What Does Slip Slop Slap Mean?

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The Origins of the Iconic Sun Safety Slogan

“Slip, Slop, Slap” is one of Australia’s most recognizable and impactful public health slogans. But what exactly does it mean, and where did it come from?

The “Slip, Slop, Slap” sun protection campaign originated in Australia in the 1980s at a time when the country had the highest skin cancer rates in the world. The phrase was coined as a simple, catchy way to remind Australians to protect themselves from the sun’s dangerous UV radiation.

The Need for Sun Safety Awareness

Studies in the 1970s and 1980s revealed alarming rates of skin cancer in Australia. Scientists recognized prolonged sun exposure and sunburns, especially in childhood, as the primary preventable cause. In response, Australian health experts launched nationwide efforts to promote better sun safety habits.

“Slip, Slop, Slap” emerged as the defining motto for this health crusade against skin cancer.

Slip on a Shirt

The first action urged by the slogan is to slip on a shirt, especially one with long sleeves and a collar. Wearing protective, sun-blocking clothing significantly reduces exposure to UV rays.

Fabrics with a tight weave provide better protection than loose, mesh fabrics. Darker colors also tend to absorb more UV radiation than lighter ones.

The “slip” message reminds people to cover vulnerable skin when out in the strong sun.

Slop on Sunscreen

Secondly, the slogan advises to slop on sunscreen. Applying broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher is one of the most effective ways to prevent sunburns and skin damage.

Sunscreen creates a protective barrier on the skin, reflecting or absorbing UV rays before they can harm lower skin layers. Using enough sunscreen (about 1 ounce per application) is key, as is reapplying frequently, especially after swimming or sweating.

The “slop” part of the slogan pushes regular, liberal use of sunscreen whenever exposed to the sun.

Slap on a Hat

Lastly, “Slip, Slop, Slap” tells people to slap on a hat. Wearing a wide brimmed hat is an easy way to shade the vulnerable scalp, face, ears and neck.

Baseball caps don’t provide enough coverage, so the slogan specifically promotes wearing broad brimmed hats and legionnaire-style hats with flaps to protect vulnerable areas prone to overexposure.

Along with clothing and sunscreen, donning protective headwear completes the sun-safe ensemble. The “slap” reminds people to literally slap on a proper sun hat.

The Impact of the “Slip, Slop, Slap” Campaign

After its launch in 1980, the “Slip, Slop, Slap” message spread rapidly through extensive TV and radio advertising, posters, stickers and education programs. The catchphrase and iconic imagery quickly became ingrained in Australian culture.

High Awareness and Influence

Surveys over the next decade found up to 90% awareness of the slogan across Australia. It succeeded in raising consciousness about sun risks and the need for sun protection measures.

Skin cancer prevention behaviors improved dramatically over time. By the early 1990s, around 80% of Australian adults reported wearing a hat and 60% regularly used sunscreen when out in the sun.

Declining Skin Cancer Rates

Research credits “Slip, Slop, Slap” as a major driver of positive sun protection habits. The campaign correlated with succeeding generations of Australians developing much safer UV exposure practices.

Encouragingly, age-standardized melanoma incidence rates stabilized from the mid-1980s before starting to fall during the 1990s and 2000s. Younger generations showed particularly sizable reductions in melanoma diagnoses.

This suggests the slogan and sun smart messaging made a real difference in reversing excessive sun exposure and unsafe tanning behaviors.

Updating the Message for a New Generation

While the original “Slip, Slop, Slap” campaign achieved its aims of boosting sun safety awareness, skin cancer rates remained too high.

In 2006, Cancer Council Australia decided the slogan needed re-energizing with some new messages to reach an increasingly complacent younger demographic.

The “Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide” Revision

After review, Cancer Council Australia updated the slogan to “Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide”.

The three original actions stayed, affirming their ongoing importance. Seek and slide were added to incorporate newer advice about shade and sunglasses.

“Seek” reminds people to seek shade under trees, umbrellas or indoors during peak UV hours. Staying in the shade significantly reduces sun exposure and risk.

“Slide” promotes sliding on wrap-around sunglasses to protect the vulnerable eye area. Sunglasses guard against cataracts and other eye damage from UV.

Targeting Teens and Young Adults

The rise in skin cancer rates among young people despite the original slogan’s success concerned health authorities.

Research revealed gaps in awareness and motivation to adopt sun safety practices among teenagers and young adults. Updating the slogan aimed to correct leur notions of being immune to skin cancer and spur better habits.

New “Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide” advertising particularly targeted schools, universities and outdoor recreation events popular with younger demographics.

Ongoing Importance of Sun Safety Awareness

While great progress has been made over the past 40 years, skin cancer remains a serious public health issue in Australia. Melanoma is still the most common cancer diagnosed in Australians aged 15-39.

Promoting comprehensive sun protection behaviors thus remains as vital as ever. The “Slip, Slop, Slap” slogan, even after its update, continues to offer simple, actionable guidance for sun safety.

Skin Cancer Risk Remains High

Australia’s mostly fair-skinned population is especially vulnerable to the country’s intense sunshine. Northern Australia receives particularly extreme UV exposure.

Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by age 70. Overexposure to UV is responsible for an estimated 99% of non-melanoma skin cancers and 95% of melanoma cases nationally.

Complacency around sun protection potentially threatens to reverse the positive trends in skin cancer rates seen in recent decades. Continued public education is essential to maintain vigilance.

Ongoing Promotion of Key Messages

Health authorities today continue promoting the “Slip, Slop, Slap” mantra alongside more detailed advice about comprehensive sun protection.

The slogan serves as an easy-to-remember prompt for core sun safe behaviors like sufficient clothing coverage, proper use of sunscreen, wearing hats and seeking shade.

School programs and media campaigns regularly reinforce these messages to instill life-long sun safety habits. While advice continues evolving, the basic “Slip, Slop, Slap” tenets remain highly relevant.

Sustaining high awareness of the need for UV protection, especially in young generations, is key to further reducing Australia’s skin cancer burden.

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