Georgetown University’s main and medical campuses were recognized as a platinum level “Skin Smart Campus” by the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention (NCSCP) on Oct. 11 and Nov. 15, respectively.
The recognition from the NCSCP, a nation-wide alliance that aims to prevent skin cancer through education and advocacy, means Georgetown’s main and medical campuses will receive four sunscreen dispensers to be installed around campus along with informational signage and decals detailing the importance of skin safety. The Main Campus was designated with the award on Oct. 11th, and the initiative was officially launched at the medical campus as well on Nov. 15.
David Perez (MED ’26) has worked with Georgetown’s administration and with the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention to coordinate efforts for recognition. Perez said he hopes the resources that the Skin Smart Campus designation provides will educate Georgetown students on sun safety and encourage them to increase sunscreen use even during the winter.
“In a nutshell, it’s basically meant to improve students’ awareness regarding sun safety and then provide them with the resources to implement that knowledge,” Perez told The Hoya.
The Skin Smart Campus Initiative started in 2015 after studies concluded that there was a strong association between indoor tanning on college campuses, via electric tanning beds that emit UV (ultra-violet) radiation, and an increased risk of skin cancer. Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is one of the most common cancers in young adults, and the use of indoor tanning before age 35 increases risk of developing the cancer by 75%, according to The International Agency on Cancer Research Working Group.
To be classified as a Skin Smart Campus, the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention also mandates that the university must prohibit indoor tanning devices and create an educational webpage detailing the initiative and the dangers of UV exposure. According to data from 2014, 48% of the top 125 colleges have indoor tanning facilities either on campus or in off-campus housing.
Dr. Ranit Mishori, vice president and chief public health officer at Georgetown, echoed the dangers of indoor tanning.
“Unfortunately, in many Western cultures, having a ‘nice’ tan is considered a sign of good health and a thing of beauty,” Mishori wrote to The Hoya. “Indoor tanning can be very harmful. In fact, I would say there is no such thing as a safe tanning bed.”
“Indoor tanning exposes you to high levels of dangerous Ultra-Violet (UV) radiation. The earlier you start to use indoor tanning, and the longer you use it, the higher the risk of permanent skin damage and cancer,” Mishori added.
Perez said his passion for dermatology and sun safety led him to start this initiative at Georgetown.
“Growing up I would see a lack of knowledge regarding sun safety, and then even beyond that, I think accessibility was always an issue,” Perez said. “I do think that if you’re passionate about something, then there’s always a means to make it a reality.”
Dr. Kathryn Castle, the assistant vice president for student health, worked with Perez on the initiative.
“I have greatly enjoyed working with David Perez on this initiative. He approached my office with information about Skin Smart and the importance of understanding skin health during undergraduate years. He is passionate about this area of health and is invested in supporting this important initiative on campus,” Castle wrote to The Hoya.
Perez worked with the medical school’s dermatology interest group and faculty members to bring the initiative to life, including Castle and Dr. Lee Jones, the dean for medical education at the School of Medicine (GUSOM).
Jones said Perez’s work provides students with simple and accessible yet crucial tools for preventing melanoma.
“Skin cancer is the most common cancer in our country; many are caused by exposure to UV light and are preventable with skin safety practices, including the use of sunscreen,” Jones wrote to The Hoya. “Thanks to David’s dedication and work, our university joins this Initiative, sponsored by the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention.”
Elissa Fairbrother, Recruitment Coordinator for the National Council’s Skin Smart Campus initiative (SSC), touted Perez’s passion for sun safety and ability to raise awareness for the project.
“David is an amazing skin cancer prevention advocate. I am inspired by his passion to raise awareness and empower GU’s community to protect their skin,” Fairbrother wrote. “It was a great pleasure to work with him to bring SSC to GU’s main campus as well as GUSOM.”
As part of the initiative, Perez also created an educational webpage that was published on Georgetown’s Student Health Services site. The webpage aims to provide a user-friendly virtual platform where students can find information regarding sun safety.
Fairbrother added that this particular component of the initiative will help to raise awareness on melanoma and prevention practices. By implementing sun-screen dispensers, physical fliers as well as online platforms, Perez will make a valuable and appreciated impact, according to Fairbrother.
“The educational web page he created is a valuable resource for the campus community, highlighting tools to protect one’s skin while raising awareness of the warning signs of melanoma and the importance of self-exams,” she wrote. “The National Council is grateful for David’s hard work and hopes that the award dispensers will serve as a tangible reminder to take steps to protect one’s skin while enjoying the outdoors.”
Perez said he hopes the project becomes a long-term initiative, not just one that plateaus after its launch.
“We definitely are finding ways to keep students engaged and then, in that way, also spread the word,” Perez said. “We certainly don’t want it to be stagnant once the dispensaries are up.”