We can all agree that the cost of everything now is incredibly expensive.
Energy bills have skyrocketed, our weekly food shop is the highest it’s been, and even the price of clothing has increased. So it’s not a shock then that some Brits are steering clear of buying anything outside of the necessities.
And for lots of people, that includes sunscreen. Charity Melanoma Focus has found that half of people in the UK think sunscreen is too expensive and 10% don’t use it at all because of the cost.
Sunscreen prices in the UK can vary from anywhere between £5 and £50 depending on the brand and the amount needed for the area of skin exposed to the sun.
The worry is that as household budgets are squeezed even tighter, fewer people will prioritise protecting themselves from the sun’s harmful UV rays, which then becomes a health risk.
Research from Melanoma Focus found that 32% of adults rarely or never use sunscreen in the UK (for a variety of reasons, including a wish to tan), but 67% of all respondents would use it more if it was 20% cheaper.
This is why the charity 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 can’t afford it.
The survey showed that one in 10 people aren’t wearing sunscreen because it’s too expensive and people on the very lowest incomes are less likely to wear sunscreen than any other economic group.
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 are linked with lower deprivation each year in England. This increases to around 25,000 when including non-melanoma skin cancer cases.
It’s for that reason that the unaffordability of sunscreen is 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.
Using sunscreen is a necessary tool in preventing skin cancer, as well as covering up and staying out of the sun during the middle of the day, avoiding the use of sunbeds, being aware of skin cancer symptoms, and seeking medical advice when necessary.
Michelle Richardson, 49 from Petersfield, Hampshire, has stage 4 melanoma. She was first diagnosed in 2018 after noticing an itchy mole on her back.
She had an operation to remove it, but after 18 months of clear scans she discovered a lump on her pelvis, which became several lumps. Within a week she was no longer able to eat or walk, and it was difficult for her to breathe.
A scan found the melanoma had spread throughout her body including in her spine, lungs, spleen and brain. “I had stage 4 incurable melanoma and my life as I knew it changed forever,” she said.
“I was utterly terrified and felt so guilty about the thought of leaving my 10-year-old daughter without a mum. I had immunotherapy treatment for two years and I’m currently in remission and hope it stays that way for as long as possible.”
Richardson believes sunscreen shouldn’t be a luxury product. “I’m fully supportive of the proposed cut to VAT,” she said.
“Melanoma doesn’t discriminate and the rates are increasing, the government can do something about this yet they choose not to.
“Treatment for melanoma costs the NHS a fortune, so a VAT cut to the thing that can prevent it happening in the first place makes sense financially as well as morally.”
Back in February, Amy Callaghan, the MP for East Dunbartonshire, called for VAT to be dropped on sunscreen, saying people were “being priced out” of buying it.
“If sunscreen products are more affordable, then our constituents would be more likely to buy them, use them and protect their skin,” she said.
Susanna Daniels, CEO of Melanoma Focus, said: “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.”
When asked whether there were plans to cut VAT on sunscreen, a HM Treasury spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “We recognise the impact that rising prices are having at home which is why we are providing significant support worth on average £3,300 per household. This includes holding down energy bills, uplifting benefits and delivering direct cash payments.
“High-factor sunscreen is on the NHS prescription list for certain conditions and is already provided VAT free when dispensed by a pharmacist to these patients.”