Can You Get a Sunburn in the Shade?

Can You Get a Sunburn in the Shade?

Sunburns are a common affliction. A third of American adults get a sunburn every year. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., so it's crucial to avoid harmful sun rays. One of the most common methods of prevention is to spend time in the shade. But how effective is it? Can you get a sunburn in the shade? Read on to find out.

Can You Get a Sunburn in the Shade?

You're likely familiar with sunburn symptoms: red skin, swelling, pain, blisters, and peeling. But, what causes sunburn, and can you get a sunburn in the shade?

What is a Sunburn?

A sunburn is an inflammatory reaction to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Within about ten minutes, your body kicks into defense mode. The blood vessels under your skin dilate, making your skin turn red. Then your skin loses moisture, creating a tight feeling. And finally, the skin thickens and produces melanin to prevent UV rays from penetrating deeper layers. If UV rays penetrate those deeper layers, blisters will form, and your risk of skin cancer increases. After a few days, your body tries to rid itself of damaged skin, resulting in peeling. 

Can You Get a Sunburn in the Shade?

The short answer is: yes. 

Spending time in the shade reduces direct exposure to UV rays, but you're still vulnerable to indirect radiation. Even if you're lounging in a shaded area, UV rays bounce off reflective surfaces all around you. Water, sand, snow, concrete, glass, and other bright surfaces throw UV rays at you from all directions, making you susceptible to exposure. Even in the shade, you're exposed to as much as 84 percent of UV rays.

What about clouds? You can't get a sunburn on a cloudy day, right? Wrong. Clouds don't block all the sun's rays. Up to 80 percent of UV rays can penetrate clouds and damage your precious skin. Further, clouds tend to scatter UV rays, making you sensitive to indirect exposure.

How to Avoid Getting a Sunburn in the Shade

Whether you're in direct sun, shade, or clouds, there are steps you can take to avoid sunburn and protect yourself from skin cancer.

  • Choose larger shaded areas over smaller ones, preferably with side protection. A three or four-sided beach tent is more protective than a simple umbrella. 
  • Choose a shaded area that blocks more of the sky. An awning offers more protection than a scant tree.
  • Wear clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 15 or more, especially if you have light skin or hair.
  • Wear sunglasses with UV protection to minimize eye damage, especially if you have blue or green eyes.
  • Even in the shade, use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more and reapply every two hours. For extra protection, cover yourself with long sleeves and pants.
  • Limit your time in the sun or water from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm when UV rays are most damaging.
  • If possible, stay at lower elevations to reduce exposure to harsh rays. The thinning atmosphere at higher elevations intensifies UV rays (at a rate of eight to ten percent per 1000 feet).

Your Best Bet for Prevention

One of the best ways to shield yourself from the sun is to wear a hat. Here are two excellent options from Banner & Oak.

1. The Sierra hat. 

This classic trucker hat is perfect for summer. It features a breezy mesh back panel and a lightweight visor. The poly-cotton blend keeps you cool in scorching temps and shields you from harmful rays. The Sierra comes in gray, royal, spruce, and tan.  

2. The Switchback hat. 

Stay cool all day long with this low-profile hat. The featherlight cotton twill allows your head to breathe. And the flat visor protects you from sun damage. With the Switchback's rugged outdoor design, you can play outside in style.

Avoiding sunburn should be a top priority when you're spending time outdoors. Finding a shaded area will reduce your chance of getting a sunburn, but the question remains. Can you get a sunburn in the shade? By taking a few extra precautions, you can make sure your skin stays safe, even in shady places.