Best Cold Sore Treatments

Updated December 2019
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

20 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
248 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best cold sore treatments

Last Updated December 2019

For those who suffer from repeated cold sores, you know the tell-tale signs when one is forming. A small, hard bump begins to form, and within the next few hours a lump becomes visible. Cold sores aren’t pretty  — or fun, for that matter. They cause pain, they can make a person feel unattractive, and they can make it difficult to eat certain foods. Not to mention that without treatment, cold sores can sometimes last for weeks at a time.

There are plenty of cold sore treatments available, but some need to be used when the sore begins to form, while others are used as preventive measures.

Because of those reasons, we’ve taken the time to create this buying guide for cold sore sufferers to find the best treatment for your situation. That way you can treat your cold sore before it starts to take over your lip or mouth area. Delve deeper into our buying guide to discover which treatment will be the best for your specific sore, and check out a few of our favorites.

Cold sores often occur at the vermilion border, where the lip meets the skin around the mouth.

Key considerations

Understanding cold sores

Causes: A cold sore is a form of the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), which is closely related to the herpes virus that causes genital herpes (HSV-2). But don’t be alarmed. HSV-1 is not always spread through sexual contact. Cold sores can be spread by indirect contact, such as from sharing straws or drinks with someone who is infected. Or someone may touch their open cold sore and then touch a door handle. If you grab that same handle moments later and then touch your face, it’s possible to transfer the herpes simplex virus.

Stages: Cold sores pass through several stages before they disappear. It’s important to understand those stages in order to know what step of the healing process your cold sore is in.

First, you experience a tingling and itching sensation near the site of the cold sore on your lip. This lasts for about a day. After that sensation passes, a small, hard lump appears on the site.

Next, the lump turns into a fluid-filled blister. It’s possible for several blisters to form, but usually it’s unique to the individual. For instance, if your first outbreak has only one blister, subsequent outbreaks will also have only one blister. These blisters begin to peel off in layers as the days progress.

Finally, as the blister(s) begins to break, a hard crust forms over the top. Each time this happens, your cold sore is beginning to heal. It takes two to four weeks for the blisters to completely disappear, and during that time it’s likely that the blisters will crust over continually.

Treatment

Some treatments offer a one-time application, with stronger ingredients designed to attack the cold sore and begin healing it, while others require continuous use. It depends on whether the product’s purpose is pain relief or speeding up the healing process.

Ointments and creams: These are perhaps the most common type of cold sore treatments. They come in small tubes and require that you apply small amounts to the cold sore site. The directions usually indicate you’re to use just enough ointment to cover the cold sore itself. The purpose of these treatments is to jump-start the healing process.

These treatments have a lotion-like, lightweight consistency. There won’t be any visible residue on your lip. They can be used throughout the day without drawing attention to the cold sore site. The tube itself likely has interchangeable applicators or a lid to protect the tip from picking up any other germs or bacteria.

Balm: Balms are slightly different in terms of consistency and how the treatment works. Balms have a waxy, dry consistency that leaves a film over the top of the cold sore site. The purpose is to minimize topical pain while protecting the site from any outside particles or germs. Most balms numb the site or provide some pain relief, but they are not all guaranteed to speed the healing process. You must continually apply the product until the cold sore heals on its own.

Pill: Cold sore treatments that come in pill form are often used for treating cold sores rather than treating cold sore symptoms. Some pills are large and difficult to swallow, with dosages of several times per day. Pills are the rarest form of cold sore treatment.

All-natural ingredients

Herp Rescue is manufactured in a GMP-certified and FDA-approved facility in the United States. It uses all-natural ingredients to boost healing time and provide relief for symptoms. Herp Rescue is one of the most effective nonprescription medicines for treating cold sores.

Features

Active ingredients

Benzyl alcohol: Designed to help heal cold sores and provide pain relief for as many as six hours, benzyl alcohol is most effective when you’re first feeling the symptoms of a cold sore forming.

Docosanol: This antiviral drug  treats cold sores directly to speed up healing while decreasing uncomfortable symptoms.

Lysine: This is present in many ointments or balms. Applying it every two hours for about two weeks can help slow down or prevent the growth of cold sores. If you’re trying to prevent a cold sore from occurring, use 1 gram daily.

Benzalkonium chloride: This antiseptic agent slows or stops the growth of microorganisms to prevent infections. This ingredient is not approved by the FDA for aiding in cold sore relief.

DID YOU KNOW?

The herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) has no cure. Once you suffer from a cold sore outbreak, you will be susceptible to outbreaks for the rest of your life.

DID YOU KNOW?

During a first cold sore, some people also experience fever, sore throat, headache, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes.

DID YOU KNOW?

Cold sores and canker sores are not the same. Canker sores are brought on by stress rather than HSV-1. A doctor can diagnose you if you’re unsure.

Cold sore treatment prices

Inexpensive: You can find topical cold sore treatment that cost between $5 and $8. These are most likely balms that provide some relief for cold sore symptoms. Balms will easily provide relief for the duration of your cold sore outbreak, but they won’t treat the cold sore itself.

Mid-range: You can find cold sore treatments that quickly relieve symptoms and include several tubes of treatment for between $10 and $15. Again, these products don’t treat the cold sore itself. Rather, they provide relief, albeit more quickly than a balm.

Expensive: For more than $20 you can find a remedy that does treat cold sores and speeds up the healing process. Most of these treatments come in small quantities, and you might need to purchase a new one each time you experience an outbreak. Even though they’re the most expensive option, they will heal your cold sore in the shortest amount of time.

Treats cold sores and softens lips

Basic Organics has outdone itself with this lip ointment product that includes vitamins A, D, and E, as well as tincture of benzoin, menthol, and camphor. The combination of ingredients is effective at significantly reducing symptoms of cold sores, and it can also aid in relieving fever blisters, dry, chapped lips, dry skin, or minor skin irritations. Purchase it as an essential for the medicine cabinet.

Tips

  • Don’t touch the cold sore. Resist the urge to pick at any crusted skin or blisters while suffering from a cold sore. Picking at the skin will only postpone the healing process. The crust protects the open sore.
  • Try ice. Cold sore sufferers often describe a cold sore as feeling inflamed. Use an ice pack or ice cubes wrapped in a paper towel on the cold sore to lessen that burning feeling.
  • Throw out lip products. If you’re a frequent lip balm or lipstick user, be sure to discard any tubes that you used during a cold sore outbreak.
  • Don’t share items. During a cold sore outbreak, don’t share eating utensils, towels, lip balm, or razors.
  • Wash your hands. Do this after applying a cold sore treatment. That way you won’t be unintentionally exposing others to the virus.

Other products we considered

Of course, there’s a plethora of products available to help treat and prevent cold sores and their symptoms, and we’ve added a few honorable mentions to our list. In particular, Campho-Phenique is a maximum-strength treatment ointment that comes at a relatively low price point. It helps prevent infection to promote healing of the cold sore. However, consumers have stated that it must be used excessively in order to notice relief. There’s also DocoShield Cold Sore Prevention Lip Balm that uses the same active ingredient as Abreva. While this product is good for preventing cold sore outbreaks, it doesn’t treat active cold sores. It can be used for dry or chapped lips, but its use is limited when used for treating cold sores.

Children are often exposed to HSV-1 early in life when sharing is labeled as “caring.” Think of all the instances when a five-year-old shares toys, drinks, and eating utensils. It’s not until later in life that cold sore outbreaks occur.

FAQ

Q. Are cold sore outbreaks completely random?
A.
No. Usually you will experience an outbreak if you have a weakened immune system, you’re experiencing high levels of stress, or you’re eating certain foods. Women may experience outbreaks during times of hormonal changes, such as during menstruation or when taking birth control pills.

Q. If I have a cold sore, does that mean I have an STD?
A.
No, not necessarily. Cold sores can be spread through means other than sexual contact. However, it’s possible for them to be spread through oral sex. If you have a cold sore, it’s recommended to refrain from any sexual contact with your partner that involves the site of the cold sore.

Q. Will cold sores leave scars on my lips?
A.
No. If left untreated, a cold sore will go away within two to four weeks. After it disappears, your lip will return to how it normally looks.

The team that worked on this review
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Digital Content Producer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Ola
    Ola
    Writer

BestReviews wants to be better. Please take our 3-minute survey,
and give us feedback about your visit today.

Take Survey