Rock Rapids sunscreen dispenser

Sixteen-year-old Jorden Vande Kop uses the automatic sunscreen dispenser at the Rock Rapids Swimming Pool. Health Services of Lyon County purchased three dispensers for the county's public swimming pools in an effort to curb sunburns among swimmers and prevent their risk of developing skin cancer. 

REGIONAL—Forgetting to bring your sunscreen is no longer a problem at public swimming pools in one N’West Iowa county.

Health Services of Lyon County recently purchased three automatic sunscreen dispensers, with one each installed at the Rock Rapids Swimming Pool and the Inwood Aquatic Center. The third dispenser is at the George Swimming Pool but has not yet been installed.

Lyon County health administrator Melissa Stillson said the sunscreen dispensers are similar to those that dispense hand sanitizer. Each container dispenses 1,000 times before running out of lotion, but Stillson said the health services office bought enough refills to last about two years.

The idea to set up the sunscreen dispensers came from Rock Rapids resident Kim Hoogendoorn, who approached the health services office earlier this spring about them.

Hoogendoorn’s 10-year-old son Ethan has a rare skin condition called giant congenital melanocytic nevus that makes it look like he’s wearing a pair of brown shorts.

He also has about 1,500 smaller spots all over his body, which Hoogendoorn said could make him more susceptible to the most serious form of skin cancer: Melanoma.

“That’s why we’ve got to be really careful and make sure he’s wearing lots of sunscreen and that kind of stuff, just because we don’t want the sun to be the factor that could change that mole,” she said.

Because Ethan spends a lot of time at the swimming pool, Hoogendoorn is vigilant about making sure he has sunscreen while outside to protect against ultraviolet rays that can cause skin cancer.

She eventually got to thinking about other kids who spend a lot of time at the swimming pool during the summer and whether or not they remember to put on sunscreen or have access to it.

Hoogendoorn learned of the sunscreen dispensers through nonprofit advocacy group IMPACT Melanoma, which provides educational and preventive resources about melanoma. The organization also works to get sunscreen dispensers into communities around the country.

When she spoke with the health services office about the sunscreen dispensers, Hoogendoorn said Stillson was on board with the idea.

“It was a great thing for an entire county, especially since they’re tuned into preventive health services,” Hoogendoorn said.

Stillson said one of the main goals of installing the sunscreen dispensers at the swimming pools is to raise awareness of skin cancer, particularly melanoma.

According to the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics website, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. Melanoma is the rarest type of skin cancer, yet it is the deadliest.

The probability of getting skin cancer increases with age, as well as risk factors such as having:

  • Excessive sun exposure.
  • A family history of skin cancer.
  • Moles or abnormal moles.
  • A weakened immune system.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2019, there will be about 96,480 new cases of melanoma nationwide and 7,230 deaths from the disease. Iowa, meanwhile, will see about 1,070 new cases of the skin cancer, about 90 of which will be fatal.

Placing sunscreen dispensers at all of the county’s public swimming pools was the first phase of the health services office’s efforts to prevent skin cancer.

Stillson said the office also hopes to install dispensers at campgrounds throughout the county, such as at the Lake Pahoja Recreation Area northwest of Inwood.

Another future option Hoogendoorn mentioned was sunscreen dispensers that are set up on portable poles for use at community events, such as RiseFest in Sheldon or annual parades.

Stillson hopes having the dispensers in place at Lyon County’s public swimming pools will lead to healthy sunscreen habits among young people.

“It’s summertime, and they go to the pool and, you know, do they always remember to put sunscreen on? Do they have the sunscreen with them? You know, do they run out of sunscreen?” she said. “So that’s one of the big reasons why we thought, ‘Why not make it accessible to everybody?’”