A cold sore medicine uses proven natural ingredients to reduce the frequency and severity of cold sore outbreaks.
Typically, it can take up to two weeks for a cold sore to go away on its own, but a cold sore medicine can reduce that time to just a few days. Best of all, cold sore medicines are available without a prescription, have few if any side effects, and are non-addictive.
We spent long hours researching the cold sore medicine marketplace and determined that the following represent the best cold sore medicines of 2023.
1. Herpecin HL 30
Herpecin HL 30 combines lysine, lemon balm, and a variety of supporting ingredients to thwart the activity of the HSV-1 virus and facilitate fast, effective healing. You will get near-immediate relief from tingling and irritation, and your lips will feel great too.
What we like: We appreciate the lip balm format. Very familiar and easy to use. There is very little mess with this product, and it makes your lips feel great even when dealing with a cold sore. The 30SPF sunblock is a nice touch too.
Flaws: Contains dimethicone that sometimes irritates sensitive skin.
2. Abreva Docosanol 10% Cream Tube
Abreva Docosanol is likely the best-known product on our list. It has a well-established reputation for providing effective treatment for cold sores. Abreva is as much a preventive medicine as it is a treatment for cold sore outbreaks.
What we like: Docosanol does a great job blocking the activity of the herpes simplex virus 1 that causes cold sores. It also reduces tingling, burning, and itching and speeds up recovery. Without a doubt, Abreva is one of the most effective cold sore meds you can buy.
Flaws: Finger application is never a great idea. If you have a cotton swab available, you should consider using that.
3. Releev 1 Day Cold Sore Treatment
Releev 1 Day Cold Sore Treatment is not a miracle treatment. But it’s pretty close. Its active ingredient is a type of organic salt that treats HSV-1 the way rock salt treats ice. That is good news for those wanting to put an outbreak behind them asap.
What we like: The benzalkonium chloride in Releev actually dissolves the structure of the cold sore, breaking it down and allowing the immune system to clean things up quickly. There is very little mess, no odor, and it dries clear.
Flaws: You should take the ‘1 Day’ claim with a grain of salt.
4. Zilactin Cold Sore Gel
Zilactin does more than just address cold sores, it glums onto them and does not let go. Within hours the process of breaking down the cold sore and beginning the healing process is underway, and within a few days, it is nearly complete.
What we like: Zilactin features a patented bioadhesive that holds the medicine against the offending virus molecules and breaks them apart. You get fast, effective pain relief, and visible improvement in just a couple of days.
Flaws: Produces a pretty obvious white film.
5. Virulite Electronic Cold Sore Treatment
While UV light can prompt a cold sore outbreak, other types of light disrupt it. The Virulite exploits the healing power of light to undermine the integrity of the cold sore and provide a window for the immune system to enter and clean up.
What we like: Virulite seems like a gimmick, but you are likely to be sold on it after just a few treatments. It leverages specific parts of the light spectrum to break down virus molecules and promote healing. Just three minutes a day is all it takes.
Flaws: Works well but will be too expensive for some people.
6. Super Lysine Plus Coldstick
Super Lysine Plus Coldstick takes the familiar form of the lip balm, but delivers much more. Lysine is one of the essential amino acids and is renowned for its antiviral and antibacterial properties. Super Lysine quickly turns the tide on HSV-1.
What we like: The Super Lysine combination of lysine, echinacea, tea tree oil, and botanicals does an effective job arresting outbreaks. The inclusion of two different sunblocks helps ensure UV light does not aggravate existing sores while they heal.
Flaws: Not going to work on a cold sore that is not directly on the lips.
7. Herplex Herpes Treatment
Herplex Herpes Treatment is a different kind of cold sore medicine. These are dietary capsules you take on a regular basis to prevent the development of cold sores. Should you suffer an outbreak, they can also provide expedited relief.
What we like: There is no denying the effectiveness of Herplex Herpes Treatment. The capsules are also a nice break from sticky lip balms and ointments. Features just a bit of antimicrobial copper.
Flaws: Make sure you swallow them quickly because the taste is nothing to write home about.
8. Dalinex Cold Sore Treatment
Dalinex Cold Sore Treatment is yet another type of cold sore medicine. In this case, you add an eyedropper full of Dalinex liquid to your favorite beverage to boost your immune system and to help speed the breakdown and healing of cold sores.
What we like: Dalinex is very easy to use and a nice break from topical remedies. Mixes well with most beverages and does not spoil the taste. May not work ‘immediately’ as the marketing suggests, but it is reasonably effective.
Flaws: Whether it actually prevents outbreaks as it claims is almost impossible to determine.
9. Herp-B-Gone Cream
Herp-B-Gone is another cold sore medicine with a less than discrete name. But like Herp Rescue, it redeems itself by way of its effectiveness. It is a cornucopia of antibacterial and antiviral oils and herbs, and it gets to work fast.
What we like: Herp-B-Gone goes all-in on the plant oils and the antibacterial herbs and roots. The result is an ointment that is soothing, that promotes quick recovery and which helps fend off the possibility of scarring at the same time.
Flaws: If you are allergic to any of the dozen or so oils used to make this, you will have a problem. It is also surprisingly expensive.
10. Cold Sore Kur +
The last of our best cold sore medicines is the brainchild of Periodontal Surgeon Dr. Steven Skanchy. His proprietary mixture brings an almost immediate halt to cold sore progression and sets the wheels in motion for a speedy recovery.
What we like: Cold Sore Kur + is an intriguing combination of fruit oil, aloe vera, clove, and medium-chain triglycerides. It does a great job producing relief from pain and tingling, and it really compresses the recovery time frame.
Flaws: It works, but you should not take the marketing hyperbole literally.
Who Needs Cold Sore Medicine?
This will probably come as a shock to most people, but the WHO estimates (1) that more than 3.5 billion humans are infected with the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), the virus that causes cold sores. Although many of those people are asymptomatic and remain that way their entire lives, hundreds of millions experience cold sores several times every year.
Cold sores are not just embarrassing, they can also be painful, interfere with the person’s ability to eat and enjoy their food, and cause scarring in the affected area. On top of all that, the virus is highly contagious during a cold sore outbreak. Cold sore medicine can alleviate the pain and discomfort of cold sores, while also shortening recovery times.
How We Ranked
There are only a few questions that need to be asked in the search for the best cold sore medicine. They are: 1) Does it work? 2) Is it safe to use? 3) Is it widely available?
We examined dozens of cold sore remedies, sifted through thousands of user reviews, and reviewed the clinical data related to the various ingredients involved. We also considered availability, as well as the reputation of the manufacturer and, of course, the price. The end result of our research is the above list of the best cold sore medicines.
Q: What is a cold sore?
A: A cold sore (2) is a blister caused by the herpes simplex virus I, or HSV-1 (3). They typically occur on or around the lips and may appear alone or in small clusters. The blister forms in the early stages of the outbreak. Once the blister breaks, a crust forms that will remain until the sore heals on its own in 10 – 14 days. People with HSV-1 usually suffer one or two outbreaks per year. Cold sore medicines can shorten the healing process to a few days.
Q: How do cold sore medicines work?
A: Cold sore medicines employ active ingredients known to halt the spread of the herpes virus. They are most effective when used early and often during an outbreak. Some are creams that are applied with a finger directly onto the cold sore. Others take the form of lip balms, and still others are dietary supplements that contain active ingredients known to counteract the action of the herpes virus.
Q: What is the best cold sore medicine?
A: That is impossible to say because what works for one person may not work at all for someone else. There are just too many variables in play for one medicine to be the best one for every person. Try several if need be until you find the one that works for you.
Q: What is in cold sore medicines?
A: Different cold sore medicines use different ingredients to provide relief. Many use zinc, as zinc can counteract the growth of the herpes simplex virus, which causes the cold sore (4). Others use lysine. Lysine is an amino acid that laboratory tests have shown can stop the spread of the virus, thereby reducing the size of cold sores. Just how much lysine is required to do this is still open to scientific debate (5).
Q: Do cold sore medicines have any side effects?
A: Most cold sore medicines contain natural ingredients like zinc or lysine. Others use MCT oil, benzyl alcohol, or other such ingredients that are known to be generally well-tolerated by most people. When side effects do occur, they are often the result of allergic reactions. So, if you experience hives, itchy skin, a swollen tongue, or trouble breathing, stop using the cold sore medicine immediately and contact your doctor.
Q: Would I be better off with prescription cold sore medicines?
A: That is something you need to determine in consultation with your doctor. Whether or not your doctor deems it necessary to prescribe something stronger will depend mostly on the frequency and severity of your outbreaks. In most cases, people have an outbreak or two per year. Those outbreaks, while vexing, are not particularly painful. In such cases, most doctors recommend sticking with OTC cold sore medicines.
Q: Can cold sore medicines create negative drug interactions?
A: Over the counter cold sore medicines use natural ingredients like zinc and lysine. If you are currently taking a prescription medication for any reason, the chances of experiencing a negative interaction are incredibly remote. The same can be said for other cold sore medicine ingredients like tea tree oil, MCT oil, and aloe vera.
Q: How did I get cold sores?
A: It is estimated that as many as 50% of American adults have the virus that causes cold sores (6), though most are asymptomatic. There are many ways by which a person may contract the herpes simplex I virus behind the cold sore. Some get it by sharing drinks with infected people. Others by kissing someone with a cold sore. Since the virus can live in saliva, you can get from an infected person even if they do not have a visible cold sore.
Q: Are canker sores the same as cold sores?
A: There is a common misconception that canker sores are a type of cold sore. They are not. Canker sores only appear inside the mouth, typically on the inner cheek or gums. They look like a white-ish crater and may be caused by a nutrient deficiency or by biting the inside of the cheek. They are not caused by the herpes simplex 1 virus, and they are not contagious (7).
Q: How can someone avoid getting cold sores?
A: Unfortunately, the virus that causes cold sores is incredibly widespread and, as of this writing, there is no hope of eradicating it. All a person can do is try and reduce their risk of exposure. Do not kiss someone with a cold sore. If you see someone with a cold sore, avoid sharing things with them as the virus may be on their hands too. Washing your hands frequently and not touching your face are two common ways to prevent virus transmission.
Q: What causes a cold sore outbreak?
A: Cold sore triggers are fairly well understood, even if they vary from person to person. Stress can be a major trigger, as can some common illnesses like the seasonal flu. Strong emotions sometimes trigger cold sore outbreaks, as does fatigue or disrupted sleep cycles. Women sometimes experience outbreaks during their period or during pregnancy. And exposure to ultraviolet light can potentially lay the groundwork for an outbreak as well (8).
Q: What is the easiest way to cure cold sores?
A: Unfortunately, there is no cure for HSV-1. Once you have it, you have it for life. The best you can do is find an effective way to limit the number of outbreaks or to manage cold sore outbreaks when they occur. If a cold sore is left to run its course, it will usually go away in a week or two. The best cold sore medicines can significantly reduce that timescale. In some cases, the cold sore may start to diminish in just a few days.
Q: Can I get rid of a cold sore by squeezing it?
A: It may be tempting to try and ‘pop’ a cold sore the way you pop a pimple. But cold sores are not pimples. Popping one could be a painful experience and cause the virus to spread further and faster than it might have if you had left it alone.
Q: Are my cold sores contagious?
A: Yes. Cold sores are highly contagious and remain so until they have gone away completely. There is a common misconception that once a cold sore scabs over that it is no longer contagious. It is (9). Therefore you should not kiss anyone with a cold sore, or share a drink or food with them, even if their cold sore is almost gone. If you hold their hand, you should wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
Q: Can I use cold sore medicines on genital herpes sores?
A: There are a lot of sometimes contentious arguments about this point. Manufacturers are clear that their cold sore medicines should be used for cold sores only. Major medically-oriented websites agree (10). But there are plenty of individuals who claim they have successfully used cold sore medicine on genital herpes. The problem is, they cannot provide any proof of this. If you have genital herpes, speak to your doctor about the best treatment.
Q: How many types of herpes are there?
A: Unfortunately, there are quite a few. Most people are aware only of HSV-1 and HSV-2. But the herpes family tree is distressingly long and varied. Most of these other forms are referred to as ‘human herpesvirus’ (HHV) rather than ‘herpes simplex virus’ (HSV). But they are all part of the same extended virus family. Some other HHVs include HHV-3 that causes chickenpox lesions, HHV-4 that causes infectious mono, and HHV-6, which can cause roseola (11), which often affects infants and resembles measles (12).
Q: Should I call in sick if I have a cold sore?
A: The answer to this will depend on what you do and where you work. In most cases, there is no compelling reason to call in sick if you have a cold sore. However, if you work in a hospital or clinic, you need to weigh your right to work against the patient’s right to be served in a safe environment. Likewise, if you work for a company that is very protective of its image, they may want you to stay home until the cold sore is gone.
Q: If cold sores go away on their own, why bother with treatment?
A: It is mostly a matter of personal preference. People who work from home may see no reason to take extraordinary steps to deal with a cold sore. Others who work in crowded offices may want to eliminate the cold sore as quickly as possible. It is true that the cold sore will clear up on its own if left alone. So whether you bother with treatment to speed the healing process will be up to you.
Q: Can not showering cause cold sores?
A: Another common misconception is that cold sores can be brought on by poor hygiene habits, like not showering often. This is not the case. In order to develop cold sores, you must be exposed to the HSV-1 that causes them. If you are not, then all the missed showers in the world will not lead to cold sores. Although it may cause others to give you a wide berth regardless.
Q: Why doesn’t my immune system wipe out the herpes virus?
A: A lot of people want to know why their immune system cannot eliminate the herpes virus after it enters the body. After all, that’s what the immune system is for, right? Well, yes. But it is not as cut and dry as that. Your immune system does spring into action once a cold sore develops. And in a week or two, it eliminates the threat. However, herpes has developed a novel defense mechanism. Once defeated, it hides among the nerves where it remains beyond the reach of the immune system until it decides to rear its ugly head again at a later date.
Cold sore medicines reduce the frequency and severity of cold sore outbreaks, shortens the healing and recovery process, and enables you to dictate life on your own terms. They are a convenient, effective, and reliable way to deal with the problem of cold sores. And you will not have to drain your savings account to obtain them.
Cold sore medicines use proven natural ingredients like zinc that stop the spread of the HSV-1 virus that causes cold sores, and jump-starts the healing process. What was a two-week wait for the cold sore to clear up on its own is now reduced to a few days.
All of the cold sore medicines on our list have proven themselves countless times and are produced by reputable manufacturers in FDA-certified good manufacturing practices facilities. Use the above information to help you decide which cold sore medicine is right for you.
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