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Can You Get Sunburnt in the Shade? [Answers Explained!]

Written by Lexi Carlson
Medically Reviewed by Denise Christine Bries, MD
Can You Get Sunburnt in the Shade_ [Answers Explained!]

It’s a bright sunny day, and you decide to go to the beach. You brought your umbrella, sunscreen, and towel. You sit down under the shade of your umbrella for a few hours.

You went home, and when you look in the bathroom mirror, your face is bright red. You’re as bright as a tomato! That’s sunburn.

But how did you get it even if you’re under the shade of your umbrella?

Can You Still Get Sunburnt in the Shade?

YES! You can still get sunburned in the shade. Just because you are sitting inside your beach umbrella doesn’t mean you escaped the sun’s light.

How? Science can yield the answer. According to experts, the sun’s rays can still reflect off the surface of objects such as sand (More on this later).

The sun exhibits UV rays, which can reflect and bounce once it hits the surface of an object.

The sun’s rays can also be harmful to your skin. Seeking the shade for protection may not be enough.

You’ll need adequate sun protection such as SPF or protective clothing, which we will discuss next.

UV Exposure in the Shade

The amount of exposure you will get in the shade will depend on the shade itself.

Confusing, is it? Let me explain further.

Just shade alone will NOT protect you from getting sunburn. You will need to know where you are getting the shade.

Hiding underneath a large umbrella or going inside the mall will offer you more protection than hiding underneath a tree with few leaves where light is still passing through.

The shade doesn’t have to be dark. As long as your cover can block adequate light from the sun, the chances of getting a sunburn will also go down.

How to Prevent Sunburn Outside

Sitting under a single tree won’t be enough. You might need 10!

Jokes aside, now that you know you can get a sunburn in the shade, here are some ways to prevent sunburns:

Use Sunscreen

Walking under the sun’s heat with an open sky can harm your skin and is the easiest way to get sunburn. The solution? Sunscreen.

Putting on sunscreen gives the BEST PROTECTION you can give to your skin cells and the best UV protection. On a hot day, applying sunscreen is a form of UV protection, though we would give you some pointers.

Not all sunscreens are equal. High SPF (Sun Protection Factor) sunscreens can range from 40-80 and give you better protection than sunscreens with SPF 15.

You should also apply sunscreen, especially when you are outdoors for a long time. Applying sunscreen regularly every 40-80 minutes would give you protection under the sun, and you will be fully protected from harmful UV rays.

Take note that whether it is SPF 40 or SPF 80, high SPF sunscreens are already equal when giving you sun protection. So, choose the most affordable SPF sunscreen that can fully protect your skin when you are outdoors.

Proper Clothing

What if you can’t avoid spending time outdoors or want to stay longer on the beach with beautiful white sand? The next best thing to protect your skin would be clothing.

Wearing hats, comfortable clothing with long sleeves, a wide brim sun hat, or even shades when you are outdoors can help cover your unprotected skin from direct sunlight.

Though it won’t completely shield you from the sun, wearing clothes is still better than getting a sunburn because you were half naked outdoors.

If Possible, Avoid Sun Exposure

The sun’s light under a cloud cover won’t harm your skin. However, if you can’t avoid going outdoors, it’s best to wear sunscreen to prevent skin damage.

Prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, especially on a hot day, can damage your skin and cause you to age faster.

Direct sun exposure on top of a sunburn can worsen the degree of your sunburn or, in the most extreme cases, cause skin cancer. Do what you can to protect your skin from sun damage!

How to Treat Sunburn

Sunburns can be super uncomfortable. That’s why, when you get one, the first thing you want to do is relieve the pain.

There are several ways you can do to soothe those burns away. Try considering these home remedies to treat them:

Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera is a common medicinal plant that can help treat low-level skin conditions and wounds. It is also being used in some moisturizers to help retain skin moisture.

For sunburns, this plant can treat your common sunburn; however, if the sunburn is severe best consult a doctor.

  1. To treat a sunburn, apply an aloe vera extra gel over the sunburnt skin.
  2. Leave it there for a few hours until the pain goes away.

If the pain or redness does not subside, consult a doctor IMMEDIATELY.


Putting on cool water moisturizers can help soothe the skin after a sunburn.

Make sure that this is refrigerated beforehand before applying the gel. Simply putting cool water won’t be enough.

Applying creams with hydration elements will help recover your skin from that annoying sunburn.

If you have second or third-degree sunburns, it is best to consult a skin doctor (a Dermatologist) to provide you with the best medical skin care.

Avoid Further Sun Exposure

Going to a shaded area or hiding under a tree may not be enough. As long as you are still exposed to UV rays, you will still get a sunburn even in the shade.

Wear clothes with long sleeves if you have sunburns on your arms. It will protect your skin from further skin damage.

Alternatively, wear sunscreen, preferably a brand above SPF 30.

Sunscreen vs. Sitting in the Shade

Wearing sunscreen is always better than sitting under a tree or hiding in the shade.

It will always be the best form of protection from getting sunburn. You will be fully protected if sunscreen is applied constantly throughout the day.

So does that mean we shouldn’t seek shade?

Shaded areas can still give you some protection, but you need to be aware that UV rays can still affect you even if you are using an umbrella.

It may not completely shield you under the sun, but the shade can still protect your skin.

Thinking that your skin is safe from UV ray exposure just by hiding under the shade can give you a false sense of security.

The sun’s harmful UV rays can still reflect on surfaces, and prolonged durations can cause sunburn. The sun’s rays exhibit different types of UV: UVB and UVA.

UVB and UVA rays are harmful to your skin, but remember this simple wordplay to keep things simple.

  • UVB – UR: Very Burned
  • UVA – UR: Very Alive

Setting the record straight, UVB rays are more harmful to your skin than UVA. Although both UVA and UVB rays are the two common types of UV rays that the sun emits.

UVB rays can cause skin cancer. There are already multiple cases reported and documented that prolonged UV exposure can form malignant melanoma on your skin.

So wear SPF sunscreen when you’re outdoors!

REMINDER: You can still get a sunburn from both UVA and UVB, but it occurs more often with UVB.

Direct UV Rays vs. Indirect UV Rays

Indirect exposure is why you can still get a sunburn in the shade. Go figure, right? UV rays are diffused and scattered by “UV-reflective” surfaces.

Examples of these are sitting under a tree or using your umbrella under the sun.

On the other hand, direct UV rays are when your skin is exposed to direct sunlight or when you are taking a walk under the sun.

What Factors Affect Exposure to the Sun’s UV Rays?

Factors affecting exposure to UV rays are:

  1. Geographical Location – UV levels are higher along the equator. In comparison, locations below or above the equator have lower UV levels.
  2. Time of the Day – If you don’t want to be exposed to the sun, the best time to go out is between 7 am-9 am or late in the afternoon.
  3. Surrounding Surfaces – Metal surfaces, beach sand, and concrete tend to reflect UV rays on a person 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a tan? Is tanning safe? Is getting a sunburn once safe?

We answer these common questions below:

Will My Sunburn Turn Into a Tan?

Yes, eventually. Recovery will depend on the severity of the burn, and how much UV light exposure you had healed from sunburn may take days or at most a week.

Healing from sunburn will take time.

Ask yourself, were you exposed for around six hours? Eight hours? Or even more?

A sunburn will eventually subside and turn into a tan, but even getting a tan does not mean your skin is safe.

Can Getting Sunburnt Once Be Harmless?

Getting a sunburn even once can already be dangerous. Getting a sunburn at least five times before the age of 18 can exponentially increase your risk of cancer.

Our childhood years are the MOST CRITICAL years for physical growth. Seeking the shade constantly while outdoors can significantly reduce getting sunburnt.

Though we already discussed that shade might not be the best way to protect your skin. The shade is still better than no protection at all.

Can I Take a Warm Shower After Getting Sunburnt? 

This is a common myth!

Taking a warm shower after getting sunburnt will only worsen the burn. Applying warm water to burnt skin will give you more pain and remove natural oils.

Alternatively, you can take a cold bath or shower to cool off those burns. Lastly, if possible, avoid using soap. Using soap will worsen dryness and irritation on top of a burn.

Do I Need to Avoid the Sun’s light? 

No, there is no reason to panic when you are always outdoors. As long as you practice good sun care, you will be fine.

Getting adequate sunlight daily is good for your body. Exposure of 10-30 mins a day is already enough to get Vitamin D.

We caution that getting too much sunlight can lead to health complications when you’re in your 50s, 60s, or even 70s.

Does Tanning Cause Skin Cancer?

Wanting those tan lines but scared of getting skin cancer?

Your fears are now realized. Studies suggest that people who tan more often have a greater risk of acquiring cancer. It was found that there is no such thing as a “healthy” tan.

What about Indoor Tanning?

Indoor tanning isn’t safe either. Getting into a tanning bed for the sake of a tan will, in fact, increase the risk of your skin getting melanoma.

These studies also found that indoor tanning can be as dangerous as outdoor tanning. Besides cancer, tanning can make you look older and cause permanent skin damage.

If you still want that tan, fake it! Don’t just bake yourself just to get a different skin color. Products that give you more of that “tan” look are more preferred than tanning.

NOTE: Tanning is terrible. Faking a tan is better. Practicing sun safety, such as putting on sunscreen and seeking shade, is the best. 

Do Shadows Prevent Tanning?

Similar to getting sunburn in the shade, you can also get a skin tan, even in a shady area. 

As long as you stay outside for a prolonged period, the reflecting UV light will eventually give your skin a tan despite being under the shade.

For adequate protection, always wear sunscreen unless you want to get a sunburn.

Can You Get a Tan Even While Wearing Clothes?

Yes! Even if you cover your whole body with clothes just to protect yourself. There’s still a chance you will get a tan if your clothing isn’t thick enough to block light.

This is why your chances of getting a tan are much HIGHER when you wear lighter clothes than thick clothes.

The safest way to avoid a tan is to avoid the sun as much as possible by staying indoors or in heavily shaded areas. Just don’t become a caveman.

What Is Tanning Chemistry?

Have you watched it, friends? If not, spoilers ahead!

Do you remember the episode where Ross went for a tan, and it went overboard? Well, that is an example of tanning chemistry.

Getting the right amount of UV rays will not hurt, but too much exposure will cause sunburn.

What Is the Best SPF to Use?

Any SPF sunscreen above 30 will give you the protection you need against sunburn.

As mentioned earlier, High SPF sunscreens ranging between 40-80 can already protect you from getting a sunburn in the shade or on the beach.

There is NO DIFFERENCE in protection when you get an SPF 50 sunscreen or an SPF 80 sunscreen. Getting an SPF 30 sunscreen lotion should be enough.

If in case you are picky with the SPF numbers, choose the sunscreen you feel can protect you under the sun and the most comfortable one for your skin.

CAUTION: Don’t use sunscreen below 30 SPF. It doesn’t give you the best sun protection.

You might get a false sense of security thinking that an SPF 20 sunscreen can give you sun protection.

What Are The Things I Should Not Do After a Sunburn? 

Do NOT do the following: 

  • Applying Petroleum Jelly
  • Applying Ice Packs
  • Popping Skin Blisters 


Getting a sunburn in the shade can be a pain. Recovering from peeling skin can take days to recover.

In the worst cases, such as skin cancer, our bank accounts will suffer under the weight of our medical bills.

So whenever you go outside, don’t forget to put on that SPF 30 sunscreen so that you won’t look like a bright red tomato when you meet your date the next day.