Why the Government should scrap VAT on SPF: MP speaks out

Published 08th May 2024 by Kezia Parkins

With a spate of retailers cutting VAT on SPF products this Sun Awareness Month, MP for East Dunbartonshire Amy Callaghan tells us about her mission to get VAT removed from SPF products permanently.

Why should sunscreen be exempt from VAT?

“Most skin cancers are preventable and caused by sun exposure. There are 16,000 new cases of melanoma diagnosed each year across the UK, with 2,300 people dying, but 90% could be prevented by staying safe in the sun.

"This is why the NHS advises sunscreen use that is SPF 30 or above with at least a four-star UVA protection rating.

“While the NHS is doing a great job at raising awareness, the UK Government is not playing its part. 

"Sunscreen products are subject to VAT and are expensive. This leads people to risk sun exposure completely unprotected, or to buy cheaper products that do not provide the necessary protection.”

Why is removing VAT from SPF products important to you as an MP?

“As of March, I have been 10 years cancer free and in that time we’ve seen treatment for melanoma progress massively but prevention hasn’t improved much… in fact it’s become much more expensive to protect your skin from the sun. We need to turn that around.

“I have a huge amount of respect for GPs but I didn’t have a positive experience getting diagnosed. I went multiple times aged 19 with pictures of a mole I’d had on my face since I was five, and could demonstrate a change in appearance quite significantly over time.

"I was told I was a vain teenager and to go home. It was only because I had a mum who was willing to advocate for me that I ended up going back to the GP over and over again.

"It was only on my fifth time that I was referred to a dermatologist – that’s really worrying and it’s a story I hear time and time again.

“There’s more education and awareness needed among medical professionals generally to make sure that referrals are happening.”

What is the VAT Burn campaign?

“We need to treat sunscreen as an essential healthcare item. More people die in the UK from melanoma than in Australia, which is outrageous, but it’s because Australia takes the issue of sun safety very seriously.

“That is why the VAT Burn campaign is calling for the simple change of removing VAT from SPF products.

"It aims to increase use of sunscreen and decrease melanoma cases, leading to a reduction in deaths caused by melanoma. This could not only save lives, but it would also help protect NHS budgets.

“In the face of a cost-of-living crisis, we have to make sunscreen more affordable so more people will wear it.”

Foundations and other products that happen to have SPF in them can actually be more damaging because people think they’re getting adequate protection but they’re not

Amy Callaghan MP

Which SPF products should have the VAT removed?

“Sunscreen products that are marketed and sold as such. Not foundations or other products that happen to have SPF in them. These can actually be more damaging because people think they’re getting adequate protection but they’re not.”

What needs to happen to get VAT taken off sunscreen products?

“As an opposition MP, there’s only a 12% chance of my bill succeeding but ultimately the change needs to come from government – they are the only ones that can really make a change as other countries like Australia and Canada have done.

"They can remove VAT-style taxes but it needs to go through a bill to make sure retailers are mandated to provide that reduction.”

What can beauty professionals do to help?

“Education around sun safety is hugely important, as is awareness. Post on social media about the campaign using #VATBurn, especially during May, which is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month, write to your local MP and support the campaign.

"If we all do something together, we might have a chance, when the next government comes in, to make sunscreen affordable, so more people wear it and save lives.”

Read more: common SPF and suncare myths busted

Amy Callaghan will be speaking as part of a panel on "Skin cancer awareness: how to safeguard clients and educate salon teams", at Professional Beauty Glasgow on June 9, on the Advanced Beauty live stage – check out the full line-up here

Kezia Parkins

Kezia Parkins

Published 08th May 2024

Kezia Parkins is the deputy editor of Professional Beauty. She has a background in medical journalism and is also as trained nail tech. As such, she is particularly passionate about all thing nails, as well as the science behind beauty products and treatments. Contact her at [email protected]


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