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Don’t Get Burned This Summer, How To Keep Your Family Safe in the Sun
Stony Brook Children’s Hospital Specialist says there’s no safe level of sun exposure
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Dr. Maribeth Chitkara says there is a right way and a wrong way to enjoy the summer, and is now sharing all the steps to keep families safe

STONY BROOK, NY, MAY 2, 2014— After the long, cold, snowy winter, everyone is looking forward to a day at the beach, an afternoon by the pool or just catching a few rays in the backyard. Maribeth Chitkara, MD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics and Pediatric Hospitalist, Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, is one of Long Island’s most committed advocates for summer safety and skin cancer prevention. She says there is a right way and a wrong way to enjoy the summer, and is now sharing all the steps to keep families safe.

“There are three things everyone needs to know about sun safety,” said Dr. Chitkara, “Number one is, there is no safe level of sun exposure.”

Dr. Chitkara reminds, if you are outside, you need sunscreen, period. “The recent claims that it is important to spend short periods in the sun unprotected in order to get vitamin D is medically unfounded,” said Dr. Chitkara, “because we cannot separate out the benefits of sun exposure from the damage it can cause, I recommend getting your vitamin D from foods and supplements, not the sun.”

Most people know that it is important to use a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, but what they may not realize is that they also need a sunscreen that protects against UVA rays as well as UVB.

“When choosing sunscreen, look for a broad spectrum product that protects against both,” said Dr. Chitkara. Recent studies suggest that the organic compound oxybenzone may have some harmful long-term effects. “We don’t know definitively, but check the ingredient list on the back of your sunscreen bottle and use an alternative if possible.”

Other ingredients to look for are zinc and titanium dioxide. Each offer superior protection because they actually form a physical barrier to harmful rays.

Her second sun safety tip is to know how to be appropriately protected. She says you need to apply a minimum of one ounce of sunscreen every several hours. “This is much more than most people typically use,” said Dr. Chitkara. “I recommend putting on a full layer of sunscreen 20 minutes before you leave the house, then a second layer once you get to the beach or the pool. Think of it like painting a wall.  You need a base coat to start, then another coat for full and even coverage, then spot touch ups to finish off.”

And the third? She says to dress your children in swim shirts, so as to protect your child’s upper arms, shoulders, back and chest without having to continuously apply sunscreen. “These types of shirts typically offer a universal protection factor (UPF) of 50 or higher, and are particularly effective if your child is in and out of the water all day.”

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Maribeth Chitkara, MD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics and Pediatric Hospitalist, Stony Brook Children’s Hospital

“Stony Brook is deeply committed to awareness, prevention and screening of skin cancers,” said Dr. Chitkara. “For example, we work with the local SunWise® program, an EPA-sponsored initiative that offers a free education curriculum to children from kindergarten through grade six.” She says Stony Brook has collaborated with local and national organizations dedicated to the promotion of sun-safe practices and the prevention of skin cancer. Each spring, Stony Brook’s Department of Dermatology offers to the community free skin cancer screenings. And, the Department has the advanced expertise to treat benign and malignant skin cancers.

About Stony Brook Children’s Hospital: Established in June 2010, Stony Brook Children's Hospital is Suffolk County’s only children’s hospital. More than 7,000 children and adolescents are admitted each year. Stony Brook Children’s operates 100 pediatric beds and has more than 140 full-time pediatric physicians and surgeons in 30 different specialties and over 200 voluntary pediatric faculty members. The hospital is the Level 4 Regional Perinatal Center for our area and has a Level 3 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. It is home to the nation’s first Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Center and also offers a Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Program, Pediatric Cardiology Program, Pediatric HIV and AIDS Center, Cystic Fibrosis Center and the Cody Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. To learn more, visit www.stonybrookchildrens.org.