Maryland officials scrap new sunscreen restrictions

Less than a day after dermatologists and parents said Maryland’s new policy on sunscreen at summer camps would make it far more likely that children would suffer skin damage, the state health department Saturday scrapped all of the restrictions it had imposed just three weeks ago.

The new policy, announced in a statement that noted in bold capital letters that it “supersedes all previous interpretive memoranda regarding sunscreen,” will no longer direct camps to steer counselors away from helping children apply sunscreen. It also removes any mention of the previous ban on children assisting each other in putting on sunscreen.

The health department’s reversal came about 22 hours after a report on washingtonpost.com cited the American Academy of Dermatology, local skin doctors and parents warning that Maryland’s limits on who could apply sunscreen at summer camps would result in a surge of children going unprotected against the sun’s harmful rays.

The new policy specifically permits camps to provide sunscreen to children, something that the previous policy had banned.

The turnabout, which the health department said Friday night would be coming soon, resulted from what the agency’s assistant director, Clifford Mitchell, called “confusion caused” by the June policy. Mitchell said that policy was intended to keep children safe from inappropriate touching by counselors or other children but was not meant to deter the use of sunscreen.

But camp operators and parents sided with dermatologists, arguing that it was far more important to defend children against the daily danger of sunburn than to add another layer of protection against abuse.

The health department conceded that it had no information to indicate that inappropriate touching was a problem at Maryland summer camps.

Under the latest policy, parents will still have to sign permission forms allowing their children to use sunscreen, a policy that exists in a few other states. But the state now says that it “encourages the appropriate use of sunscreen during summer activities.”

Maryland school systems have a hodgepodge of regulations governing sunscreen use: some require parental permission, some make no restrictions and Montgomery County requires a physician’s note before children may use sunscreen.

Marc Fisher, a senior editor, writes about most anything. He’s been The Post’s enterprise editor, local columnist and Berlin bureau chief, and he’s covered politics, education, pop culture, and much else in three decades on the Metro, Style, National and Foreign desks.
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