Sunscreen Access in “The Sun City”

Photo of a sunscreen dispenser in El Paso, Texas

A sunscreen dispenser in El Paso, Texas. Photo courtesy of Brenda Maxon.

Affectionately referred to as “The Sun City,” El Paso, Texas is a city in which the sun fails to shine only a few days out of each year. This sunny climate puts El Paso residents at risk for high levels of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays throughout the year, and makes sun safety a critical public health priority for the city.

In an effort to support and encourage sun-safe behaviors, the Rio Grande Cancer Foundationexternal icon created an initiative to provide free sunscreen in convenient and attractive dispensers throughout the community. “We are delighted to be in partnership with the City of El Paso to provide the dispensers for our young people and families who gather under the El Paso sun,” remarked Patty Tiscareño, Executive Director for the Foundation. “It simply makes sense that the Sun City be the first in the state of Texas to provide protection from powerful UV rays that can ultimately lead to a skin cancer diagnosis,” she added.

Partners and Placement of the Corresponding Sunscreen Dispensers in El Paso Texas

The following list outlines the community partners the Foundation has worked with and the placement of the corresponding sunscreen dispensers.

  • The City of El Paso Parks and Recreation: 8 spray parks, San Jacinto Plaza, and multi-use sports complexes that cater to young teams and players.
  • The Convention and Visitors Bureau of El Paso: concerts and other outdoor events.
  • Paso del Norte Health Foundation: along the 3.4-mile Playa Drain Trail.
  • Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (Tigua Indians): portable dispensers for use at Pueblo events and one installed at the main park for the Pueblo.
  • Local schools: outdoor spaces on school campus.
  • Local auto dealerships: outdoor auto sales lots.
  • Three major radio stations: portable dispensers for use at their outdoor remotes throughout the city.

Challenges and Solutions

The Foundation’s efforts to provide sunscreen in outdoor community spaces have yielded some important insights regarding potential challenges and solutions, which may be of practical value to similar initiatives in other communities. One challenge has been vandalism to some of the sunscreen dispensers. In light of this problem, the Foundation allocates funds for occasional replacement of dispensers or their parts, and makes adjustments to the installation of new dispensers to provide more security.

A second challenge has been extreme heat. In the summer of 2018, El Paso experienced 46 days of triple-digit temperatures. Although the sunscreen does not lose its chemical integrity at these higher temperatures, it will dispense in a more liquid form and, in some cases, ooze out of the dispenser when not in use. The Foundation moved some of the existing dispensers to more shaded areas or provided shade structures to cover them, and plans to be more strategic with future installations.

Efforts to provide sunscreen dispensers to local schools have introduced additional challenges. Although students are legally permitted to carry and self-apply sunscreen on school campuses in the state of Texas, public schools are hesitant to provide sunscreen to students. Furthermore, in neighboring New Mexico schools, students are required to provide a doctor’s note before using sunscreen on school campus.

The Foundation supports sun-safety education through the provision of the Ray and the Sunbeatables®: A Sun Safety Curriculumexternal icon to local preschools. However, additional efforts may be needed to facilitate access to sunscreen on school campuses.

More information about the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation is available at icon