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Cold sore remedies dermatologists recommend

While you cannot clear a cold sore overnight, these self-care tips from board-certified dermatologists can speed up healing and reduce pain. These tips can help whether you’re getting medical treatment from a doctor or treating yourself.

How to treat a cold sore: Dermatologists tips

How to treat cold sores: Dermatologist tips

If your lips or nose have a tingling, itchy, or burning feeling, you might have a cold sore coming on. Follow these dermatologist tips to get relief.

Can you prevent getting another cold sore?

After a cold sore heals, you can get another one. There’s no remedy that can prevent cold sores. However, there are actions you can take to reduce the likelihood of getting another one.

Here’s what dermatologists recommend:

  1. Avoid reinfection. If you use items that touched your cold sore while it was healing, you can get a new cold sore.

    To prevent reinfection, throw away your toothbrush, lip balm, cosmetics, and other products that may have touched the cold sore. You also want to wash towels, washcloths, pillowcases, sheets, and other items that you used while you had a cold sore.

  2. Don’t touch someone’s cold sore or items that may have touched their cold sore. The blister and fluid are contagious. To avoid getting infected, do the following until the blister dries completely:

    • Avoid kissing and other activities that could cause you to touch the person’s cold sore.
    • Do not share items that could have touched that person’s cold sore like silverware, dishes, cups, towels, washcloths, makeup, and food.

  3. Reduce stress. Stress can reactivate the virus that causes cold sores, leading to another outbreak.

    Finding ways to reduce your stress could reduce outbreaks. Common stress-busters include exercise, meditating, and spending time in nature. It can take time to find what works best to reduce stress for you.

  4. Protect your lips from the sun. Sunlight can trigger an outbreak any time of year, including winter while you’re skiing or enjoying another outdoor activity.

    To reduce the likelihood of getting a cold sore from the sun:

    • Apply lip balm with SPF 30 and broad-spectrum protection before you go outside. While you’re outdoors, reapply the lip balm every two hours and after eating, swimming, sweating, or licking your lips.
    • Wear a wide-brimmed hat that shades your face from the sun.
    • Seek shade when possible.

  5. Keep your lips moist. You’re more likely to develop cold sores when your lips are dry or cracked. To keep your lips moist, stay hydrated and apply petroleum jelly to dry lips.

    When outdoors, protect your lips with lip balm that has SPF 30 or higher.

  6. Get enough sleep. Sleep improves your immune system’s ability to fight viruses and other germs. Being constantly sleep deprived triggers cold sores for some people.

  7. Protect your lips from cold and hot weather. Both can trigger an outbreak.

    To prevent an outbreak from cold weather, apply lip balm with SPF 30 or higher before going outdoors, reapply the lip balm as needed, and cover your lips with a scarf or turtleneck.

    In hot weather, use lip balm with SPF 30 or higher and reapply it as needed, wear a wide-brimmed hat, and seek shade when possible.

  8. Find and avoid your triggers. If you frequently get cold sores, it can be helpful to keep track of what you were doing before an outbreak. Were your lips chapped and dry? Have you been getting enough sleep? Did you spend time in the sun without sun protection for your lips?

    Knowing what you were doing can help you find what triggers an outbreak for you.

  9. Before having a procedure around your mouth, let doctors know you get cold sores. Pressure on your lips or around your mouth may trigger a cold sore. If you’re going to have a procedure in or around your mouth, like laser or light therapy, a lip filler, or dental work, tell the person who will be performing the procedure.

    Proactive treatment or at-home aftercare may reduce a cold sore outbreak.

If you continue to get frequent cold sores after following these tips, partner with a board-certified dermatologist. Your dermatologist can provide you with a plan to help manage frequent outbreaks. If you need a dermatologist, go to Find a Dermatologist.

Besedovsky L, Lange T, et al. “Sleep and immune function.” Pflugers Arch. 2012 Jan;463(1):121-37

Gopinath D, Koe KH, et al. “A comprehensive overview of epidemiology, pathogenesis, and the management of herpes labialis.” Viruses. 2023 Jan 13;15(1):225.

Written by:
Paula Ludmann, MS

Reviewed by:
Elisa Gallo, MD, FAAD
Laurel Geraghty, MD, FAAD
Shari Lipner, MD, PhD, FAAD
Sanna Ronkainen, MD, FAAD

Last updated: 2/1/24