Throwing some shade: Parasols are back in fashion

July 3, 2018

There are more than a few ways to “take the heat,” including sunscreen, protective clothing, large hats—and our personal favorite, staying inside in the air conditioning. But women in Asia and the Middle East—including up to 45% of women in China—have for many centuries used parasols to block the skin-scorching effects of ultraviolet (UV) light.

Indeed, the word, parasol, is derived from Latin, with para meaning ward off or shelter; and sol, meaning the sun. And the handheld umbrella was standard outdoor attire for U.S. women on sunny days during the 18th and 19th centuries, before other types of sun block were invented.

They still continue to be an extremely effective way of blocking rays—and they are reappearing in some of the nation’s largest cities, including New York, in stylish designs that are trendy and sought-after. In line with the current fashion fever, New York Magazine recommended five paper, fabric and crocheted versions—most under $20—for reader use this summer.

And it doesn’t have to be your standard parasol. According to findings of a U.S. study published in 2013 by JAMA Dermatology, any fully functioning handheld umbrella can block more than three-quarters of UV light on a sunny day. Black ones do even better—blocking at least 90% of rays.

“The umbrellas blocked between 77% and 99% of UV radiation,” wrote Suephy Chen and colleagues at Emory University in Atlanta, who conducted the study. They collected 22 standard umbrellas and one travel sun umbrella—no fabric tears allowed—from people at their medical school. On a sunny morning, they used UV devices to measure radiation just under each umbrella’s fabric, and by the nose of the person using it; and then compared this to umbrella-less radiation readings.

The sun umbrella blocked more than 99% of UV rays. Regular umbrellas worked well too, blocking at least 77% of UV light—and even more, if the umbrella was dark-colored.

The New York Magazine writer, Alison Freer, says she is hooked—carrying one for every outfit during the summer months. However, Freer says, beginners take note: “Parasols may seem hard to pull off in real life, but really, the only rule to follow when carrying one is to avoid clocking passersby with it. I’ve got a parasol on deck for every summer outfit and social occasion — these are the five in my current rotation, many of which I buy in multiples.”

Research contact: @AlisonVFreer

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