Category: Skin Health

Topic: Sun Safety

It is important to seek shade whenever you are outdoors. Shade protects you from ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the direct sun. A combination of natural and artificial shade can provide adequate protection from ultraviolet radiation.

Natural shade

Natural shade refers to trees and vegetation planted specifically to create shade. Certain types of trees are better for shade creation. When planting trees for shade, try to:

  • select the most appropriate shade trees for your region (ask your local council for advice)
  • choose trees that do not drop branches or lose leaves in winter (deciduous trees)
  • choose trees that have wide spreading, dense leaf canopies
  • plant trees in clusters to provide the most effective shade cover.

Artificial shade

Artificial shade is created by using manufactured shade materials. These include:

  • awnings and outdoor roofing materials
  • canopies and canvas
  • shadecloth
  • portable shade including tents and umbrellas
  • car window tinting.

Each material provides varying levels of UVR protection.

Awnings and outdoor roofing materials are durable, require minimal maintenance and provide all weather protection. Where possible, areas such as verandahs and picnic tables should have a solid roof to maximise UVR protection. Outdoor roofing is usually made from aluminium and tin or polycarbonate and fibreglass. Aluminium and tin are durable, require minimal maintenance and usually provide maximum protection from UVR. Polycarbonate and fibreglass sheetings are solid, but allow in infrared (heat) rays and visible light. They are useful for locations where winter heating is desirable. Before using these products, contact the manufacturer about UVR levels transmitted. Use products that offer maximum UVR protection.

Canopies and canvas provide different levels of UVR protection. The density of the material weave is critical. The denser the weave, the higher the sun protection factor. New canvas usually offers high UVR protection, however prolonged exposure to weather can deteriorate this protection and make it less effective. If material is plastic coated, it may provide more protection as plastics generally absorb UVR well.

Shadecloth is the least effective roofing material for UVR protection as it allows a large amount of UVR to pass through. Generally, if you hold the cloth up to the light, the more you can see through it, the less UVR protection it provides. Tightly woven shadecloth can absorb up to 90% of UVR. Remember colour, washing and tension of the cloth can alter its UVR absorption properties. Contact the manufacturer or supplier to find out the sun protection ability of their shadecloth. Use shadecloth with maximum UVR protection. The Australian Standard AS/NZS 4174:1994 specifies the requirements for the performance and labelling of shadecloth. If shadecloth is used, it is very important that people still wear sun protective clothing, hats, and sunscreen.

Portable shade includes shade tents and umbrellas. The effectiveness of portable shade depends on the material it is made from and where it is located.

Window or glass tinting of car windows is another form of shade. The majority of car windows absorb a considerable amount of UVR and provide a significant amount of shade for occupants. Clear autoglass windows block about 97% of UVB rays, and about 37% of UVA rays. Laminated windscreens block all UVB rays and about 80% of UVA radiation, depending on the quality of film used. Clear or tinted window films applied to non-laminated windows can substantially reduce the amount of UV rays transmitted into a vehicle. People travelling in cars with their windows down can be affected more by UVR. People in this situation should wear protective clothing, sunglasses and sunscreen while travelling.

House window glass filters out about 90% of UVR, and office windows filter out about 97.5%. Unless people are spending extended periods of time close to a window that receives the direct sun, UVR coming through the glass in building windows poses little risk.

When choosing shade, it is important to remember the size of the area you wish to cover, and where people will be positioned to minimise the amount of UVR received.

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Gies P, Roy C, and Zongli W (1992) Ultraviolet Radiation Protection Factors for Clear and Tinted Automobile Windscreens. Radiation Protection in Australia, 10, 91-94.