Shade from Beach Umbrellas Alone May Not Provide Adequate Sun Protection, According to a Study
Any beach dweller can attest that umbrellas offer a cool respite from the beating summer sun. But most importantly, they can help protect our skin against skin-damaging UV rays…right? The answer to that question is complicated. Seeking shade under a beach umbrella does provide some sun protection, but recent studies have shown that using an umbrella, alone, isn’t enough.
Researchers conducted a study—recently published in JAMA Dermatology—to discover how well typical shade from a beach umbrella protects against sunburn, plus how it compares with protection provided by sunscreen with a high SPF. Eighty-one participants in Lake Lewisville, Texas took part in the study and were randomly assigned to two groups: one group used only a beach umbrella and the other group used only sunscreen with SPF 100. All participants remained at a sunny beach for 3.5 hours at midday, with sunburn evaluation on all exposed body sites conducted 22 to 24 hours after sun exposure.
So, what did they find? The results showed that among the 81 participants, the umbrella group showed a statistically significant increase in clinical sunburn scores for all body sites evaluated—face, back of neck, upper chest, arms, and legs—compared to the sunscreen group. What’s more, there was a total of 142 sunburn incidences in the umbrella group versus 17 in the sunscreen group. The results show that neither seeking shade under an umbrella nor wearing sunscreen alone can prevent sunburn. Shocking, huh?
WHY IS THIS STUDY IMPORTANT?
According to researchers, there is no current standard metric to evaluate shade for its effectiveness in sun protection. If you’ve been seeking shade and thinking your skin is fully protected, these findings may come as quite the surprise. Knowing what we do about how UV rays can damage the skin—potentially causing premature visible signs of aging and even some skin cancers—it’s important to inform the public that multiple sun protection measures are necessary to help protect skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays when directly exposed in the outdoors.
Don’t toss that beach umbrella just yet! Seeking shade is an important step of sun protection—it’s just not the only one to consider. Do not treat your umbrella as a substitute for broad-spectrum SPF application (and reapplication every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating) and other sun protection measures. The umbrella may not protect against reflected or indirect UV rays, which could still cause harm to your skin with exposure.
Keep in mind that neither form of sun protection prevented sunburn fully. Allow these findings to serve as a reminder that seeking more than one form of sun protection is key when enjoying time outdoors. In addition to seeking shade under your beach umbrella, lather up in water-resistant, broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher and reapply at least every two hours (or immediately after you take a dip, towel dry, or sweat profusely). The American Academy of Dermatology also recommends additional sun protection measures such as wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and clothes that cover up your arms and legs if possible.
Bottom line: As we inch closer and closer to summer, it’s safe to say this study puts a lot into perspective—and we’re very grateful for that.