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Skin Protection 101

Ah, July. The weather in D.C. alternates between hot and sweltering. And about the only relief is to:

a) stay indoors

or

b) swim

All that time at pools and playing in water fountains means the kids get lathered with sunscreens, some of which contain ingredients I can't possibly pronounce. So, who else to turn to but a dermatologist for answers on what parents should look for in caring for their kids' skin?

Dr. Adelaide Hebert, a professor of dermatology and pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston said almost any child warrants sunscreen with an SPF of 15. Fair- or light-skinned kids should wear a minimum of SPF 30. And if a parent is willing to go all the way up to SPF 45, go for it. That's even better.

When examining sunscreens look for both UVA and UVB protections as well as the SPF level. And if you've got a child with particularly sensitive skin, get sunscreens with titanium dioxide. The compound is similar to zinc oxide, which is the ingredient in Desitin, Hebert said, pointing out that you can't get a better ingredient for sensitive new skin than one that goes on babies' private parts. Some brands that meet those requirements according to Hebert and Skin Deep are Blue Lizard, Neutrogena Sensitive Skin, TruKid and California Baby.

Still concerned about chemicals? Hebert said she's not aware of any sunscreens that are truly green. If you're looking for a newer sunscreen ingredient, you'll want to try Neutrogena's Helioplex sunscreens. "Neutrogena Dry Touch ... is a great sunscreen. Very protective," she said.

As for application, sunscreens should be reapplied every two hours for children who are outside. If they're playing in water, lather it on every hour. And don't forget the lips and eyes, Hebert said, recommending Chapstick and sunglasses.

If you're heading outdoors with the kids to a mosquito-infested spot (my yard certainly counts!), don't buy the combination sunscreen/bug spray products, Hebert said. The sunscreens need to be applied more often than bug spray, so the combination products result in unnecessary chemicals on the skin. Instead, lather on the sunscreen, then add a bug repellant with Picaridin rather than DEET to your child's skin. Any strength of Picaridin is safe for kids, Hebert said. I for one, can attest that it has held the mosquitoes at bay better than the family-strength DEET we used to use.

Which sunscreens have you found both effective and easy to apply? How else do you protect your child's skin? Do you make sure your caregivers or outdoor camps reapply sunscreen during the day?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  July 9, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Previous: Smiles, Crocs and Cholesterol | Next: The Skinned-Knee Conundrum

Comments


First!

Posted by: First Comment | July 9, 2008 8:02 AM | Report abuse

This is such a timely topic as my family is preparing to go to the Poconos next month for our summer vacation. The children are very excited to see the rest of their aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents.
We usually ensure that they wear hats and sunglasses anytime they are outside but now that they wear glasses it is very difficult. Unless he is in the pool my son must wear a shirt (of course my daughter always does). I put sunscreen on them before and after the pool but after reading this I have some sunscreen shopping to do.

Posted by: Donna | July 9, 2008 8:04 AM | Report abuse

Donna

"This is such a timely topic as my family is preparing to go to the Poconos next month for our summer vacation. The children are very excited to see the rest of their aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents.
We usually ensure that they wear hats and sunglasses anytime they are outside but now that they wear glasses it is very difficult. Unless he is in the pool my son must wear a shirt (of course my daughter always does). I put sunscreen on them before and after the pool but after reading this I have some sunscreen shopping to do."

Were you really a teacher? This post has several punctuation errors.

Posted by: No sale | July 9, 2008 8:09 AM | Report abuse

Particularly for boys when swimming/wet, buy the longest swim trunks you can find and use a long-sleeve rashguard shirt. Why try to hold down a squirming 2-year-old to put sunscreen all over their upper half (and risk a large, bad sunburn) when they can wear an UPF-50 shirt? And an added benefit, even though it's warm outside, the water in most pools is on the cool side for very small children- a long-sleeve rashguard keeps them warmer longer and reduces the hot/cold cycle of getting in and out of the water. My 2-year-old son does great in his swimsuit, a long-sleeve rashguard and knee-length trunks both from Lands' End (who have UPF-50 swimsuits for boys and girls even in very small sizes like 2T). We use California Baby stick sunscreen on his face, and the Neutrogena SPF 70 spray for the back of his neck and ears and legs. Works like a charm, and waaaay easier than trying to cover the whole kid in sunscreen!

Posted by: Tiffany | July 9, 2008 8:12 AM | Report abuse

Were you really a teacher? This post has several punctuation errors.


Posted by: No sale | July 9, 2008 8:09 AM

So point them out for all of us to learn from your "brilliance". This is just a blog, not an essay contest or thesis. Puhleeze.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2008 8:30 AM | Report abuse

I am the director of a preschool day camp as well as a Mom to my own brood. At camp we reapply sunscreen to the kids midway through the morning. Each child brings his/her own so we do not need to worry about sensitivities or allergies. My own kids use Nuetragena sensitive.

Can I get a brand of bug spray that is DEET free that someone has liked? We camp a lot and so far my experiments have not gone too well. OFF deep woods is our old stand by. I usually coat everyone's shoes, socks, and long pants so I don't have to put it on their skin.

Posted by: Momof5 | July 9, 2008 8:31 AM | Report abuse

I love Coppertone's line of spray-on sunscreens (and, to a lesser extent, Target's store-brand version of the same product). They take 2 seconds to apply, provide great coverage and work really well. Plus, they don't leave your skin feeling like you swam through an oil spill.

We also have a zip suit for my 2.5-year-old. It's a swimsuit that covers her from neck to toe. It's great for days when we're planning to be in the sun for hours and hours, or when we simply don't feel like dealing with sunscreen.

One tiny little PSA -- we tried Banana Boat's spray on sunscreen, and it was horrible! Incredibly heavy and greasy, spotty coverage, and (worst of all) we all got sunburned after an hour outside wearing it. I'll never buy it again.

Posted by: NewSAHM | July 9, 2008 8:40 AM | Report abuse

A good racoon skin cap and long pants done protects my youngin' from the sun and them there varmits and insects in the woods.

Posted by: Jed Clampett | July 9, 2008 8:41 AM | Report abuse

When Paw ain't lookin' I puts my shorts and belly shirt on. How else am I gonna git the boys?

Posted by: Ellie Mae | July 9, 2008 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Momof5: Have you tried Cutter with Picaridin? We live in a woodsy area and that has worked pretty well on the kids. I'm not sure it's quite as effective as Deep Woods Off, but it's definitely more effective than some of the other DEET products I've tried.

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | July 9, 2008 8:52 AM | Report abuse

I wasn't wantin' to say this here thing but Ellie Mae is a fake.

My daughter name is spelt Elly May.

Posted by: Jed Clampett | July 9, 2008 8:57 AM | Report abuse

I'm going to second the SPF rashguard shirts. Great coverage and eliminates a lot of the squirming and arguing over the applications.

Posted by: moxiemom | July 9, 2008 9:17 AM | Report abuse

We use Neutrogena Spray and lotion when the kids won't be in the water; however, neither is waterproof. Blue Lizard is a favorite as well.

Just a quick reminder to take care of your own skin while you're covering up your children. Skin cancer is on the rise and trust me, you do not want to hear the word "melanoma" come out of your doctor's mouth.

Posted by: Rebecky | July 9, 2008 9:27 AM | Report abuse

I don't know what is more likely to give someone cancer - Sunburn? the chemicals in the sunscreen? exposure to sun? Since my family is really white but we all tan pretty well, my strategy has always been to use sunscreen in the beginning of summer, just enough to prevent sunburn, and then we all get a nice protective tan so the rest of the summer we don't have to worry about it anymore. Doing it the natural way saves money, time, effort, and the planet to boot.

I don't know why the doctor tells me to use sunscreen when I go out in the sun. Sure it's a good idea to prevent sunbern, but Since I work in an office all day, I don't think I get enough sun to begin with. A nice tan makes me feel healthy, happy, and helps me sleep better with much, much sweeter dreams. It sure beats sliming my body up with a bottle of chemicals.

Posted by: Whacky Weasel | July 9, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

1) I like Buzz Away for insect repellent. It works pretty well. I will try the new kind too - I was scared off from Deet years ago.

2) My mom NEVER went in the sun, always wore a hat, always covered up, etc - yet she was the one who got skin cancer on her nose. Much more prevalent than anyone knows. And for us fair people, covering up, wearing hats, and sunscreen, as well as minimizing time in the sun is crucial.

One of my boys is fair like me, the other has dark olive skin like dad. It's funny, cause, fortunately, I put sunscreen on the fair one, and he doesn't burn - but I put the same sunscreen on the other one, and by the end of the summer, you'd think he lives in the middle east!!! He is SO DARK. And we use 50 sunscreen usually. He's so adorable when he's naked - with that white little tushy. :)

Posted by: atlmom | July 9, 2008 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Actually, you should apply skin protection all year round. Not just in July. Your kids are out playing at recess, aren't they? They walking to/from school. And they should wear a hat all the time too. No hat, no play is the rule here at schools. "wear a hat on your head or you're dead" is a silly, but catchy, phrase. You can use 'no hat, no play' if dying offends you.

Posted by: as my dermatologist says | July 9, 2008 9:47 AM | Report abuse

For bug spray, REPEL works great. It's oil of lemon eucalyptus, shown to be as effective as DEET. It repels or kills ticks and mosquitoes. More info at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/repellentupdates.htm

Also, if you're concerned about the toxicity of sunscreen, the Environmental Working group has a detailed database and explanations. You can look up your favorite sunscreen at: http://cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/sunscreens2008/
It also lists the Top 10 and the common brands they recommend.
BTW, you can also use that database to look up any other make-up, lotion, shampoo, etc. Many are surprisingly not very good for us

Posted by: Toni | July 9, 2008 9:52 AM | Report abuse

My kid already shows her heritage by tanning easily, despite the fact that we put tons of sunscreen on her and make sure she uses a hat. My husband and I are not nearly as vigilant with our own skin, which I know is stupid. I hate the feeling of sunscreen on my body, and I'm terrified of a horrible break-out if I put anything on my hyper-reactive face. Meanwhile, my olive-skinned sister has had 3 Mohs cancer removal procedures on her face, 2 of which required grafting, so you'd think I'd know better. Not to mention I'm not interested in wrinkling prematurely.

As for bugs, my husband and daughter don't get bit, just me. I've been using the all-natural stuff, but you have to reapply every 15 minutes or so. It's not a big deal for me, but it would be a nightmare with the toddler. I really hate the thought of DEET on my high surface area baby.

Posted by: atb | July 9, 2008 9:53 AM | Report abuse

high surface area means fat? or what? I do have pictures of my non-skinny kid when he possessed a quintuple chin (not just a double, a quintuple).

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2008 9:56 AM | Report abuse

atb

"My husband and I are not nearly as vigilant with our own skin, which I know is stupid."

Uh, huh.

"I hate the feeling of sunscreen on my body, and I'm terrified of a horrible break-out if I put anything on my hyper-reactive face."

Shallow.

" Meanwhile, my olive-skinned sister has had 3 Mohs cancer removal procedures on her face, 2 of which required grafting, so you'd think I'd know better."

Not really.

"Not to mention I'm not interested in wrinkling prematurely."

Darwinism takes its course.

Posted by: Endora | July 9, 2008 10:02 AM | Report abuse

High surface area just means that all kids, fat or skinny, have a higher ratio of skin to body volume, so if you cover their body with chemicals, it's a bigger insult on their system.

Posted by: atb | July 9, 2008 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Endora,

Perhaps you have some useful suggestions for a facial sunscreen for people with ridiculously sensitive skin? Or perhaps you're completely useless, which I suspect is the case.

Posted by: atb | July 9, 2008 10:05 AM | Report abuse

I recently heard of a RIT dye product that apparently infuses your clothes with spf. I forget how high, but it lasts through several washings, and supposedly doesn't affect your clothes. I haven't tried it, so I don't know how effective it really is.

I have never been one to burn, so I'm just now starting to use sunscreen. My kids are asian, and with their darker skin they don't burn either. I put sunscreen on, but I am clearly not as diligent as I should be, because they get such a beautiful deep dark tan by mid summer.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2008 10:08 AM | Report abuse

instead of high surface area, you mean a ratio of high surface area to volume, commonly known as sa/v

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2008 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Sunscreen not recommended for infants under 6 months.

Posted by: SSMD | July 9, 2008 10:09 AM | Report abuse

What 10:08 said.

Posted by: atb | July 9, 2008 10:13 AM | Report abuse

"I recently heard of a RIT dye product that apparently infuses your clothes with spf. I forget how high, but it lasts through several washings, and supposedly doesn't affect your clothes. I haven't tried it, so I don't know how effective it really is."

It's called SunGuard. In theory, a typical white cotton t-shirt has an SPF of 5; washing the shirt with SunGuard raises the SPF to between 40-50. It's supposed to last 20 washings.

It seems to work reasonably well. On the other hand, I've never in my life gotten a sunburn THROUGH a t-shirt, so use it at your own discretion.

Posted by: m2j5c2 | July 9, 2008 10:18 AM | Report abuse

People should know to use sunscreen and sunglasses in the winter as much as summer. The glare off snow can be blinding. Since the earth is actually closer to the sun in the winter you can get quite a bad burn.

Posted by: Donna | July 9, 2008 10:27 AM | Report abuse

For atb: I use Clarins UV Plus on my face, and it's been a huge relief for my terribly sensitive skin. It's pricey but worth every penny.

Posted by: NoVaMum | July 9, 2008 10:30 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Donna. I hate seeing 'scrunch' marks between kid's eyebrows. They get these 'scrunch' marks from squinting in the sun. Wear sunglasses, protect your eyes and your skin. My eyes are permentently sunburnt (my eye doctor says so). I don't wish my kids to have those squint marks or have sunburned eyes. No botox before its time.

Posted by: Anna | July 9, 2008 10:41 AM | Report abuse

But don't forget you need a little bit of time in the sun WITHOUT sunscreen so your body can produce enough vitamin D. I think 15-30 minutes a week will do it, so a normal person will get enough sun walking from the car into the store several times a week, but don't be OVERLY fanatical about using sunscreen all the time.

Posted by: Katie | July 9, 2008 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Oh Anna - I hate to see those squint lines too. But Botox scares me - it is a deadly poison after all. How do people do that without being afraid of dying?

Posted by: Donna | July 9, 2008 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Whacky Weasel,

There is no such thing as a protective suntan. All color that doesn't match the original skin color you were born with (i.e. on your bottom or some other part of you that never sees the sun) is sun damage. A tan (and being in the sun to get it) may make you feel happy, but sun exposure causes various negative effects in the body.

Coolibar's sun-protective rash guards, clothing, and hats are a nice alternative to slathering on sunscreen. I put my very fair daughter in shorts and a long-sleeve, vented shirt, topped with a broad-brimmed UPF 50 hat and sunscreen on face, hands and legs. For the pool, we both got long-sleeve rash guards. They don't look especially cool, but neither does a big scar from mole removal. I know that I have to be especially vigilant about my own skin because I meet many of the criteria for skin cancer risk, including horrible sunburns as a child in the early 1970s.

Posted by: restonmom | July 9, 2008 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Have been a lurker for many months, had to add my 2 cents. Bull Frog sunscreen is the best. It dries instantly!

Posted by: Megan | July 9, 2008 11:37 AM | Report abuse

"Note that the label for products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus specifies that they should not to be used on children under the age of three years."

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2008 11:41 AM | Report abuse

There is no such thing as a protective tan, and while some people are more susceptible to burns and cancer than others, everyone should be careful. I have a friend who has always been diligent about putting sunscreen, hats, and dark glasses on her daughter. Their doctor said that because of her blend of ancestries, the daughter wasn't at any particular risk for cancer. Yet she developed an odd spot on her back that turned out to be malignant and had to be removed--and she's not yet 6. Now she also wears a shirt while swimming and they have a large umbrella shading most of the pool, so she can still go in the water.

I like the Aveeno spray-on sunscreen and often use multiple products with different blockers (both chemical and physical) on my face. Frequent re-application, combined with a long-sleeved rashguard when in or on the water has kept me from getting burned even when on vacation in Hawaii in the summer.

Posted by: KateNonymous | July 9, 2008 11:52 AM | Report abuse

I so agree with you Restonmom. My little precious never goes outside without a long sleeves and long pants. And I find such cute little floopy hats that make little precious even cuter!

Posted by: Cecilia | July 9, 2008 12:37 PM | Report abuse

My 3-year-old daughter gets slathered with Neutrogena SPF 45 when she's outside, even if she's not at a pool/beach. But I'm not going to wrestle her into long-sleeved clothes on the beach; she's a bathing-suit girl. She also got my husband's olive complexion & blonde hair, which looks gorgeous when it's sun-streaked. As for me, I'm pasty white (seriously, I always have to be the fairest makeup possible) and I have dark hair, so I'm determined not to EVER burn again (there were some stupid moments when I was a teenager). I wear makeup with SPF 15 in it, even to work, and I'm religious about my SPF 45 when I'm outside. My grandmother and my mom have both already had skin cancer.

Posted by: PLS | July 9, 2008 12:43 PM | Report abuse


"She also got my husband's olive complexion & blonde hair, which looks gorgeous when it's sun-streaked."

Posted by: Oh, brother!! | July 9, 2008 12:49 PM | Report abuse

What about libraries and movie theaters? Cool, quiet, and offer lots of kids activities during the summer.

I use Aveeno because it's not greasy, not smelly, and easy to put on.

Posted by: Liz D | July 9, 2008 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Oh, crud - Cecilia is back again. I'm going to throw up.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Oh, crud - Cecilia is back again. I'm going to throw up.

Posted by: | July 9, 2008 1:53 PM

At least have the decency to leave the room while you do(and why don't you just stay gone).

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2008 2:06 PM | Report abuse

this is boooooring - how about Christy Brinkley's husband! Woo hoo - she seems to specialize in losers!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2008 2:24 PM | Report abuse

He isn't bad to look at but don't seem to have much going for him in the way of personality/common sense.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2008 2:32 PM | Report abuse

More importantly - is A-Rod really having an affair with Madonna?

Posted by: Gossip girl | July 9, 2008 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Everyone knows buttah is bettah when youah in the sun.

Posted by: luvpaula | July 9, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

The digital clock will be the downfall of Western Civilzation. Your children will not understand that 45 minutes is 3/4 or 0.75 of an hour and that things rotate either clockwise or counter-clockwise.

Posted by: Just Saying | July 9, 2008 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Why are you mocking me again? I just stated my opinion. I certainly don't pick on you if I disagree with what you are saying.

Why don't you to pick on someone who is as phony as you? Say Jed Clampett and Elllyee whatsherface.

Posted by: Cecilia | July 9, 2008 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Why does a dog turn away from you when you blow in his face yet love to hang his head out of the car window?

Posted by: Random thoughts | July 9, 2008 2:56 PM | Report abuse

I have always heard that Avon Skin So Soft works well for mosquitoes. Is that not so?

Posted by: Donna | July 9, 2008 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Family cleared in JonBenet Ramsey's death
New DNA test finds no link, DA says in letter to Colorado girl's father

I feel so sorry for this family, a girl murdered, a mother dying with a false air of suspicion on her and a father left alone with the wreckage.

Posted by: RIP, jon benet | July 9, 2008 3:04 PM | Report abuse

OK, I know everyone's bored with the topic, but for anyone looking for the titanium oxide, granola friendly sunscreens, here are my tips.

California Baby is really nice, goes on very well, has a light purple sheen when you first apply it so you can see where you've gotten, but it dries quickly and isn't noticeable after that. But it's expensive as all get out.

Sun, by Alba Botanicals, has a new titanium oxide one out that also goes on pretty easily and is about half the price of California Baby. Check the labels though, they also make chemical sunscreens so just pay attention to what you are getting.

The ones by Jason and Burts Bees are thick and very hard to put on, and the Burts Bees one leaves a weird chalky feeling on your skin.

Posted by: on topic | July 9, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse

"On the other hand, I've never in my life gotten a sunburn THROUGH a t-shirt, so use it at your own discretion"

I did get a suntan through my shirt when I worked outdoors all day, all summer. It was a very light cotton muslin shirt required for the job, though. It was actually a very nice tan (not protective, I know), I have to say, as someone who generally is either pasty white or sunburned.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2008 3:50 PM | Report abuse

We used to go to the beach only once a year for a Sunday school picnic. The beach was south of Baltimore Harbor/Sparrows Point and all the sludge and pollution from factories drifted south on to the beach. It was like splashing in a cesspool. Yuck.

I am a very fair-skinned brunette and back in those days we never heard of sunscreen. I'd get badly sunburned every time. Really deep blistered sunburns and be in agony for at least a week, then the gross peeling process began. As a teen I wanted to get tanned and again got several bad burns from laying out in the sun or by sunlamp. The drill then was to mix iodine with baby oil and you basically fried. So, to this day I equate going to the beach with pain and that stink of Noxema my mother used to smear on my scorched back and shoulders.

I've come to the conclusion that I'll never tan and have accepted my pale Celtic complexion which I keep clear and creamy with regular facials. Never had acne, either. :-)

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2008 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Donna: I tried Avon Skin So Soft once during a pregnancy. The scent nearly drove me out of my skin. And the mosquitoes didn't stop chowing down on me.

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | July 9, 2008 5:07 PM | Report abuse

I too am very fair. I always burned in the sun - and it was painful. I never understood my sister who would bake outside all summer long - in addition to the pain, it was really boring.

Anyway, when I was in Israel, yes, I did burn after the first few days in the sun. But I *so* wanted a tan. Well, by the end of the six weeks there, I had the most beautiful golden tan. The only time I ever did. Since then, I always put sunscreen on in the sun, and while I get a little bit of color at times, I do know that any change in color is bad for your skin.

But what do I do with my olive skinned boy who, even when I put 50 sunscreen on, he tans like nobody's business?

Posted by: atlmom | July 9, 2008 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone know what the studies are saying any change in color is bad and why they say that? And yes, I know I know I am being lazy and could google it, but if anyone happens to know it I'm just asking them to pass it along.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2008 5:54 PM | Report abuse

I use Crisco on my kids--makes their skin crispy and golden brown.

Posted by: SpareTheRod | July 9, 2008 6:06 PM | Report abuse

"Why does a dog turn away from you when you blow in his face yet love to hang his head out of the car window?"

Because your breath stinks Random Thoughts, and in the car that is the only way to get away from it - have a Cert.

Posted by: Chupa Chup | July 9, 2008 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Germane Comments: 12

Troll Belch: 47

Censored: None

Posted by: Today's Count | July 9, 2008 7:18 PM | Report abuse

You think scrunch lines on kids are bad? How about all the lines around the eyes on people in their 20s? Once they've squinted for years, after the practice was set in as a child to squint instead of wearing sunglasses. They look years older than they are. I am in my late 20s and do not have any of those lines, but I am fanatical about wearing sunglasses at all times. In the winter, the summer, when there is just a little sun peeking out of the clouds. Amazing what a difference a little thing can make.

I just got back from a week at the beach and definitely noticed how much better parents are getting about applying and reapplying sunscreen on their kids, then I've seen before... and at least for the people immediately around us it was SPF 30 or 45+. Clearly the marketing is getting through.

Posted by: Kim | July 10, 2008 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I have a bad allergic reaction to sunscreens. I've tried them -- anyplace I smear on the sunscreen I get a bright red/purple rash, like those strawberry/portwine birthmarks. So, I wear long sleeves, wide brimmed hat or stay out of the sun.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2008 12:14 PM | Report abuse

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