How to Choose a Stylish and Functional UV Parasol or Umbrella
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, the most common form of cancer in the US is skin cancer. In 2007, over 58,000 people were diagnosed with the melanomas of the skin, and 8,461 people died from the affliction.
I'm not ready to fry up and become another statistic, so I'm pretty careful about sun protection. That said, I don't always have time to put sunscreen on more than just my face, and I neither like the feeling of sticky arms nor the dreadful heat of extra layers of sun-protecting clothing on hot summer days.
This is why I have turned to UV parasols. They serve as an excellent alternative in the world of skin protection. UV parasols, different from many typical umbrellas, have specially treated fabric that protects the skin from UVA and UVB rays. Though some can also be used for protection from rain, most UV parasols are designed exclusively to protect your skin from the sun and will do no good in a downpour.
Interestingly, UV parasols existed before rain umbrellas. The word "parasol" is actually derived from "para" (defense against) and "sol" (sun), and parasols in Europe were originally used by stately ladies adapting Asian-style umbrellas to secure stylish, mobile shade. The modern rain umbrella didn't actually come about until the 1800s.
A Smart Solution
I first encountered UV parasols in Japan—they can be seen all over on city streets, in parks, and in local neighborhoods, and a litany of beautiful styles and colors are available. I started collecting them and bringing them home with me, and always got compliments when I took them out on my afternoon constitutionals.
Thankfully, more UV parasols have become available outside Japan, so you won't have to fly abroad to pick one up. I've shared some of the best UV umbrellas below (both in terms of style and functionality) for you to review. If you hope to protect your skin during your daily commute, find a complimentary accessory for a costume, or add something both romantic and practical to your wardrobe, I hope you'll find this guide to be helpful.
The Best UV Parasol Options for Fashionistas
Though parasols typically have a historical undertone to them, there are some really cool modern UV parasol designs available. A lot of them riff on modern umbrella designs, but don't be fooled—a typical rain umbrella is NOT necessarily designed to protect you from UVA and UVB rays.
When picking out a UV umbrella, consider colors that will go with the mass majority of your sunny weather outfits. The UV parasols I have are red, tan with brown accents, and pink with yellow accents. That pretty much covers all of the palates I have for warm-weather clothing.
Also, consider how you will be using your UV parasol. If you're going to use it on your daily commute, you might want one that is entirely collapsible and can fit in a purse. I do, however, have a penchant for UV parasols that have intact, non-collapsable handles. They're a bit bulkier, but they look more like honest-to-goodness parasols and less like umbrellas, which is important in imparting on others that you are not, indeed, walking around in the sun with a rain umbrella.
UV Parasols for Old-Timey Romantics
Though more prevalent than ever, umbrellas with UV protection are still relatively rare in the US and elsewhere, and are most commonly sported by those with an old-timey or romantic disposition. I see a lot of cosplayers, gothic and sweet lolitas, and period dressers sporting parasols.
This makes perfect sense—parasols saw their last (Western culture) heyday in the eighteenth and very early nineteenth century. Think Jane Austen characters. Think Marie Antoinette.
In my humble opinion, UV parasols that hearken back to this era are the coolest ones out there. They're typically well-constructed, often embellished with pretty lace or ribbon, and have beautiful handles.
The downside to vintage-style UV umbrellas is that they are typically heavier and bulky, so if you're looking to get a UV protection umbrella for everyday tasks, these might not be the ones.
One reason why I think UV parasols have evolved so splendidly in Japan (and in Asia in general) is that skin-protecting umbrellas have been used for a long, long time.
Pale, porcelain-like skin has traditionally been treasured in Japan (consider how geishas even go to the trouble of painting their faces white to accentuate this), so UV parasols were always a big deal. Aesthetics are also a big deal in Japan, so of course, the functional, skin-shielding parasols that were designed were also made to be very beautiful.
I picked up a red wooden and paper parasol on Kyoto and absolutely love it. It makes for a very bold fashion statement and is fun to twirl around. This style of parasol has been used by many, many fashionistas over the years and typically doesn't go out of style since it is so separated from the Western conception of umbrellas.
Though both cloth and paper variations of this style of parasol are available, I suggest going with a heavier paper. They have a cooler feel to them and offer a bit more protection from UV rays.
If sun protection is, however, your primary concern, I recommend getting a more Western-style parasol that has fabric that has been specifically designed to block UV rays.
UV Parasols for Men
When I first encountered UV parasols in Japan, they were mostly used by women, but many of the trend-spotting agencies I follow have been buzzing about the increasing number of Japanese men who are now taking advantage of the accessories.
Why the change? Well, I think that people are realizing how common skin cancer is and how important it is that we protect our skin from the sun.
If you're a dude, there are definitely UV umbrella options out there that are perfectly masculine and acceptable. If you start using one now, people might balk, but who knows, the Japanese trend might make its way across the sea, and then you'll be seen as quite the forward-thinking trendsetter.
Note the compact form and wind vents!
UV Parasols for Travellers
I do a lot of walking whenever I travel—so much so that every time I take a week or two off, I typically lose around 10 pounds (which is kind of bad, now that I think about it...). A lot of the time, I walk in the sun, and both the heat and the sun exposure get to me.
A lot of travelers get around the issue of walking in the sun by either wearing sunscreen or long-sleeved shirts and long pants. One option makes me feel super grody, the other option often leaves me in a puddle of sweat, and neither option helps with keeping oneself cool. For this reason, UV umbrellas make for an excellent alternative. They allow you to protect your skin while also wearing more skimpy clothing, they offer shade on a hot day, and they also provide sun protection on days when you don't have time to apply sunscreen before running off to a new destination.
When choosing a UV protection parasol for travel purposes, portability is key. You'll also want one that's durable and light, and that goes with as many outfits as possible.