Schools Can Help Prevent Skin Cancer

Schools can play an important part in protecting children and teens from sun exposure that can lead to skin cancer in the future.

Schools and child care centers can help lower students’ risk of getting skin cancer by—

  • Allowing students to use sun protection, such as sunscreen and hats.
  • Providing shade and avoiding outdoor activities during peak sunlight hours.
  • Teaching students about sun safety.

According to CDC’s School Health Policies and Practices Study, few schools take these steps to help prevent skin cancer. In 2012, most states and school districts did not have sun safety policies, like allowing students to apply sunscreen or avoiding outdoor activities at the hottest times of the day. Also in 2012, most school districts did not recommend or require sun-safety strategies—like wearing long-sleeved shirts or long pants, hats or visors, or sunglasses when in the sun—for their students. In 2014, almost half of schools allowed students to apply sunscreen, and two-thirds taught students about sun safety or skin cancer prevention.

Some schools prevent students from taking steps to protect themselves from the sun. For example, about 8% of schools prohibited students from wearing hats or visors, and about 7% of schools prohibited students from wearing sunglasses when in the sun during the school day. Also, some school policies prohibited students from using sunscreen or required a school nurse to apply it. Previous research found that nearly half of schools required a doctor’s prescription for staff to apply sunscreen to students.

What Can Be Done to Promote Sun Safety in Schools?

Parents and parent organizations can help change school policies to allow students to use sunscreen and wear hats and protective clothing when in the sun during the school day. They can also encourage schools to provide shade in outdoor activity areas, and teach students how to lower their risk of getting skin cancer.

Health care professionals, including dermatologists, can educate school boards and policy makers about the importance of school policies and programs that support sun safety.


Guy GP Jr, Holman DM, Watson M. The important role of schools in the prevention of skin cancer.external icon JAMA Dermatology 2016.