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A Surprising Shield: How the Umbrella Deflects Sun Rays

By May 20, 2016May 11th, 2023Dermatology, Skin Care

Even when it’s sunny and hot outside, you might want to bring an umbrella when you walk out the door.



An Emory School of Medicine study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), reveals that 23 different umbrellas protected the skin from 77 percent of the damage that can be caused by ultraviolet radiation.


Two centuries ago, a handheld umbrella was the most common defense for skin care against sun rays in the U.S. In the 20th century, it was superseded by various sunscreens, hats, and protective clothing. When the threat of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) arose, the nation began seeking increased protection.

UVR Defined

Ultraviolet radiation is an electromagnetic wave that flows from the sun to the earth. While providing essential vitamin D, ultraviolet radiation can also impact the eyes and skin with burning, hyperpigmentation, and other threats, including skin cancer.

Umbrellas and Sunscreen

In the Emory study, all but one of the umbrellas was a standard handheld rain umbrella. Each umbrella nearly matched the effectiveness of sunscreen, while some exceeded it, and researchers agreed that an umbrella combined with sunscreen provided the maximum protection from UV rays with skin care.

Black Umbrellas Are Best

Any umbrella will shield the skin from UV rays, including those reflected by water and sand. Even so, every black umbrella in Emory’s study intercepted at least 90 percent of UV rays and the best blocked up to 99 percent. As a dark-colored shirt absorbs more UV rays and warms the body, a back umbrella attracts more of the sun’s energy before it reaches the skin.

Professional Advice

Brundha Balaraman, a dermatology researcher at Washington University’s School of Medicine, also encourages the use of other sun-blocking measures in addition to umbrellas. Among her suggestions are sun-protective clothing and hats with wide brims, noting that it’s more challenging “to convince people to use umbrellas on a daily basis.”

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