A hand reaches out to take sunscreen from a sunscreen dispenser.

Sunscreen Dispensers: Small Objects, Big Impact

On a hot July afternoon, after a ferry ride with my family to beautiful Nantucket Island, I got off the boat in Hyannis and reached my hand under a dispenser to get what I thought was going to be the ubiquitous hand sanitizer. To my surprise, it wasn’t hand sanitizer, it was sunscreen! I gladly took my handful of the dispensed 30 SPF sunscreen, and thought to myself, "what a good idea!" I had never seen sunscreen dispensers like this before.

Sunscreen dispensers: what a great idea!

I hadn’t even looked at the dispenser before I put my hand under it, but if I had, I would've realized that its contents were obvious. In relatively large letters, the word SUNSCREEN appears on the top of the dispenser, and beneath that, a message that reads, “SPF is your BFF. Reapply every two hours. Complimentary sunscreen provided by the Steamship Authority.” If sunscreen dispensers like this were more prevalent, maybe applying sunscreen would become as routine as applying hand sanitizer.

An aside about my trip...

The Steamship Authority, in case you were wondering, is the state-owned company that offers ferry service between Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket in Massachusetts. Years ago, my husband and I took the car ferry to Nantucket for a two-week stay with first one, then two, and later three children. It was a fabulous place to stay. For the recent July trip, we took the quicker passenger ferry round-trip just to have lunch and walk around. We sat on the upper deck of the boat and enjoyed being out on the water. It was windy, but I preferred sitting outside to sitting below and indoors. Perhaps most importantly, before we boarded, I applied sunscreen was wearing my sun protection hat.

Back to the sunscreen dispenser

Above the dispenser was a poster with photos of the ferry and other boats around the dock. “Protect the skin you’re in. Get on board with skin safety,” read the words in the middle. It also included information for Impact Melanoma and #PracticeSafeSkin. I took a look at the website and learned that the IMPACT part of "Impact Melanoma" is actually an acronym that stands for Improving Melanoma Prevention through Awareness, Care & Teaching.

Let's learn about IMPACT Melanoma

The organization is a national non-profit “dedicated to working to reduce the incidence of melanoma,” according to their website. “Committed to skin cancer prevention and early detection, we provide a variety of award-winning programs which aim to raise awareness and educate the public about skin cancer, as well as support services for those struggling with the disease.” These sunscreen dispensers are actually one of the projects of the Concord, Massachusetts-based organization, in partnership with BrightGuard, who are the actual manufactures of the sunscreen dispensers.

Ok, I made the same mistake twice

After the day trip to Nantucket, we headed to my sister’s house in Wellfleet, which is about an hour away from the ferry on Cape Cod. At the town recreation booth where I was reserving a tennis court, I again reached out for what I thought was hand sanitizer and instead got sunscreen. Lo and behold, it was another sunscreen dispenser. I couldn't help but to think about how smart it was to place the dispenser close to a tennis court, where people would come to spend at least an hour if not more in the sun. This time the dispenser had a different sponsor: Cape Cod Healthcare, but it contained the same message: “Stay safe in the sun! Apply plenty of sunscreen every two hours.”

There was a reason behind these dispensers

I had never seen these before, and over one weekend, I saw two! This particular dispenser in Wellfleet happens to be one of 68 such dispensers on Cape Cod. They were installed by the Glenna Kohl Fund for Hope, in honor of a lifeguard, Glenna Kohl, who died of melanoma at age 26, in 2008.

Glenna's story

According to news reports, Glenna, the vivacious Cape Cod native was healthy in many ways except for one deadly habit: going to tanning salons as often as once a week. She also apparently only used a very weak sunscreen at her lifeguarding job. “She didn’t connect tanning with skin cancer,” Glenna’s mother Colleen Kohl told Cosmopolitan.

Spreading awareness in Glenna's memory

Relatives and friends started the Glenna Kohl Fund for Hope to spread awareness and raise money for research and education. A sunscreen dispenser seems like a little thing, but if people take their dab of sunscreen and do their research, it is no small thing at all.

Is there a sunscreen dispenser in the town you live in?

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