Can You Get Sunburn in the Shade?

Published on: March 6, 2022
A woman working on a laptop on a beach hiding in the shade of the beach umbrella.

Everyone knows that staying too long in the direct sun can result in a sunburn. Even if you do not burn, too much sun can damage your skin and increase the risk of skin cancer. But can you get sunburn in the shade of a building or tree? Here is what you need to know about reducing risks of sunburn and skin sun damage.

How Do Sunburns Occur?

Before exploring whether you can a sunburn in the shade, it is important to understand how sunburns occur. Ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight can invoke melanin production in the skin. This results in tanning of the skin, but overexposure can burn the skin. This results in a sunburn which is red, inflamed skin.

Sunburns are like any other heat burn – it damages the skin cells to the point they die and need to be replaced. If you are exposed to enough sun to burn the skin, you have also been exposed to damaging UV rays that can put you at risk of skin cancer in the future.

Sunburns can happen on any area of the body, including scalp, eyes, ears and even skin covered with clothing. You do not need to be hot or in direct sun to get a sunburn. UV rays can reach the skin through some clothing or through the clouds – you can even get sunburned on a cold, cloudy day.

Myths About Sunburns and Shade

Many people believe that sitting in the shade can prevent sunburn. Can you get a sunburn in the shade? Yes, you can. There are many myths about sunburns and shade that could put you at risk for sun damage. Here are some of the most common myths.

Sitting Under An Umbrella Prevents Sunburn
You will see many people sitting under umbrellas at the beach to protect themselves from sunburn. While sitting under an umbrella may be better than direct sunlight, it may not prevent a sunburn or sun damage. The type of umbrella matters, but you can still receive UV rays that reflect from surfaces around you.
Sitting Under a Tree Can Prevent Sunburn
Trees are a wonderful source of shade, and they can provide relief from the heat of the sun. However, they may not offer enough protection to prevent a sunburn. UV rays can seep through the branches and reach you below. You may also get UV ray exposure from reflection off nearby surfaces.
Buildings Prevent Sunburn
So, if you are inside or in the shade of a building, you cannot be sunburned, right? This is not necessarily true. You can be sunburned through glass if you are inside from windows, doors and sun lights. Can you get sunburn in the shade of a building? It is unlikely, but reflected UV rays could still cause a sunburn.

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How To Prevent Sunburns and Sun Damage

Now you know that the answer to the question, “Can you get a sunburn in the shade?” is, yes, you can. Sitting in the shade may reduce your risk of a sunburn or sun damage, but it is not foolproof. If you are going to be outside for long periods of time, you should use more protection than just shade.

Sunscreen is one of the best ways to protect your skin. If you will be outside for a few hours or more, applying sunscreen all over your body is a good idea. This can protect your skin, even if UV rays penetrate your clothing or reach you while sitting in the shade.

Clothing can protect your skin, but you need fabric that is tightly woven and rated to provide UV ray protection. Loosely woven fabrics provide very little protection from UV rays, and you can still obtain sun damage or a sunburn wearing many types of clothing.

Combining sunscreen, shade and protective clothing can give you the best protection from sunburns and sun damage to your skin. Limiting your time outside during the peak UV ray hours is also beneficial. Remember to cover your head and eyes – eyes and the scalp can be sunburned and damaged by UV rays.

Be Sunburn Smart When Outside

Sunburns are painful and can indicate you have been overexposed to sunlight. While sitting in the shade can minimize your risk, it is not a guarantee that you will not sunburn or damage your skin. If you are going to be outside, use all available protection to keep yourself protected from harmful UV rays.
A woman applying a sunscreen on a nose of a joyful senior man spending a day on a beach.
Next time you are at the beach or at a park, do more than just seek shade to prevent a sunburn. Make sure you use all the possible options to avoid unnecessary exposure to UV rays to keep your skin safe. An ounce of prevention – or sunscreen – is worth a pound of cure when it comes to sunburns.

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