Do popular, pricey sunscreens give the protection they claim?

Rossen Reports: Are sunscreens really protecting? 2:45

Is your sunscreen really giving you the protection it promises? Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, TODAY National Investigative Correspondent Jeff Rossen has some surprising new information to share.

Many of us will be heading to the beach this weekend, and that means we’re heading to the store today to buy sunscreen. But if you think the most expensive brands work best, think again.

According to new ratings of 12 sunscreens by Consumer Reports, the priciest sunscreens proved to be the least effective, while some of the least-expensive sunscreens scored the best.

“We found six that are really good at protecting against UVA and UVB rays, and they’re at a very affordable price,” Consumer Reports Associate Editor Nicole Sarrubbo told TODAY.

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Researchers found that Coppertone, Hawaiian Tropic and generic store brands from Walmart, Walgreens and Target were among the sunscreens that delivered the protection their labels promised. They’re all recommended by the magazine.

Those inexpensive sunscreens beat out products from California Baby, NO-AD, Neutrogena and Kiss My Face. In fact, the sunscreens that scored the lowest — Badger and All Terrain — were some of the most expensive.

Badger and All Terrain said their SPF claims are accurate and questioned the latest findings, noting that their products got top ratings by Consumer Reports in prior years. All the companies said their sunscreens are tested by third-party labs and meet or exceed FDA guidelines.

What about sunscreens with ultra-high SPFs — say, 80, or even 100? Some doctors say they don’t protect you better at all.

“I tell my patients SPF over 50 is useless,” Dr. Ellen Marmur, a dermatologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center, told TODAY. “Save your money. Stick with the 30- to 50-plus.”

So what should you do this holiday weekend? Here are some take-aways:

  • Even if your sunscreen says “waterproof” or “water-resistant,” you should reapply about every hour.
  • If you have little kids, doctors say to use the lotions on them. They’re easier to apply than the sprays.
  • A final tip: Sunscreens are good for about two years, so check the expiration date. If you can’t find one, you may want to buy a new bottle.

To read statements from sunscreen companies in response to this report, click here.

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