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Shade Or Sunscreen? Study Answers What’s More Effective Against Sunburn

Scientists compared an umbrella's effectiveness to sunscreen. (Blueraspberry, Wikimendia)

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Sunscreen is more effective than an umbrella at preventing sunburns – but may not be enough to completely prevent sunburns.

That’s according to a randomized study comparing sunscreen to umbrellas, where participants spent more than three hours on the beach during midday.

Researchers recruited 81 volunteers who always burn, but never tan. One group only used SPF 100 sunscreen; the other group was directed to stay under a beach umbrella that blocked all UV rays.

The participants were allowed to cover up and take breaks from the heat, but most only left for a few minutes. When they were checked for sunburns the next day, 25 percent of those using sunscreen were burned. But 78 percent of those using an umbrella had a burn.

Study Author Hao Ou-Yang says the results show sunscreen is more effective, but that people should be using both sunscreen and shade to protect from burns.

“The overall takeaway I would say is to get optimal protection, you need a combination of sun protection measures. You need to seek shade, need to use sunscreen, and probably need to think about reducing overall sun exposure time,” said Ou-Yang. “For Florida, it’s critical to think about those things.”

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Dermatology journal. It was funded by Johnson and Johnson, which makes sunscreen.


WMFE is a partner with Health News Florida, a statewide collaborative reporting on health care.

Health reporting on WMFE is supported in part by AdventHealth.

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Abe Aboraya

About Abe Aboraya

Health Reporter

Abe Aboraya started writing for newspapers in High School. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe ... Read Full Bio »

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