Umbrellas are a beach staple for a reason—and not just because they're colorful. Seeking shade—under an umbrella, leafy palm tree, or canopy—is one of the fundamental pillars of smart sun protection. But a new study published in JAMA Dermatology has discovered that ducking under an umbrella while at the beach is not nearly as effective as previously thought.
The randomized clinical trial looked at the effectiveness of shade from an umbrella versus a sunscreen with an SPF value of 100 (more on that in a second). The 81 participants from Texas spent three and a half hours on the beach during the middle of the day, armed with either just an umbrella or just sunscreen. The researchers found that a whopping 78% of participants seeking shade under an umbrella later developed a sunburn, compared to the 25% who developed a sunburn using the sunscreen. Even though the participants stayed under the umbrella the whole time, and were constantly monitored and adjusted to reduce their direct exposure, the umbrella was just not effective at blocking UVB radiation, the kind that leads to sunburns. The study further proves what the Skin Cancer Foundation and dermatologists across the world already preach: a multi-pronged approach to sun protection, including shade, sunscreen, protective clothing, and avoiding peak sun hours, is most effective at saving your skin.
It's also important to note that an SPF 100 sunscreen, like the kind used in the study, is essentially no more protective than a formula with half the SPF value. In fact, an SPF 50 sunscreen blocks 98 percent of UV radiation, which is just about as good as you can get. An SPF 30 sunscreen, by comparison, blocks nearly 97 percent. The FDA has previously called high-SPF values "inherently misleading" and has proposed legislation in place to force manufacturers into labeling such formulas SPF 50+, like they do in Europe and Canada.
Via Harper’s Bazaar US