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Most Schools Can Do More to Help Students Stay Sun Safe

Getting too much sun may make it more likely for people of all races and ethnicities to get skin cancer at some time in their lives. There are many ways to reduce the amount of sunlight that students get during outdoor activities at school, such as putting on sunscreen and having outdoor activities when the sun isn’t directly overhead. Schools could do better to protect students from the sun.

How Sunlight Causes Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is a major health risk, especially melanoma, which can kill you. In 2014, more than 76,000 people in the United States got melanoma, and more than 9,000 people died from it. Most cases of melanoma are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays.

About the Study

In this study, researchers used a questionnaire that asked schools what they were doing to help keep students from getting too much sun while outside. The questions were answered by staff at all types of schools—public, religious private, other private, and state-run schools—from kindergarten through high school. Questionnaires were sent to 828 schools; 577 of them sent back responses.

The researchers wanted to find out what schools were doing for sun safety, and if certain kinds of schools were doing more than others. They compared answers from public and private schools; elementary, middle, and high schools; schools in the city, suburbs, and rural areas; schools in different parts of the country; schools with different numbers of poor students; and schools of different sizes.

Key Findings

From the answers the schools sent back, researchers found that overall, schools could do more to help protect students from the sun when they are outside. For example—

  • Almost half of schools allowed students time to put on sunscreen before going outside, but most schools didn’t provide sunscreen or make sure that students applied sunscreen before school.
  • Only about one out of seven schools made sure students went outside in the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun wasn’t directly overhead.
  • On average, middle and elementary schools were better than high schools about using some kind of sun safety practice.
  • Other factors, such as where the school was located, how big the school was, and how many students lived in poverty, did not make as much difference for measuring sun safety practices.

What These Findings Mean

Right now, many schools are not doing enough to keep students from getting too much sun. However, if more schools start making and using sun safety plans, there would likely be fewer cases of skin cancer and fewer deaths from skin cancer in the future. In addition, if schools start using sun safety practices more often, students, parents, teachers, and others may learn to do the same things when they go outside during the day. Health care professionals can make a difference by educating school systems about the importance of using sun safety practices.

Sun Safety Tips

To improve your sun safety and reduce your risk of skin cancer when outside in the sun, follow these recommendations—

  • Stay in the shade, especially during midday hours.
  • Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs.
  • Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher and both UVA and UVB (broad-spectrum) protection.
  • Avoid indoor tanning.

If you are a student, or the parent or teacher of a student, at a school that doesn’t use sun safety when taking students outside, say something. Find out who at the school can make sun safety practices the rule. Contact the entire school system and encourage them to adopt sun safety practices for the whole district.


Everett Jones S, Guy GP Jr. Sun safety practices among schools in the United States. JAMA Dermatology 2017;153(5):391–397.