A survey by charity Melanoma Focus has found that 32% of British people rarely or never use sunscreen when in the UK, raising concerns over the risk of melanoma skin cancer among the population.

While 11% of respondents told the survey that they always use sunscreen, male respondents in particular emerged as reluctant to protect themselves. As many as 40% of males aged 16 and above said they rarely or never used sunscreen in the UK, and just 8% said they always used it.

Among respondents who told the survey that they did not use sunscreen, 39% said it was because they did not expect to burn – although 52% of all respondents reported that they suffered sunburn at least once a year, with the figure rising to 71% for those aged 26 to 35.

The survey also found that 28% of British people have used sunbeds, despite 82% of all respondents knowing that they increase the risk of skin cancer. Sunbed use was highest (40%) among those aged 26 to 35.

Melanoma Focus said the results of the survey provide evidence that people in the UK are often ignoring the dangers posed by prolonged exposure to UV rays.

According to the charity, one in 36 men and one in 47 women in the UK will be diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer in their lifetime, with the disease killing 2,333 of the nation’s population per year.

‘About seven people die from melanoma every day in the UK and more people die from melanoma in the UK than in Australia,’ said Susanna Daniels, chief executive of Melanoma Focus.

‘The fact that people are continuing to ignore the warnings and not take the necessary precautions to protect themselves from skin cancer is concerning.’

Over the last decade, melanoma skin cancer incidence rates have increased by around a third (32%) in the UK, according to Cancer Research UK. Rates in females have risen by more than a quarter (27%), and rates in males have increased by almost two-fifths (38%).

Professor Catherine Harwood, Melanoma Focus trustee and consultant dermatologist at Barts Health, said the charity’s survey showed that many people in the UK were unaware of the dangers of allowing sunburn to develop.

‘Sun exposure, particularly when young, can cause permanent DNA damage in the skin, making it more likely for skin cancers like melanoma to develop,’ Professor Harwood commented.

According to Melanoma Focus, the vast majority (86%) of melanoma skin cancer is preventable.

However, the survey found that almost a quarter of respondents (24%) thought that a sunscreen below SPF 30 was the minimum needed for skin protection, and 17% said they did not know what the minimum was.

‘About nine in 10 melanoma skin cancer cases are preventable and it is vital that people take the warnings about the dangers of excessive sun exposure and the dangers of sunbed use seriously,’ added charity chief executive Ms Daniels.