Sunscreen dispensers installed around Charleston campus

October 25, 2019
A woman looks at a new sunscreen dispenser
MUSC grounds supervisor Robin Smith checks the sunscreen in the new sunscreen dispenser at the Urban Farm on the Charleston campus. Photo by Sarah Pack

The sun doesn’t take many breaks in Charleston. Neither should your sunscreen use. That’s why a partnership of campus groups and nonprofits has installed three sunscreen dispensers around campus. 

“There are a lot of reasons why we think this is important,” said Susan Johnson, Ph.D., director of the Office of Health Promotion.

As a health care institution, MUSC should be raising awareness of skin cancer and sun safety, she said. According to the National Cancer Institute, rates of melanoma of the skin have been rising by 1.5% each year for the past 10 years, while many other cancers have been stable or decreasing.

The Office of Health Promotion encourages employees and students to get outside for wellness breaks, Johnson noted, but going outside comes with its own risks from the sun. In addition, some MUSC employees spend much of their working day outside.

Johnson credited College of Medicine student Chelsea Eason with leading the push to have the dispensers installed.

The dispensers are a project of Impact Melanoma and I Will Reflect, the charitable arm of The Spa at Belmond Charleston Place.

The MUSC Department of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery already partners with The Spa at Belmond Charleston Place to teach massage therapists the signs of skin cancer, Johnson said. Impact Melanoma and I Will Reflect partnered earlier this year with the city of Charleston to install sunscreen dispensers at parks and public spaces on the peninsula.

The three dispensers on the MUSC campus are at the Urban Farm, the Charleston Medical District Greenway and the garden between the main hospital entrance and the library. Johnson said those locations were chosen because they tend to have a lot of foot traffic.

Graphic with sun safety information. Wear sunscreen. Wear long sleeves. Wear sunglasses. No indoor tanning. Wear hats with wide brims. Seek shade. Sand water snow and concrete reflect sun.  

“We really focus on the built environment and creating an environment that nudges people to make better choices,” Johnson said.

The first three dispensers are a pilot to determine the average annual cost and to see if departments would be willing to sponsor them. Currently, the Office of Health Promotion is sponsoring the dispenser at the Urban Farm, the Greenway is sponsoring its dispenser and the dermatology department is sponsoring the dispenser near the hospital entrance.

Johnson said they also hope to get some information about usage rates. Alan Snyder is studying for his medical degree and a Master of Science in Clinical Research at MUSC, with plans to go into dermatology. He’s working with Impact Melanoma and plans to post a QR code on the MUSC dispensers as well as dispensers installed by the city of Charleston that would take users to a citizen science app developed by Chris Metts, M.D., in the College of Medicine.

When people install the app and answer questions, Snyder will be able to collect data on the demographics of people who use the sunscreen dispensers – which in turn should highlight a public education opportunity to reach out to the people who aren’t using the dispensers.

He is also hoping to co-develop an app with Impact Melanoma that would remind people to use sunscreen and advise them of the protection needed based on the UV index for their location that day. 

ABCDE guidelines for flagging potential cancerous moles:

Asymmetrical. Is the mole irregular in shape? 

Border. Is the border jagged or irregular? 

Color. Does the mole include different colors? 

Diameter. Is the mole larger than a pencil eraser? 

Evolving. Is the mole changing in size, shape or color?