‘Slip-Slop-Slap’ your way to better health

Farmers spend most of their time outdoors so they are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer. The good news is skin cancer is preventable — just slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat every time you head outside.

What’s one simple way for farmers to protect their most valuable asset? Limit sun exposure when working the farm to help prevent skin cancer, the most common type of cancer in Canada, says Kendra Ulmer, a registered nurse and educator with the Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture.

Based in Saskatoon at the University of Saskatchewan, the centre is a research and education hub for health promotion programs that target rural populations. And when it comes to skin cancer and farmers, there’s good and bad news, says Ulmer.

First, the bad news. According to data from Cancer Care Ontario, more than 80,000 Canadians will be told they have skin cancer this year. And more than 5,000 of those cases will be a form of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

On the plus side, even melanoma is curable when detected early — and skin cancer is preventable. “Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in Canada and it accounts for about 40 per cent of new cancer cases,” says Ulmer. “Since the risk of skin cancer is clearly linked to sun exposure, farmers are definitely at a higher risk because so much of their work is done outdoors. At the same time, that connection to sun exposure means skin cancer is preventable if we
take steps to control that exposure.”


To remind Canadians about sun safety, health advocates like Ulmer borrow the Slip-Slop-Slap slogan of an Australian health campaign launched in 1981. That campaign, which significantly reduced the incidence of skin cancer in Australia, tells people to slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat every time they leave their homes.

These days, Ulmer adds another “S” to the slogan and encourages farmers to also slide on a pair of close-fitting sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection. In addition to causing eye damage over time, UV rays can lead to melanomas of the eye and eye area. Wrap-around sunglasses provide the best eye protection, since they prevent solar radiation from reaching the eye area from the side.

For many farmers, the “slop on sunscreen” part of the prescription is the toughest, especially for men who aren’t used to putting lotion-type products on their skin, says Ulmer. The number one rule about sunscreen is to buy a broad spectrum (UVA and UVB protection) product with a minimum SPF (sun protection factor) of 30. (Lips can burn too, so don’t forget to slop on the SPF 30 lip balm as well.) Once that rule is met, experiment with different types of products to find the one that works best for you.

Some sunscreens are less oily on the skin while others have different scents and there are options for rolland spray-on protection, says Ulmer. “Sprays may work especially well for guys who are reapplying sunscreen to the back of their necks during the day.”

Coppertone Sport Continuous Spray SPF 30 Accuspray sunscreen is a great option since it retains SPF after 80 minutes in the water or if sweating, says Alex Grey, with Bayer HealthCare. The product is easy to apply, oil-free, nonirritating and won’t run into your eyes.

Another product, Clearly Sheer body spray and face lotions “won’t clog pores or cause breakouts, provides broad spectrum coverage, SPF 30 and a moisturizing formula helps keep skin smooth and soft,” says Grey.

If used as directed with other sun protection measures, sunscreen decreases the risk of skin cancer, adds Grey. Daily application of sunscreen also prevents sunburn, dry and itchy skin, premature aging of the skin, age spots and spider veins.

To help you get into the habit of applying sunscreen every time you head outdoors, Ulmer suggests making it part of your regular routine. For example, set a bottle of sunscreen beside your truck keys or boots or beside the coffee maker or go-cup.

“Remember to re-apply it every two hours because it gets rubbed off when we’re sweating,” adds Ulmer. Keep additional bottles of sunscreen handy in the machine shop and in the cab of vehicles and farm equipment to remind you to reapply.


For better protection from the sun, farmers should also rethink their baseball cap. Weather reports that note a UV index of plus three and higher “are cause for concern, since UV rays are an issue even on cloudy days,” says Ulmer.

“A wide-brimmed hat is much better because it provides better coverage for the entire head and neck,” says Ulmer. “We are seeing higher incidences of skin cancer on the top of the ears and backs of necks, probably because these areas are so exposed and we may not remember to apply, and reapply, sunscreen to those body parts.”


Beyond the rules of slip-slop-slap and slide, another way to help prevent skin cancer is to know your skin and make note of any changes, especially changes in moles, says Ulmer. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends people follow the ABCDE rule to help identify
moles that may prove cancerous:

• Asymmetry (atypical moles are not the same on both sides)
• Border irregularity (the visible edge of a malignant melanoma is irregular, ragged and indistinct)
• Colour variation (colour of a malignant melanoma may range from brown to black, and have areas of red, grey or white)
• Diameter (moles greater than 6 mm in diameter may prove cancerous)
• Evolving (cancerous moles may change in size, colour, shape and/or elevation)

Skin cancer is also a topic you should discuss with your family doctor, since risk increases with a family history of the disease.

Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation
Canadian Centre for Health
and Safety in Agriculture