22 March 2013

Umbrellas block 90% of sun's rays

If it's streaming sunshine outdoors and the sunscreen isn't handy, grab an umbrella, researchers say.


If it's streaming sunshine outdoors and the sunscreen isn't handy, grab an umbrella, researchers say. That little device could help shield skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays, according to a new study by dermatologists at Emory University in Atlanta.

They found that any fully-functioning handheld umbrella can block more than three-quarters of UV light on a sunny day. Black ones seem to do the job especially well, blocking at least 90% of rays.

"In addition to sunscreen, I often encourage people to engage in other sun-protection measures," said Dr Brundha Balaraman, a dermatology researcher from the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis.

Umbrellas good for sun protection  

Along with using an umbrella, those other measures can include wearing wide-brimmed hats and sun-protective clothing, she said."These are all great alternatives in situations where it may be impractical to apply sunscreen adequately... every one to two hours," Balaraman, who wasn't involved in the new research, told Reuters Health.

For their study, Dr Suephy Chen and her colleagues wanted to test more rigorously whether handheld umbrellas - used for sun protection by many women in Asia and the Middle East, and a popular accessory for American women in past centuries - really do block UV light.

How the study was done

So they asked around and collected 23 working umbrellas - no fabric tears allowed - from people at their medical school. On a sunny morning in April, the researchers used UV devices to measure radiation just under each umbrella's fabric and by the nose of the person using it. They compared those numbers to umbrella-less radiation readings.

All but one of the umbrellas was a standard, handheld rain umbrella. The other was a travel sun umbrella. The sun umbrella lived up to its billing, blocking more than 99% of UV rays, Chen and her colleagues reported Wednesday in JAMA Dermatology.

But devices originally intended to protect the user from rain worked well too, blocking at least 77% of UV light - and more among the darker-colored umbrellas. Balaraman said golfers and people traveling to warm climates may especially benefit from carrying around a standard umbrella. But, she acknowledged, "It's a little challenging to convince people to use umbrellas on a daily basis."


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Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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