June 01, 2018

Shade isn't enough for sun protection

When it comes to sun protection, people who rely on shade have a much higher rate of sunburn than do people who use sunscreen, according to a study in the March 2017 issue of JAMA Dermatology.

The study monitored 81 people who visited a beach on a sunny day for a set amount of time between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Half the participants were given a beach umbrella and asked to remain under it. The other half received sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 100, along with instructions for thorough application and reapplication.

When participants were evaluated the next day, researchers found that those who used shade were significantly more likely to be sunburned. More than 75 percent of participants in the shade group had at least one burned area, while only 25 percent of those in the sunscreen group had a burned area. When researchers added up the incidence of sunburn in seven exposed areas — including the face, arms, legs, upper chest and back of the neck — they found an overall 49 percent rate of sunburn in the exposed areas for those using shade compared with just 6 percent in those using sunscreen.

The high-SPF sunscreen used in the study was higher than many commercial sunscreens, yet didn't completely prevent sunburn. This highlights the importance of combining sun protection — including sunscreen, shade, sun protective clothing and limiting sun exposure at peak times — to optimize protection.