Why is shade important for UV protection?

Shade is one of the best ways to protect ourselves from the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and reduce our risk of skin cancer. When used with other forms of sun protection, such as clothing, hats, sunglasses and sunscreen, shade becomes an even more powerful method of skin cancer prevention.

In fact, making sure you seek quality shade when outdoors can reduce your exposure to UV radiation by up to 75%.1

Quality shade can reduce UV exposure by up to 75%25


What is UV radiation and why is it harmful?

UV radiation is generated from the sun. When it enters our earth's atmosphere, it reaches our skin. Overexposure - getting too much UV - can cause damage to skin cells and lead to cancer.

Exposure to UV radiation can be direct or indirect. Direct UV is UV received directly from the sun. For example, being outdoors without using any form of sun protection. Indirect UV is UV that bounces off reflective surfaces like water, sand and snow. For example, when you are sitting near water and your face becomes sunburnt, despite wearing a hat.

Illustration of a surfer receiving direct UV from the sun and the image of a sunbather receiving indirect UV from the sun

What is high quality shade?

A combination of natural shade and built shade gives the highest quality protection from UV.


The two types of shade

Natural shade includes shade from trees or tall shrubs. The best trees to provide protection from direct UV are those with a canopy that is dense and closer to the ground. The larger the canopy, the greater protection from both direct and indirect UV.

Find out which local species of tree are best to plant for shade.

Built shade includes shade sails, awnings, pergolas or temporary marquees. These shade structures can be stand-alone, added onto existing buildings or built next to natural shade. When installing shade sails, make sure to choose fabric that has a UV Effectiveness (UVE) rating of 80% or more. The higher the UVE rating, the more UV will be blocked.

Take a look at our case study examples of well-designed built shade.

An illustration of two women enjoying a picnic in the park under natural tree shade

An illustration of children in a playground having fun under built shade sails

Want to know more about high quality shade?

Learn the basics of designing high quality shade and check out the Cancer Council NSW’s Guidelines to Shade.

How does shade protect from UV radiation?

High quality built and natural shade provides protection from direct UV from the sun, as well as indirect UV from reflective surfaces like water, sand and snow. Shade creates an outdoor space that is comfortable to use all year round and gives added protection from heat, rain and wind.

Is there UV in shade?

Not all shade is equal. UV rays can still penetrate lower quality shade. That is why it is important to seek high quality built and natural shade when protecting yourself from the sun while outdoors. 

One way to test if shade is high quality or not on a clear day is the amount of blue sky you can see while underneath it. The less blue sky you can see, the better protected you are from UV. 

Don’t forget – indirect UV reflected off surfaces means UV can still enter the shade from the sides. That is why it is a good idea to use other forms of sun protection even when in the shade.

UV is still active on cool and cloudy days. Learn more about the UV index and why you should always protect your skin when the UV index is 3 and above.

What are the benefits of shade?

  • Reduces UV exposure and helps prevent skin cancer
  • Improves thermal comfort in times of heat
  • Increases recreational and physical activity outdoors
  • Reduces obesity and risk of chronic disease 
  • Improves mental health and wellbeing 

[See Reference 2 for all the above]

  • Reduces build-up of heat in urban areas
  • Decreases air pollution and atmospheric carbon
  • Reduces water evaporation, soil erosion and storm water run-off
  • Maintains animal habitat and biodiversity

[See Reference 2 for all the above]

  • Improves social and community connection
  • Reduces neighbourhood crime
  • Improves connection to culture and place (placemaking)
  • Increases land and property value
  • Reduces energy usage and costs

[See Reference 2 for all the above]


1. Parsons, P., Neale, R., Wolski, P. & Green, A. 1998, ‘The shady side of solar protection’, Medical Journal of Australia, 168: 327–330.

2. Davern, M., Farrar, A., Kendal, D., and Giles-Corti, B. 2016. Quality Green Space Supporting Health, Wellbeing and Biodiversity: A Literature Review. Report prepared for the Heart Foundation, SA Health, Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, Office for Recreation and Sport, and Local Government Association (SA). University of Melbourne: Victoria. Green space