TODAY   |  May 26, 2010

How to chose the best sunscreen

What should you look for when buying this season's sunscreen? How important are SPF numbers? NBC News chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman and Urvashi Rangan, of Consumer Reports magazine, tell you what you need to know.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

MATT LAUER, co-host: This morning on TODAY'S CONSUMER , choosing the right sunscreen for you. As we head into Memorial Day , you need to pick the right one to protect your skin and of course your family's skin as well. Urvashi Rangan is the director of technical policy at Consumer Reports , which evaluated some popular brands; Dr. Nancy Snyderman is NBC 's chief medical editor. Ladies, good morning to both of you.

Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: Hey, Matt.

Ms. URVASHI RANGAN (Director of Technical Policy, Consumer Reports): Good morning.

LAUER: So, you know, we have been now for years trained to walk into a store, look at the packaging, it's got the SPF number right there on the packaging and it means sun protection factor. What is it exactly telling us?

SNYDERMAN: If you go out in the sun with nothing on, your skin will start to burn in about 20 minutes . This SPF means that you can stay out 15 minutes longer or 30 minutes longer. But they're imprecise numbers and at some point there is a falling off. And I personally think after 30 you don't get a lot of extra protection .

LAUER: See, that -- you bring up a good point...

SNYDERMAN: But at 50 people will really say...

LAUER: ...a lot of people want to know, is 60 twice the protection that 30 is?

SNYDERMAN: No, it is not. And the reality is we tend to think the higher the number, the more the protection , and we pay a lot of money for that extra number. I think there is a precipitous fallout in how much more protection you get. Fifty and under I'm comfortable with, personally I question whether 30 is really the cut-off.

LAUER: So after that, you think it's marketing pure and simple.

SNYDERMAN: I -- it's great marketing, but yes.


Source: The Skin Cancer Foundation

LAUER: Urvashi , Consumer Reports came up with top picks. And the number one sunscreen, the one you guys like the most, is Up Up Sport Continuous Spray . Why'd you like this one so much?

Ms. RANGAN: Well, Matt , we like that one because it performed excellent for UVB protection , it performed very good, which was the highest rating for UVA protection . It met its 80-minute water-resistant limit and it had a great price point.

LAUER: And I notice right off the bat it's a spray, not a lotion, that might surprise some people.

SNYDERMAN: But wipe it in. I am not a big believer in just spray and walk away, you have to still rub it in.

Consumer Reports Best Buy: Up Up Sport Continuous From Target

Ms. RANGAN: Yeah. And it's not the spray that made the performance, it's happenstance that they were sprays, and you need to apply enough to yourself, two to three tablespoons, a shot glass worth, that's very important.

LAUER: All right. So congratulations to Up Up nabbing the top spot. Let me go through the top four, then. That's number one. Walgreens Sport Continuous, Banana Boat Sport Performance Continuous and Aveeno Continuous Protection . All of these performed as well in that area?

Ms. RANGAN: All of them performed equally. The reason that the Up Up got the best buy was the price point. But again, all of those are sprays and you want to make sure you get enough on. If it's windy, spray it in your hand and apply it.

SNYDERMAN: And isn't that interesting, I mean, these are not big expensive names, these are, I would say, really low price point names, which goes to show you it's what's on the label, it's not the more you pay the better you're going to get.

Ms. RANGAN: That's right .

LAUER: And you mentioned UVB and UVA , do all products offer protection from both of those rays?

Ms. RANGAN: No, they don't. And they need specific ingredients for UVA protection . And SPF only relates to UVB protection , so all of these top four control for UVA as well as UVB and it's really important that you look for that in a sunscreen.

LAUER: You also judge, you know, and I think this is kind of interesting, the actual feel on your skin. I mean, I remember the day when we used to put on that stuff and you were, like, in a frying -- it was like in a frying pan, it was just pure grease.

SNYDERMAN: Right. It was a two-and-four and we thought we were doing ourselves a favor.

LAUER: Right, exactly. So...

Ms. RANGAN: That's right . And no one wants to feel like a fried egg, so.

LAUER: Right.


LAUER: So what is the kind of feel that you think is important in a product like this?

Ms. RANGAN: It should be very light, it shouldn't feel too heavy or greasy. And actually, all of these top four provided that kind of feel.

LAUER: We've already covered the fact that these are fairly reasonable in price. Let's talk about some tips, Nancy . First of all, you want one that blocks UVA and UVB .

SNYDERMAN: Yeah. This is where you have to really read the label. Look for UVA and UVB protection . You have to be sure that you're not buying, I think, anything over 50, you're really wasting your money. Nothing is still better than covering yourself up, so this is in addition to that big floppy hat. And reapply, reapply, reapply.

SNYDERMAN: Getting in the water, whether it's a pool or the ocean, is going to take some of it off. And people of color , I don't care if you're Hispanic , American-Indian, African-American , you can still damage your skin. If you have a suntan, it is skin damage by definition. And skin cancers can happen in dark-skinned people, so don't think you have a pass.

LAUER: Yeah. And if you think you're putting 60 on and that means you can put it on in the morning and not have to worry about it for the rest of the day, think again. That makes no sense.

SNYDERMAN: Yeah. And infants, be real careful because infants just because you put on a 70 doesn't means you can put them on at 10:00 in the morning and forget; babies are particularly vulnerable.