A few years ago, Roslindale resident Josephine Adjei, 29, started carrying a large black umbrella whenever she went outside.
“I’ve been a bit more paranoid about skin cancer so I’m trying to protect myself from the sun,” Adjei said, “and it provides good shade.”
Irene Liu, a visiting scholar at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, hid under a yellow-and-blue-flowered umbrella as she walked through Boston Common one hot Sunday morning. “If the sunshine is very strong, I will use it,” she said. “It’s not to make a fashion statement.”
For years we’ve heard about the perils of sun exposure, and people have gotten used to wearing high-SPF sunscreens, hats, even long-sleeved bathing suits to protect their skin. Now, some are going one step further: toting an umbrella or parasol to shield themselves from the sun, especially the strong summer rays. It’s not uncommon to see women — and it is mostly women — on shopping excursions or walks through the park, shading themselves under umbrellas or parasols, which literally translates to “shield sun.”
Liu, who’s from China, said more women in Asia use umbrellas to protect their fair skin, and she hasn’t seen as many women use umbrellas here. But the trend is catching on, according to Chinatown store owners.
“It’s more popular in Asia, but it’s becoming popular here,” said Lai On Nai, owner of Chinatown Hit, which carries Asian gifts, including parasols. On average, On Nai said, she sells 10 a day. The bright orange, purple, and blue paper parasols painted with cherry blossoms cost $10.
Diane Hassan held her gray umbrella over her head as she strolled down a sun-drenched Newbury Street recently.
“I know people look at me like I’m crazy, but I just don’t care,” Hassan said while passersby glanced at her.
Hassan, a Back Bay resident, takes the umbrella wherever she goes. Over the past decade, it has visited Australia, Spain, and Argentina, and accompanies her on regular walks through the Back Bay. After discovering melanoma — the most dangerous form of skin cancer — on her arm and waist 20 years ago, the 59-year-old does whatever she can to escape UV rays.
“I avoid the sun like the plague,” she said, adding that she wears SPF 30 sunscreen even when using the umbrella made by Coolibar, a sun-protective product company based in Minnesota.
Carolina Guizar, who started a UV-protective parasol business called Carasol Parasols in New York City, began to notice sun spots on her skin when she was 23, and her doctor warned her to stay in the shade. So she began using a parasol her aunt brought her from Japan. “It was small and cute, and it had a little lace on it,” she said.
People began stopping her on New York streets to ask where she got it, and one man told her she should sell them. She took his advice. Five years later, Guizar ships her parasols to customers across the United States and to countries such as Australia, England, and Israel.
The parasols have a protective coating that blocks 85 to 99 percent of UV rays and cost from $70 to $325. They’re styled with polka dots, ruffles, and lace.
Guizar said she wants to promote a lifestyle change. “I’m hoping that these women will be less hesitant to carry it around because it doesn’t just look like a standard, boring umbrella,” she said.
Fashionable or not, David E. Fisher, chief of the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Dermatology, said umbrellas can be effective sun protectors.
“If the shielding is strong enough to remove the ultraviolet rays, it is a fabulous way to protect one from the sun,” he said. “One could argue that it may even be better than sunscreen — although our advice would be to use both.”
Fisher explained that sunscreen is insufficient to protect against melanoma, which is why dermatologists tell people to wear wide-brimmed hats and sun-protective clothing and to sit in shady areas when outside. Parasols can block harmful UV rays, he said, but people should be cautious if the sun shines on unshielded legs or feet. About one in five Americans will get some kind of skin cancer in his or her lifetime; one in 50 will develop melanoma.
(Fisher was quick to note that sunblock offers strong protection against non-melanoma skin cancers and very strong protection against sunburns and photo-damage to the skin.)
On the West Coast, where the sun shines all year round, Carlsbad, Calif., resident Pamela Ann Noxon has a flourishing parasol business. Since she launched Pamela’s Parasols in 2003, Noxon has sold more than 15,000 parasols around the world, and her sales increase 25 percent every year. She said she is trying to restore the parasol as a fashion statement and sells more than 200 styles. “To me they’re like wearing a beautiful, stylish hat,” she said.
Even celebrities are jumping on the parasol bandwagon. Katy Perry sported a blue parasol at the 2011 Video Music Awards, while Cameron Diaz has been spotted staying cool under blossom- and butterfly-painted parasols between movie takes. When Maya Rudolph, Sam Rockwell, and the cast of “The Way, Way Back” filmed at Water Wizz in East Wareham last month, their assistants kept them nicely shaded under giant umbrellas when the cameras stopped rolling.
Danielle Martin, 27, manager of French fashion boutique Cotélac on Newbury Street, said she has noticed more women carrying umbrellas in recent months. However, Martin said customers always comment about wanting clothes that show off their tan, and she doubts that an accessory that prevents a bronze glow is going to be the next big thing.
“People are sun worshipers, and they always will be,” she said.Stephanie Steinberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @steph_steinberg.