The shady side of solar protection

Med J Aust. 1998 Apr 6;168(7):327-30. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.1998.tb138960.x.


Objective: To determine the value of shade in protecting humans from solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Design and setting: Measurement with photometers of protection factors for ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) and for total solar radiation for different types of trees and other structures during the summer months (1995-1997) in south-east Queensland. (The protection ratio is the ratio of the intensity of UVB or total solar radiation in direct sunlight to that in shade.)

Results: For summer sun at midday, the mean (SD) UV protection ratio for the shade of trees (n = 65) was 4.21 (1.36) on a horizontal surface and 1.33 (0.30) on a vertical surface. In contrast, the mean (SD) protection ratio for total solar energy (primarily infrared) was much higher (12.1 [1.4]). Trees common in recreational areas in Australia (eucalypts: UV protection ratio, 3.52 [0.79]; Norfolk Island pines: UV protection ratio, 3.72 [0.98]) offered reduced protection compared with trees with more dense foliage (UV protection ratio, 5.48 [1.44]). Over a whole day, measurement of shade by trees and other structures showed that the UV protection ratio was lower in the morning and afternoon. Shade from awnings, buildings and hats gave similar results to those for trees. Both at midday and over a whole day satisfactory protection (UV protection ratio > 15) was obtained only in shade which eliminated exposure to the sky as well as to direct sunlight; for example, in thickly wooded areas and under low, widely overhanging structures.

Conclusions: Most forms of shade, while useful, offer people insufficient protection from solar UV. A fair-skinned person sheltering under a tree could suffer sunburn after less than one hour. There is a need for appropriate design of structural shade, use of other solar protection measures in conjunction with shade, and research on behavioural responses to shade.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Facility Design and Construction / standards
  • Humans
  • Photometry
  • Protective Clothing / standards
  • Queensland
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Pigmentation
  • Sunburn / etiology
  • Sunburn / prevention & control*
  • Time Factors
  • Trees*
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects*