Thanks to a student-led effort, free sunscreen dispensers are available throughout the University of Kentucky’s medical campus. 

The dispensers — which offer passersby a hypoallergenic SPF 30 perfect for all skin types — are the idea of second-year College of Medicine students Noor Ali and Parisa ShamaeiZadeh.  

Sunscreen is a crucial tool for sun protection and skin cancer prevention, but it’s so often marketed as a high-priced beauty product, ShamaeiZadeh said. 

“We thought it would be great to make it more accessible to the public if we have these dispensers, so everyone can have access to sunscreen and protect their skin,” ShamaeiZadeh said. “Because skin cancer is the most preventable type of cancer.” 

The orange and white sunscreen dispensers can be found in three locations: the lobby of Albert B. Chandler Hospital Pavilion A, in Pavilion H near hospital administration and just inside the shared entrance for the Dental Science Building and the William R. Willard Medical Education Building. 

Data from the National Cancer Institute shows that Kentucky has a higher rate of melanoma skin cancer than much sunnier locales like Texas and Florida. Those who use the sunscreen dispensers can also take a QR-code survey to help give ShamaeiZadeh and Ali a better understanding of how Kentuckians use sunscreen.  

“Kentucky culture relies on so many activities outside,” Ali said. “We go to Keeneland, we go to the Derby, we sit outside on our porches drinking lemonade. We’re outside and UV rays hit us from every angle. So, if we can do something like put a little bit of sunscreen on to help protect our face, our arms, our body then why not? Because it’s so preventable.” 

They’re hoping to put more dispensers around campus, but more data will go a long way in proving the need for the dispensers. 

From May — which is Skin Cancer Awareness Month — through August the UV index is highest in Kentucky and the dispensers offer an accessible way to get some protection before stepping outside. 

Getting the word out 

Anyone interested in learning more about sunscreen and skin cancer can stop by the Kentucky Children’s Hospital mobile clinic which will be set up May 30 in the Rose Street loop from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Public Health Interest Group, the interprofessional student organization both Ali and ShamaeiZadeh are a part of, is sponsoring the clinic that day so that it can offer important information about sunscreen to the public. Tours of the clinic will also be available. 

“There will be all kinds of information about sunscreen, as well as being able to tour the mobile clinic,” said Shelley Ferrin, the student group’s adviser and health education coordinator at the Center for Interprofessional and Community Health Education. “We will hopefully be spreading the word about the dispensers.”  

The story behind the dispensers 

ShamaeiZadeh’s interest in dermatology and skin protection stretches back to a doctor’s appointment when she was 20. Feeling insecure about freckles on her face she asked about potentially getting them laser removed. Her doctor, she said, exhaled and asked: “Do you wear sunscreen?” 

Some of what she thought were freckles was actually sun damage, the doctor told her. One day it could turn into something more serious — like skin cancer. ShamaeiZadeh wore sunscreen to the beach but not every day. 

“It was kind of like an educational moment for me,” ShamaeiZadeh said. “She told me about how you should wear it when it's cloudy out, because UV rays don't hide from clouds. Anytime you're out in the sun, like taking a walk, it's not just for the beach.” 

Ultimately seeing the expense and potential accessibility issues around sunscreen, ShamaeiZadeh approached Ali with the idea to put the dispensers around UK. 

The pair put together a pitch and researched costs associated with the dispensers, eventually securing a grant from the Student Government Association and interest from UK HealthCare which helped to pave the way for the dispenser’s appearance at the hospital. Student volunteers periodically check on the dispensers to make sure they’re well-stocked.  

The sunscreen within the dispensers was specifically chosen because it doesn’t leave a white cast on darker skin tones, said ShamaeiZadeh. 

“It really is an initiative for everyone,” Ali said. “UV rays don’t discriminate. They affect everyone so we want to protect everyone.”  

The initiative wouldn’t be possible without the help of Kara Klein, Chandler Triad administrative coordinator, and Kevin Hatton, M.D., the acting chief medical officer for Albert B. Chandler Hospital.    

This article originally appeared in UKNow