Umbrellas may shield you from more than rain: Study

NEW YORK - 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 per cent 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.

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.

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 per cent 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 per cent of UV light - and more among the darker-coloured 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."