Field, Wright-Whitaker Sports Complex and the SAC. 

“We were able to get enough funding for six dispensers, and those have all been installed around campus,” said Brittany O’Malley, assistant director for prevention at the Longhorn Wellness Center. “My impression is that the sunscreen dispensers are being used a lot.”

Installing these six sunscreen dispensers at athletic facilities was an important step in ensuring students who spend prolonged time outdoors can easily access skin protection. However, to protect students who experience daily, short-term sun exposure, UT should expand the program to residence halls and high-traffic campus areas. 

“I definitely believe more should be added on campus,” biology freshman Lilly Stoppa said. Stoppa said while she grew up with the habit of wearing sunscreen, most of her friends don’t use it regularly. 

“I don’t think it’s on their mind,” Stoppa said. “They have other things that are more immediately important. It’s also easier to forget or not be conscious of it if they don’t get sunburned.”

Stoppa also believes students may not be educated enough on the importance of sunscreen.

“I feel like skincare when it comes to the sun is overlooked, so having more public dispensers would be a convenient reminder,” Stoppa said. 

The Student Services Budget Committee, along with other departments, currently fund the sunscreen dispenser program. Next year, the committee should allot more funds to expand the sunscreen dispenser program and increase student awareness about sun exposure.

In an ideal world, students would include sunscreen in their morning routines. Unfortunately, the numbers show that this just isn’t the case. UT should help fill in the gap to protect students when they step outdoors.

Springs is a government sophomore from Dallas.