Sun protection using shade
There is well established evidence that exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun can lead to skin cancer. Seeking shade is a practical form of sun protection when used with a combination of other protective measures.
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ARPANSA and other national and international health authorities, including the World Health Organization have assessed that continuous exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun causes harmful effects on the skin, eye and immune system.
Well-designed and positioned shade can significantly reduce UVR from the sun and is an important preventative measure to help reduce these risks.
The best shade is found inside buildings where reflected and diffuse UVR are completely blocked. But if you are outdoors, shade can be provided by trees, shrubs or shadows cast from nearby buildings or objects, by awnings, tents and shade sails. It can be permanent, temporary or portable.
During times where sun protection is advised (when the UV index is 3 and above) use a combination of the five sun protection measures.
For most of the day there is as much scattered solar UVR from the sky as there is from the direct sun. For best protection both direct and scattered solar UVR need to be considered.
The shade coverage depends on the positioning of the structure with respect to the sun. Generally shade structures of larger area offer more protection than smaller ones. As a rule of thumb, the less sky that is visible the greater the protection from scattered solar UVR.
Although shade is helpful, a combination of the five sun protective measures will be required if a person is outside during times where sun protection is advised.
UVR can also be reflected from surfaces such as snow, water and buildings. Hard surfaces such as steel, glass and concrete reflect more UVR than soft surfaces such as soil or grass. Lighter colours are more reflective than darker colours.
The best shade provides protection from the direct sunlight, excellent coverage of the sky and side protection from the reflective surfaces. It is also designed to factor in how shade moves with the position of the sun in the morning, midday and afternoon.
Different types of trees provide different levels of shade and UVR reduction. A heavy dense canopy can provide up to 90% UVR protection. A medium canopy can provide up to 60% UVR protection and is suitable for short stays. A light canopy provides poor UVR protection.
Manufactured shade options
There are a number of types of manufactured structures, ranging from permanent structures, adjustable or temporary and even portable types.
- Permanent shade includes shelter sheds, gazebos, verandas and fixed shade sails. They can use metals, polycarbonates, fabric and shadecloth.
- Adjustable shade includes items like shade sails, awnings and café umbrellas. As they are adjustable they are usually made of fabric or shadecloth.
- Temporary shade structures are easy to set up and take down and include large tents, marquees and beach shelters. They are usually made from fabric.
- Portable shade includes personal sun and beach umbrellas, and small sun shelters, and are typically made of fabric.
Sun protective materials
The effectiveness of a shade structure depends on the coverage and how effective the materials are at reducing UVR. The effectiveness of the material can be determined by testing it to determine its Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating or for shadecloth the Protection Factor (PF).
Metal sheets are usually used only on permanent shade structures and provide excellent UVR protection from the sun.
Polycarbonate is manufactured in either clear or tinted sheeting. The main purpose of the sheeting is to weatherproof an outdoor area while allowing visible light through. Transparent polycarbonates usually have UPF ratings of 50+.
Shadecloths are designed primarily for horticultural use to control visible light for plants. Shadecloths are available in either closely woven or mesh materials. The transmission of solar UVR through shadecloth is dependent on the weave and its gauge with closer weaves offering greater protection against UVR. Shadecloths typically rate between UPF 2 (50% block) to UPF 10 (90% block) and should not be relied upon as the only form of UVR protection.
The protection from fabrics varies depending on the colour, density, weave and coatings applied. Canvas usually has UPF ratings of 50+. Any fabric that has a UPF rating of 35 or above can provide all day protection from solar UVR. The main problem for fabrics is they often have a shorter lifespan than shadecloths.
The Cancer Council Australia provides further protective advice through national, state and territory Sunsmart programs and activities.