Don't be deceived by the small tubes these come in — Abreva is very concentrated and a little goes a long way. Most users report that cold sores disappear within a few days, if not sooner.
It's a white cream that doesn't blend well, not ideal if you're leaving the house.
Gel formula comes in a .23-ounce tube. Treats symptoms such as itching and burning, and fights against infection. Includes aloe for soothing relief.
A few customers mentioned a strong smell and burning after use.
Quickly relieves symptoms and cuts healing time in half. Includes menthol to bring pain relief quickly and lysine to inhibit cold sore outbreak triggers. Moisturizes as it soothes and treats.
Didn’t work optimally for a few users with severe cold sores.
Comes in a pack of 15 clear patches. Intended to shield the cold sore and keep it moist to speed up the healing. Contains hydrocolloid gel for additional treatment. Can be used at the beginning stages and for up to 12 hours.
These tend to come off easily.
Comes in a 0.07-ounce tube with a tip that is easy to apply. Uses rhubarb and sage complex with menthol for a cooling sensation and a softening effect. Made without parabens, phthalates, petrolatum, and SLS. Comes with a medicated lip balm.
Tube is pretty small.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.