A DORSET primary has banned pupils from taking sun-tan lotion to school in the week the Health Education Authority launched a campaign to persuade all schools to provide it.
Cancer charities and specialists criticised Bearwood primary school, in Poole, which imposed the ban because of concerns that children sharing lotions could suffer allergic reactions.
The ban comes two weeks after the Government urged sun-cream manufacturers to cut prices so every family could afford to use it.
Forty per cent of children get sunburnt every year and new HEA research has linked childhood sunburn to increased cancer risks later in life. The authority's sun safety campaign has been launched to coincide with Sun Awareness Week which began on Tuesday.
The HEA's school guidelines urges teachers to insist that children wear thick T-shirts, Foreign Legion-style sun hats and sunscreen and not to allow them out when the sun is directly overhead.
Acting headteacher Wendy Govan said the pupils would be protected if they applied lotion before school and that sensible clothing and staying out of the sun would help.
She said: "It has long been our policy that children mustn't bring lotion into school. In the first days of the nice weather children brought some and were sharing it, but a parent was concerned her daughter might be allergic."
Bearwood pupils spend no more than 40 minutes outside at a time and must wear hats in the sun. Parents who want their child to reapply lotion have been told to take the bottle in at lunchtime and apply it themselves.
Mrs Govan added: "Practically every parent has supported us and is happy with what we do to protect the children from the sun."
But Kate Law, head of clinical programmes for the Cancer Research Campaign, said one application was not enough. She said: "If the children are running around and sweating they should re-apply lotion every two or four hours. We would advise people, but especially children, not to go out in the midday sun, to wear a hat, top and long shorts or trousers.
"This head is being over-cautious about potential allergies and forgetting that sun screen is an important back-up protection against the sun."
Professor Rona Mackie, an authority on skin cancer authority who works at Glasgow's Western Infirmary, said: "It seems sensible for schools to allow pupils to use cream before they play outside.
"A small number of children are mildly allergic to sun cream but it's hardly life- threatening and certainly not something for the school to get het up about."
Poole local authority backs the school. Jeff Hart, head of its school advice service, said: "The school considers it is in the best interests of pupils for parents to apply the most suitable cream with the appropriate sun protection factor for their children."
SKIN CANCER AND SUNBURN
* At least 40,000 new cases of skin cancer are reported a year in Britain. Every year more than 1,500 people die of the cancer's most serious form, malignant melanoma.
* 50 per cent of our lifetime exposure to direct sunlight comes in our first 20 years.
* The Cancer Research Campaign estimates that children spend three times as much time in the sun as adults. It says just six bouts of childhood sunburn doubles the chance of getting skin cancer.
* A Health Education Authority report says four out of 10 children get sunburnt every year.