Slip-Slop-Slap was a popular sun-care campaign known by those generations who remember the 1980s. It came with a catchy tune and a cute bird mascot, and the message was so simple that small children could understand it. Years later the word ‘Wrap’ was added, as in wrap-around sunglasses.

Today more than ever, the use of sunscreens is vital under the harsh suns of New Zealand and Australia. And not just when the sun is shining. Every day.

Despite clear instructions and media campaigns by manufacturers or health promotion campaigns such as the Health Promotion Agency’s ‘Avoid #Dumburn’ digital campaign, many Kiwis don’t know how to apply sunscreen correctly.

There are regular stories in the media about sunburnt people who usually profess to have applied sunscreen to the letter of the instructions. The photos of sunburn, particularly of children, are wince-worthy.

The makers of sunscreen are between a rock and a hard place in responding to such cases because they usually are forced to comment before they have all the facts, and of course want to make sure they are empathetic to those in sunburn pain. What is usually found to be the case – but never covered in any follow-up story – is that there are other factors: the sunscreen might be years old and out of date (yes, it goes out of date), it might have been left on a hot dashboard (temperature is important), the proper amount wasn’t applied (companies can tell by the amount returned in the tube), re-application was insufficient, or there was just too long spent in the sun.

Though it seems like a simple process to apply sunscreen, there are some watch-outs that most of us would benefit from remembering.

When I looked at New Zealand’s SunSmart advice at (which is run by the Health Promotion Agency), I soon realised I fell into the “more to learn” category. For example, SunSmart advises one teaspoon of sunscreen should go on each arm and leg. That’s a lot of product needed to protect ourselves from New Zealand’s harsh rays. And sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before going out in the sun and then reapplied every couple of hours, and particularly after swimming.

The messages about sun safety need more prominence than they get, but I’m not surprised that only the bare minimum is possible given there’s only around 11 cents per New Zealander spent on spreading the message through taxpayer-funded campaigns.

Consumer NZ’s regular (the Food & Grocery Council would say unfair) criticism of sunscreens pops up each summer like a hardy annual. But rather than reaffirm the message of the importance of being safe in the sun, its annual testing and debatable results tend to leave consumers confused and feeling that sunscreens can’t be trusted.

The reality is that in New Zealand, and globally, the manufacture of sunscreen is highly sophisticated and complex. Products are tested against stringent standards, and in New Zealand they must meet many different cosmetic and commercial laws.

This year, the Food & Grocery Council, Cosmetics NZ, and retail partners are working together alongside member companies, including Nivea, Banana Boat, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal, and the Cancer Society, to talk about improving testing regimes and how they can do more to spread the message about sun safety. Many lives depend on making sure we are all more sun smart.

(originally published in FMCG Business magazine)