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U.S. Sen. Jack Reed speaks during a press conference announcing the state's new, free sunscreen initiative at Scarborough State Beach on July 1. As part of the initiative, dispensers of certified natural sunscreen will be available for the public to use at all state beaches and several state parks this summer season.

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — Swimmers and sunbathers soaking up rays at Scarborough State Beach got a visit Monday from U.S. Sen. Jack Reed and state environmental officials, there to tout the start of a summer program to dispense free sunscreen at state beaches and parks.

Reed (D-R.I.) was joined by Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit and representatives from the Rhode Island Department of Health, Raw Elements USA and health-care partners at Scarborough to announce the initiative, which provides complimentary, certified natural, environmentally-safe sunscreen dispenser stations at all Rhode Island state beaches and most state parks for the 2019 summer season. Coit said it makes Rhode Island the first state nationwide to offer free sunscreen at state parks.

“Each year, 2 million people will be diagnosed with skin cancer,” Reed said. “As many as 20 percent of Americans will have skin cancer at some point in their lives. That’s the bad news. The good news is, skin cancer is highly preventable.”

More than 90 percent of melanoma skin cancers are caused by damage from the sun, Reed said.

“If you simply protect yourself by coming up here and using this dispenser, you are reducing your chances dramatically of getting skin cancer. It is a no-brainer,” Reed said. “Thank you to the state for recognizing that and moving forward.”

He said he wants sunscreen stations to eventually become “automatic,” the first thing people visit when they come to state parks and beaches.

“We can do it, and we will,” he said.

The free program is funded by the state health department and the Partnership to Reduce Cancer in Rhode Island through a federal Comprehensive Cancer Control cooperative agreement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, as well as by South County Dermatology and Raw Elements USA.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that this program is going to prevent people from getting cancer and will help save lives,” said Nancy Sutton, chief of the Department of Health’s Center for Chronic Care and Disease Management.

South County Dermatology doctor Robert Dyer, a Narragansett resident, said he tries to get outside daily, with sunscreen on, for activity.

“Most of our patients are from South County,” he said. “Many of them are now facing the consequences of years in the sun without adequate protection.”

His offices diagnose several cases of skin cancer daily, and several cases of melanoma each month.

“The good news is, most cases of skin cancer are preventable,” he said.

Raw Elements USA founder and CEO Brian Guadagno developed the natural sunscreen after his experiences as a lifeguard at Narragansett Town Beach.

“Our mission is simply to deliver the safest, most effective sunscreen on the planet,” he said. “This initiative is close to my heart and close to home.”

He called the ability to have access to free sunscreen “a huge win for sun safety, for public health and for skin cancer prevention.”

One dispenser station filled with SPF 30 or higher sunscreen will be installed at each of 24 locations in Rhode Island. The sunscreen is broad spectrum, water-resistant and has a zinc or titanium oxide base. Raw Elements sunscreen fits the bill in all of those aspects, Sutton said.

Dispenser locations include East Matunuck, Roger Wheeler and Salty Brine state beaches, in addition to Scarborough North and South beaches.

In addition to the sunscreen stations, the state is offering four free skin cancer checks this season – one at Lincoln Woods State Park and three at area beaches.

They will take place from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. July 28 at Roger Wheeler State Beach, 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Aug. 9 at Scarborough and 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Aug. 23 at East Matunuck State Beach, in South Kingstown.

The skin checks are a long-standing collaboration between the R.I. Department of Health, Brown Dermatology and Lifespan.

Reed said that at the federal level, lawmakers are pushing for truthful and accurate labeling for sunscreen.

“You remember the days of 100 SPF,” he asked. “More money, but no more protection. They’re stopping that. Now, if you are using anything, you have to document your claims and it has to be verified scientifically.”

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