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What to put on a sunburn — and what doctors say to avoid

Google searches for sunburns and subsequent ways to deal with them spike every year around Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. If you walked away from a baseball game, pool or beach outing with a painful burn, we're here to help.

For future reference to prevent further burning and skin damage, medical experts recommend being proactive with sunscreen every day, but especially during summer months when you may be more likely to be in direct sunlight for longer periods of time.

"The most important thing to do when you develop a sunburn is to prevent further damage," dermatologist Lindsey Zubritsky, M.D., tells USA TODAY. "That means avoiding more sun exposure and helping to repair your damaged skin barrier."

Excessive UV exposure is responsible for more than 90% of skin cancers, according to Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health. Getting one severe sunburn prior to adulthood more than doubles the chance of developing skin cancer later in life, and getting more than five sunburns can double your risk of developing melanoma, a less common but more deadly form of skin cancer.

Research has shown that roughly 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, and experts estimate one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in their life, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association.

"Sunscreen works to reduce the amount of UV exposure to your skin," Zubritsky says. But it's not always applied correctly, or may be applied too infrequently, which can lead to sunburn.

For now, these are the best options — and tips to avoid — when it comes to treating sunburns, according to experts.

What to put on a sunburn

Per Zubritsky, "sunburns do take time to heal, but you can speed up the recovery process with a gentle, hydrating and repairing approach."

That approach is best taken with things like cool baths, aloe-containing moisturizers and ibuprofen to reduce pain, redness and discomfort, Zubritsky says.

What not to put on sunburnt skin

Ice is a common remedy to reach for, but experts say applying it directly to your injured skin can actually cause more harm than good. And some people turn to products containing benzocaine, a topical anesthetic, but Zubritsky warns against trying this on a sunburn.

"This can further irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction," she says — the last thing you want to gamble with when seeking relief from already irritated and painful skin.

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