Concerns that cost of sunscreen is increasing risk of skin cancer
- New survey data shows that nearly half of Scottish adults think sunscreen is too expensive and most (63%) would use it more if it was cheaper.
- Melanoma skin cancer is on the rise in the UK and thousands of cases are linked with poverty.
- Charity calls for VAT cut for sunscreen to help reduce skin cancer deaths.
- Survey also finds that most people can’t spot the signs of melanoma skin cancer.
Melanoma is a deadly, but largely preventable, form of skin cancer. Wearing sunscreen is one of the most effective ways to protect against it, but new data released today by the charity Melanoma Focus has found that nearly half (46%) of people in Scotland think sunscreen is too expensive and 13% don’t use it at all because of the cost.
The research found that 35% of Scottish adults rarely or never use sunscreen in the UK (for a variety of reasons, including a wish to tan) but 63% of all respondents would use it more if it was 20% cheaper.
More encouragingly, most people in the UK are putting sunscreen on their children (87% of those surveyed with children reported doing so in the summer in the UK), of those which don’t regularly put sunscreen on their children, 12% say it’s because it’s too expensive.
Sunscreen prices can vary depending on the brand and the amount needed for the area of skin exposed to the sun. While there is increasing pressure on household budgets, experts advise that it is a critical form of protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Melanoma Focus is calling on the Government to remove the Value Added Tax (VAT) for high-factor sunscreens to reduce the cost of this vital product for the general population, making it more accessible to those who cannot afford it.
The survey showed that 1 in 10 people across the UK aren’t wearing sunscreen because it is too expensive (13% in Scotland) and people on the very lowest incomes are less likely to wear sunscreen than any other economic group. Other reasons cited were a desire to tan, a belief they won’t burn or a feeling that sunscreen is too messy and unpleasant to wear.
Skin cancer affects people from all economic backgrounds but, as with many cancers, has a link with poverty. Around 4,000 cases of melanoma skin cancer each year in England are linked with lower deprivation. This increases to around 25,000 when including non-melanoma skin cancer cases.
The unaffordability of sunscreen is therefore a big concern. Cases of melanoma are increasing in the UK and it is the deadliest form of skin cancer. There are around 2,300 melanoma skin cancer deaths in the UK every year (about seven every day) and the number of cases is expected to continue to rise. Projections suggest there could be around 26,500 new cases of melanoma skin cancer every year in the UK by 2038, an increase from the current figure of 16,700. Cases are also increasing in Scotland and there are now 1,200 cases every year.
Sunscreen is a key tool in preventing melanoma skin cancer as well as covering up and staying out of the sun during the heat of the day, avoiding the use of sunbeds, and being aware of melanoma symptoms and seeking medical advice when necessary.
The survey also found that most British people (58%) can’t identify all the signs of melanoma skin cancer. Older people are more likely to know what to look out for but 81% of 18-25 year olds didn’t know the symptoms (dropping to 40% for the over 75s). Female respondents were much more informed with 75% knowing that a change in an existing mole or lesion could be a sign of melanoma skin cancer, this fell to 54% for males. 
Susanna Daniels, CEO of Melanoma Focus said:
“Melanoma is the 5th most common cancer in the UK and the deadliest form of skin cancer. 86% of melanomas are preventable and therefore, wearing a high SPF sunscreen is a hugely important safety measure for protecting against it. We know that people are experiencing increasing pressures on their finances at the moment but, with skin cancer rates on the rise, the use of sunscreen should be a high priority.
“The Government could help make skin protection more accessible to all, regardless of income level by removing VAT from high-factor sunscreens. This would be a cost-effective way to cut the overall incidence of skin cancer and could help save lives.
“We’d also urge people to make themselves aware of melanoma symptoms and seek medical help if they notice anything suspicious, particularly any changes to a mole or lesion. Early detection leads to a higher cure rate and more treatment options.”
Anne Martin, age 57 from the Scottish Borders, said:
“I was diagnosed with melanoma in 2021. I was extremely shocked and frightened. I worked as a nurse for over 35 years and had taken retirement shortly before getting my diagnosis but melanoma used to be less common and I hadn’t really dealt with many cases. It was new territory for me. There were delays in my operation due to the pandemic and I was frantic with worry. I then ended up in hospital with sepsis as a result of my treatment, it was an extremely difficult time and I now have to live with the worry that the melanoma might spread.
“I absolutely agree with the proposal to cut VAT from sunscreen to make it more affordable. It would also highlight the point that skin health needs to be taken seriously and it’s dangerous not to wear sunscreen.”
Amy Callaghan, SNP MP for East Dunbartonshire, said:
“More people wearing sunscreen means fewer people getting melanoma. But when 52 percent of people in my constituency can’t afford to turn on the heating, it’s unlikely they’ll take on extra expenses like sunscreen. That’s why we must make sunscreen more affordable by removing VAT.”
 87% of parents or guardians reported putting sunscreen on their children in the UK summer always or most of the time.
 Around 2,000 in females and around 2,000 in males. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/melanoma-skin-cancer#heading-Zero
 Around 10,800 in females and around 14,200 in males. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/non-melanoma-skin-cancer#heading-Zero
 Melanoma skin cancer incidence rates are projected to rise by 9% in the UK between 2023-2025 and 2038-2040. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/melanoma-skin-cancer#heading-Zero
 p.34 ‘The Scottish Melanoma Group studied 12,450 cases of invasive cutaneous melanoma diagnosed between 1979-2003. It reported a trebling of the incidence in males of all ages; the steepest rate of increase was in those age 60 and over. Females had a 2.3-fold increase.’ https://www.scotphn.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/2015_12_17-ScotPHN-Report-Skin-Cancer-1.pdf
 42% of respondents could identify the signs of melanoma skin cancer from a list presented to them. 58% could not.