Shade Sun Protection, Is It Good Enough?

Cynthia Bailey, MD|July 2, 2014

Shade Sun Protection with beach umbrella for sun protectionI'm asked this question all the time by patients.  If you are in the shade, can you skip the sunscreen? The answer is NO and the reason is that UV rays bounce off surfaces and sneak through fabric. UV rays will bounce off sand, water, cement, the sides of buildings, windows, etc. When you are in the shade, harmful rays can hit your skin from the side and can bounce up from below. Yes, shade protects you from some of the direct rays from the sun but that's all. In addition, not all shade structures are impervious to UV rays from above. Remember, UV rays are small and can squeeze between some fabric fibers. Don't get me wrong, shade is helpful, but it's not enough all by itself. You can see that in this great photo - of course the rays are reflecting off the beach sand and the water. I'd want to be under the umbrella, but I'd wear sunscreen and a shirt too. My advice is to use multiple sun-protection strategies to protect your skin from the UV rays while you enjoy the outdoors. The more rays you prevent from entering your skin the better. It's my "primary, secondary, and tertiary" back-up system for sun protection! (Yes, Star Trek Geek Alert!) Dr. Bailey's Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary (aka comprehensive) Sun Protection Strategy

Primary Sun Protection

Wear broad spectrum mineral zinc oxide sunscreen on your exposed skin. Only use products that include a minimum of 5% zinc oxide. Know how much to apply and reapply sunscreen every two hours of sun exposure and after your product is removed by water exposure or rubbing your skin. Always apply sunscreen to exposed skin before you step outside for the day and remember UV-A1 (which is harmful and aging to your skin) can come through window glass.  See my Quick Sunscreen Product Pick guide below.

Secondary Sun Protection

If you are outside, aim for the shade or create it. This will at least fend off the UV rays coming down from the heavens. Great shade seeking ideas include:

  • using a beach umbrella like in the picture above, aim for the shade of trees or buildings.
  • be the smart person who insists on a shaded table at an outdoor cafe. (Who are those people sitting in the direct sun and aren't they hot?)
  • wear a full-brim proper sun hat when you are outdoors.
  • consider using a sun umbrella. My favorite is Coolibar's.

Shade Sun Protection with umbrellas My Coolibar umbrella in French Polynesia Remember though, UV rays bounce, so shade alone is not enough.  A great example of this is the day I was sitting outdoors at Pete’s Coffee in Downtown Santa Rosa at 3pm after my husband’s shoulder surgery. The outdoor tables at Pete’s are set on the sidewalk on the east side of a tall building. At 3pm we were deeply in the shade, but the Detecto Ring beads on my key chain colored up which meant we were getting zapped by UV rays reflecting off the building across the street.  uv sensing beads

Tertiary Sun Protection Strategy

Cover as much of your skin as you comfortably can with sun-protective clothing. I've done it for years and you actually won't be hotter than exposing your skin to the sun. Not all fabric provides good sun protection, so use UPF 50 garments for times with intense UV exposure. My favorite sun-protective garments are Coolibar sun-protective clothes because the protection lasts for the life of the garment. I've had other brands lose their sun protection before I've worn out the garment. I wear a Coolibar sun shirt (and pants too) when I swim (for a truly geeky pic click here - but hey, I swim at noon which is a big hit of UV rays). I wear a sun shirt for walking my dog or gardening. On vacation, I wear shirts that I have washed SunGuard into when I want to wear something that is "fashion forward". I even carry a scarf in my purse when I'm running errands in the sun, just in case. Click here to see me creating sun-protective clothing in Australia with Sun Guard.

sun protectionDr. Bailey’s Quick Pick Sunscreen Product Guide:

          Facial Sunscreens: best zinc oxide facial sunscreenSuntegrity 5 in 1 BB Cream Sunscreen Tinted and great for dry/normal skin.         best sunscreen for oily skinMDSolarSciences Sunscreen Tinted and mattifying for oily skin.           EltaMD UV Clear fbest sunscreen or oily to normal skinEltaMD UV Clear Sunscreen Untinted facial sunscreen for oily/normal skin.         Best All Over Sunscreens best all over sunscreenCitrix Sunscreen for neck, chest, ears, hands, arms, and legs. Trusted water-resistant protection that’s invisible and easy to use and my husband's favorite sunscreen.         best family sunscreenSolbar Zinc Sunscreen Great for hairy skin and excited squirmy kids trying to dash out into the sun.          

Lip Sunscreen

best lip sunscreenEltaMD Lip Balm For lip protection.         Must have for the sun savvy uv sensing beadsDetecto Ring UV-sensing beads to test you sun exposure knowledge!       If you have found these shade sun protection tips helpful, please show your thanks by commenting on, sharing, “liking,” Google+, tweeting, and “pinning,” using the social sharing buttons above and below this blog post with friends and family. Photo: Thanks and gratitude to Alan Donque

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