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Boston councilor’s sunscreen plan is worth trying

A free sunscreen dispenser in Miami Beach.Alan Diaz/Associated Press/Associated Press

PROVIDING FREE sunscreen dispensers to Boston’s parks and playgrounds — as City Councilor Matt O’Malley proposed at a council hearing on Wednesday — might seem like a lot of effort for the city to expend on solving a pretty mundane problem. But with the rates of skin cancer on the rise in the United States, providing free lotion could actually be a boon to the Hub’s residents, especially if it’s done at no cost to the taxpayer.

O’Malley’s plan would call for free sunscreen dispensers to be set up in all of Boston’s parks as a way to nudge people to take better care of their skin during the summer. O’Malley says that Adriane Levin, a medical student at Boston University, approached him about putting sunscreen dispensers on Boston Common. Although installing a dispenser in every one of the Hub’s parks and playgrounds would probably cost less that $50,000, O’Malley said that his proposal has caught the attention of many skin cancer-related foundations interested in partnering with the city on this initiative, meaning that it’s possible the city will be able to set up and maintain the machines using only private funds.


It’s easy to laugh at the prospect of public sunscreen dispensers — after all, free lotion will go perfectly with beach volleyball on the Common if Boston wins the Olympic bid. And the thought of Boston competing with Miami Beach — which boasts its own free sunscreen dispenser program — to be a national leader on public skin care is too bizarre for words. But at over $10 a bottle, sun lotion can be prohibitively expensive for many Boston residents. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and forgoing skin cream because of its price can have severe public health consequences down the line. Providing free sunscreen could be a good way to explain the importance of healthy skin to the public. So if the machines and cream don’t cost the taxpayers anything, then why not?