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Holy sunburn! Is applying sunscreen to campers a slippery slope to pedophilia?

When my daughters used to go to day camp in the summer, I always sent them with economy-sized bottles of sunscreen upon which I had scrawled their names in big letters. Sure, I slathered the stuff on them before they left home every morning, but it eventually would wear off. No problem. Their counselors would help them put more on.

You can imagine how surprised I and many other Maryland parents were when our state health department last month issued a new policy that practically banned the simple summer ritual of counselors applying sunscreen to campers.

“Campers should, in most instances, apply the sunscreen on their own,” the memo read. “If assistance in application is needed, camp staff should limit touching the camper as much as possible.” And forget about asking a friend to help: “Under no circumstances should campers assist each other in the application of sunscreen where touch is required in the application process.” (Bold-face emphasis is the health department’s.)

It had never occurred to me that applying sunscreen was the first step down the slippery slope toward pedophilia or an orgy, but that’s what all this talk about touching seemed to suggest.

After the Washington Post wrote about the new policy, parents and dermatologists expressed concern about an epidemic of sunburn. Finally, the health department backed down and issued a toned-down version that makes no mention of touching.

The policy does require that parents give camps written permission to apply sunscreen to their children. I was unable to find any other state health department with a similar regulation, although a number of individual camps scattered around the country do require that parents sign permission forms for sunscreen application

In her blog, “The Camp Director,” Jennifer Selke writes that campers need help with sunscreen, plain and simple. Any parent whose kid has accidentally gotten an eyeful of it would agree.

Besides, writes Selke, who teaches at Berkeley and co-directs a summer camp there, “all camps have policies and train staff on appropriate and inappropriate ways to touch children. This applies to any camper contact such as sun screen application, teaching a child how to swim, or even administering first aid.”

Maybe “deann36,” who posted a comment on the Washington Post website, has the right idea:

“Why has NOBODY brought up the obvious solution to this: spray-on sunblock…Protect every child, no touching necessary. End of problem.”

What seems worse to you: Camp counselors touching your child to apply sunscreen, or a hands-off policy that could leave your camper at risk for sunburn?

Rita Rubin, a contributing writer for msnbc.com and today.com, previously covered medicine for USA Today and U.S. News & World Report. She lives in suburban Washington, D.C., with her husband and two daughters.