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Communities band together to provide free sunscreen

A sunscreen dispenser located at the community gardens on Salem Street in Salem.Salem Board of Health and Impact Melanoma

As people flock to beaches, parks, pools, and other outdoor places this summer, a group of eight communities north of Boston is working to ensure they are protected from the harmful effects of the sun.

Through a state-funded initiative that began in early July, more than 100 sunscreen dispensers have been installed at 70 locations for free public use in Beverly, Danvers, Lynn, Marblehead, Nahant, Peabody, Salem, and Swampscott

“We all realize melanoma impacts each of our communities,” Salem Health Agent David Greenbaum said. “Tackling this issue collectively really shows the whole region how committed we are to sun safety and preventing all skin cancers.”


The municipalities are offering the North Shore Practice Safe Skin Collaboration through an existing network in which they work together to address common public health needs. The skin cancer prevention program, which will return next summer, is funded through state grant money Salem receives to support the collaborative.

The communities are partnering with the nonprofit IMPACT Melanoma, which is providing the dispensers, sunscreen, and related signage and also educating the public about skin cancer at health fairs, summer camps, and other venues.

The Concord-based organization provides dispensers and sun protection awareness programs in 43 states. The North Shore program will be the most extensive in Massachusetts.

“We are very excited about this because it really gives us an opportunity to provide sun awareness messaging to a very large group of communities,” Deb Girard, executive director of IMPACT Melanoma, said of the North Shore project.

The group’s public outreach also will include educating employees who work outdoors about effective sun protection, and instructing parents of newborns how to keep their babies safe from the sun.

“It’s really important because skin cancer rates continue to rise,” Girard said of the prevention work. “It’s important to make the tools we have available for people, and sunscreen is one of those.” Others include wearing protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses, and seeking shade.


Nearly 100,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2022 and 7,650 will die of it, the National Cancer Institute estimated on its website.

Greenbaum said even people aware of the risks often fail to adequately protect themselves from ultraviolet rays.

“We want to make sure people understand that just being out in the sun 15 or 20 minutes walking around can have a negative effect on your skin if you don’t take precautions,” he said.

Greenbaum had his own skin cancer scare earlier this year when during a routine physical his doctor noticed a spot on his arm that a dermatologist later determined was melanoma. While he was successfully treated — the affected cells were excised — Greenbaum said the experience made him “passionate about urging people to take precautions with the sun.”

An important emphasis of the program, Greenbaum said, is ensuring the sunscreen — and the messaging — reaches underserved neighborhoods.

“Lynn is very fortunate to be part of this IMPACT Melanoma project,” Lynn Public Health Director Michele Desmarais said. “Sun protection can be costly, and many Lynn residents might not be able to afford it. So, making it available at our parks, splash pads, and recreation fields is an important benefit.”

The bright-yellow dispensers, which contain SPF 30 sunscreen, were installed by the individual communities, which also are responsible for keeping them filled.


IMPACT Melanoma next summer will also provide temporary shade structures — 10-by-10-foot canopies — at dispenser sites where officials determine they could be particularly helpful.

Girard said such shading can be invaluable in urban neighborhoods that suffer “heat island” effects, allowing residents to enjoy the outdoors more comfortably while also affording them sun protection. She said for that reason her group also collaborates with organizations promoting tree planting.

“With global warming, we are going to need all the sun protection tools we have,” she said.

John Laidler can be reached at