What is the best protection against sunburn?

Sunscreen is more effective than shade at protecting the skin from sunburn, although neither approach alone can completely prevent it, according to recent research.

Researchers in Lake Lewisville, Texas, sought to discover how well shade from a beach umbrella protects against sunburn and how it compares with protection provided by high-SPF sunscreen.

Eighty-one participants – of whom 25 were male and 56 female, with an average age of 41 years – were randomly assigned to two groups: one using only a beach umbrella, and the other using only sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 100. All participants remained at a sunny beach for 3½ hours at midday.

Sunburn was evaluated at 24 hours after sun exposure. Among the 81 participants, the umbrella group showed a statistically significant increase in sunburn compared with the sunscreen group in all body sites including the face, neck, upper chest, arms and legs. There was a total of 142 sunburn incidences in the umbrella group versus 17 in the sunscreen group.

The study found that after 3½ hours of sun exposure, 78 percent of participants under shade from a beach umbrella developed sunburn versus 25 percent of participants using sunscreen. Neither shade nor sunscreen alone completely prevented sunburn.

Researchers concluded that shade from a beach umbrella does not provide sufficient protection for extended exposure to UV radiation, and that it is important to educate the public that combining multiple protection measures is the best approach to achieve optimal protection.

Read more about the effectiveness of sun protection.


Ou-Yang, H. et al. (March 2017.) Sun Protection by Beach Umbrella vs Sunscreen With a High Sun Protection Factor. JAMA Dermatology. 153(3):304-308. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2016.4922

Learn more about skin cancer medicine in primary care at the next Skin Cancer Certificate Courses:

Skin Cancer Certificate Courses in Australia

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *