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Sunscreen vs. Beach Umbrella: What Gives Better Sun Protection?

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The sun has its benefits, but it has some downsides as well.

Aside from sunburn and other visible skin damages, spending way too much time under the sun can bring serious health concerns, too.

What Are The Dangers Of Too Much Sun Exposure

The sun's ultraviolet rays can be very unforgiving to your skin. It damages skin fibers, also known as elastin, which causes sagging, stretching, wrinkles, premature skin aging and the inability of the skin to heal itself.

Worst of all, excessive sun exposure also puts you at risk of skin cancer – currently, the most common cancer in the United States. Mounting research suggests that skin exposure to harmful UV radiation from the sun and from tanning beds is the main culprit behind the rising incidence of skin cancer in the country.

Sunscreen vs. Umbrella

Hao Ou-Yang, Ph.D., and his team conducted a randomized clinical trial where individuals were asked to spend three and a half hours in a sunny beach at midday for a few days. Among the 81 participants, 41 used an umbrella and 40 used a sunscreen with SPF 100 to protect themselves from the sun.

The result published in JAMA Dermatology shows that majority (78 percent) of participants who used a beach umbrella suffered from sunburn, citing 142 sunburn incidences. The sunscreen group, on the other hand, only had 17 incidences (25 percent).

"Umbrella shade alone may not provide sufficient sun protection during extended exposure to UV rays. Although the SPF 100 sunscreen was more efficacious than the umbrella, neither method alone prevented sunburn completely under actual use conditions, highlighting the importance of using combinations of sun protection practices to optimize protection against UV rays," the study concludes.

It's also important to note a possible conflict of interest. Ou-Yang works for Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc., the parent company of Neutrogena – the brand of sunscreen used in the said study.

Sun Protection Tips from Experts

"It's good to have a holistic approach," said Ou-Yang. "You need to think of a combination of measures."

Although sunscreen did a better job than a large umbrella in preventing more sunburns, the study pointed out that it wasn't 100 percent effective. According to the researchers, umbrellas also offer some sun protection by blocking direct sunlight, although not scattered rays.

Dr. Jennifer Stein, a dermatologist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, recommends avoiding the middle of the day, sitting in the shade and wearing protective clothing and sunscreen.

"There is no reason to be a vampire. Go on vacation. Go to the beach and have an active lifestyle. Just be careful," Stein advised.

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