sunscreen feature

(Left to right): Narragansett Parks and Recreation Director Steve Wright, Dr. Robert Dyer of South County Dermatology, Toni O'Neil of O'Neil's Package Store, Narragansett resident Keith Kyle and Raw Elements USA Founder Brian Guadagno pose with one of the company's free public sunscreen dispensers at Narragansett Town Beach.   

NARRAGANSETT – In 2016, while taking a walk with his wife through the Boston Common, Narragansett resident Keith Kyle spotted a small machine at one of the park’s entrances with a crowd of people gathered around it. Upon closer inspection, the Kyles noticed the device was in fact a dispenser supplying free sunscreen to the masses headed into and out of the park. Having just learned at the nearby Dana-Farber Cancer Institute that his wife was cancer-free after a grueling run-in with melanoma, Kyle wanted to bring the idea of free, public sunscreen back to Narragansett.

“We got a call to come up to Dana-Farber and we were worried, of course,” said Kyle. “So we went up and the doctors told us they believed all the cancer had been removed by the most recent surgery. At that point, my wife and I were quite celebratory and we wanted to just get the heck out of that hospital. This is the serendipitous thing that occurred. We were walking through the Boston Common together and at the same time, my wife and I see this very rudimentary sunscreen dispenser right as you’re walking into the public gardens. People were there, lined up, squirting sunscreen into their hands and I was thinking this was an unbelievable idea. I wanted to get this into our town, into all the beaches, all the parks, for free.”

The idea led to a partnership with Brian Guadagno, a resident of Narragansett and founder of Raw Elements USA, a certified natural and non-GMO sunscreen company, and after vetting from local advisory boards and unanimous votes by the local town council, Narragansett in 2017 became one of the first towns in the country to offer free sunscreen to those attending its town beach via dispensers. The next year, the program had expanded to all of the town’s parks, and by 2019, the state was on board as well, and Raw Elements began offering its free sunscreen dispensers at all Rhode Island state parks and beaches, making the state the first in the nation to provide such a service.

“It’s one of the best programs we have,” said Narragansett Parks and Recreation Director Steve Wright. “It really is great for our community. I can’t speak more highly of Brian, Keith, the product and all of our sponsors. People being able to come to our beach and have these dispensers and the use of this sunscreen at no cost has been wonderful.”

And people have used it. In 2019, Narragansett Town Beach alone reported over 22,000 dispenses of sunscreen provided for free through the program. Consumption of the sunscreen by the public has also increased year over year since the program’s inception.

But providing free sunscreen to beach attendees at no cost to the taxpayer was not an easy task. Guadagno, before the program launched, approached numerous local sponsors to help provide funding for the pilot program, relying on his contacts in the Narragansett beach community. On top of founding the international sunscreen company, Guadagno has served as a lifeguard at Narragansett Town Beach for 25 years, a position he still holds today due to an undying love of the area and summer culture in Narragansett. 

“It was a great opportunity for us,” said Dr. Robert Dyer of South County Dermatology, one of the program’s early sponsors. “As dermatologists, we diagnose and treat skin cancer every day. But it’s also part of our mission to educate and prevent skin cancer, and most skin cancers are preventable.”

“Sunscreen is huge in preventing skin cancer,” he continued. “If you put on good, effective sunscreen like Raw Elements every couple of hours, after you get out of the water and after you work up a good sweat, you’ll really prevent the sun from damaging your skin.”

Having brought the idea forward, Kyle also pitched in, along with Toni O’Neil of O’Neil’s Package Store.

“I saw a post about the program and was immediately interested,” said O’Neil. “You have to understand, I come from the generation where sun protection was not talked about much. We spent our summer days slathered in baby oil laying on tinfoil blankets. Yikes. Needless to say, teaching people about good sun protection, and providing quality products go hand in hand. So getting behind this was an easy decision for us.”

Since forming the partnerships with the Town of Narragansett and the State of Rhode Island, Guadagno and Raw Elements have gone on to bring the sunscreen dispenser program to different facilities, venues and businesses across the country, including hotels, resorts and foundations in Hawaii, California and Oregon. Currently, the business is in the process of developing similar programs in Mexico, Florida and the Caribbean. All of the models used for these ventures were based on the pilot program developed in Narragansett.

“I’m very proud to be one small part of it,” said Wright. “We see the benefit of the program every day on Narragansett Town Beach. Brian is very passionate about what he does, I get excited just talking to him.”

The program itself, as well, is always improving. This year, sunscreen dispensers on Narragansett Town Beach and across state parks and beaches, including Misquamicut State Beach and Scarborough State Beach, are all outfitted with an automatic, touch-free dispensing system in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, Narragansett Town Beach will serve as a the first in Raw Element’s nationwide deployment of environmentally sustainable backboards for the dispensers, made of lightweight composite recyclable material.

“Each year, we continue to enhance the program and make it better,” said Guadagno. “We’ve gotten incredible support from the town, the state and our sponsors.”

Now, Guadagno is content with letting the program grow the way it has, assured by the fact that the initiative is helping people across the country and world prevent potentially detrimental health effects.

“The dispenser program truly represents an opportunity to promote public and environmental health while partnering with groups and municipalities who are vested in this service,” he added. “With the new touch free dispensers from Sunstation and environmentally sustainable boards from Plakthat, we can continue to grow our footprint throughout the country.” 

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