Slip, slop, slapdash: Why sunscreen should be free
As we enter our first summer without likely any restrictions since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I – like many Australians – look forward to the great outdoors, from backyard cricket to the beach.
With the timeless mantra “Slip, Slop, Slap” in mind, I find myself in the grocery store looking for sunscreen. It’s amazing that the cost is so exorbitant considering it’s an essential item. For some brands, the price is as high as $34 for 50 grams. That raised a simple question for me: Why isn’t sunscreen free?
According to the Melanoma Institute AustraliaMelanoma is the third most common cancer in the nation. It kills about 1700 people a year. Melanoma is particularly ubiquitous as it affects people of all ages and is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australians aged 20 to 39. Almost 17,000 Australians are diagnosed with melanoma each year.
These are staggering numbers, especially considering that about 95 percent of melanomas are caused by overexposure to UV rays from the sun, and we know that sunscreen helps protect against skin cancer.
Australia has the highest skin cancer burden in the world, yet there has been no new national investment in skin cancer prevention for over a decade. However, the benefits of public investment in public health measures are well established.
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program offers free testing every two years to all Australians aged 50 to 74. With a participation rate of 50 percent, as expected by 2030, this program is estimated to reduce annual expenditures to fight colon cancer by $2. billion, while costs are about $150 million per year. It will reduce annual deaths by up to 25 percent. It shows that the return on investments in public health can far outweigh the costs.
Limiting our time in the sun, wearing sun-protective clothing, seeking shade, and getting regular skin checks by doctors are all important measures to protect against skin cancer. Likewise, sunscreen and education are critical.
And yet, at a time when the cost of living is skyrocketing, the choice for many Australians could be between putting food on the table or buying sunscreen. This is not a choice at all.