Best Ointments and Creams for Cold Sores

Disclaimer: This article is for informational and educational purposes only and does not substitute professional medical advice. It is important to always consult a medical professional for any health issues.

Cold sores are also referred to as fever blisters, and they are a common viral infection. They are small, fluid-filled blisters on and around the lips and are often grouped together in patches. When these blisters break, a scab develops that may last for several days. Most of the time, cold sores heal in two to three weeks without leaving any scars. 

This condition may also spread from one person to another through close contacts, such as kissing. Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and, less frequently, type 2 (HSV-2) are the main causes of cold sores. Both of these viruses can affect the mouth or genitals and can be spread through oral sex. Even if you do not see the sores, cold sores are contagious. [1] 

There is actually no cure for cold sores, but there are certain treatments that may help manage outbreaks. These include prescription antiviral medicines and creams, which can help sores heal fast. These may also help reduce the frequency, length, and severity of future outbreaks. [1] In addition to prescription medicines, there are also over-the-counter ointments and creams that you can use to treat cold sores. If you are wondering what these are, we are here to help you. In this post, we are giving you more information about the best ointments and creams for cold sores.

Symptoms of Cold Sores

Symptoms of Cold Sores

Before we talk about the best ointments and creams for cold sores, let us first understand their symptoms. Cold sores usually pass through different stages, which you can learn more about below: [1]

Tingling and Itching: A lot of people may feel itching, burning, or tingling around their lips for a day or so before small, hard, and painful spots appear and blisters erupt.

Blisters: During this stage, the small fluid-filled blisters usually erupt along the border of the lips. They also sometimes appear around the cheeks or nose, or rarely inside the mouth. 

Oozing and Crusting: At this stage, the small blisters may merge and then burst. This leaves shallow open sores that ooze and crust over. 

The signs and symptoms of cold sores may vary, depending on whether it is your first outbreak or a recurrence. The first time you get a cold sore, symptoms might not appear for up to 20 days after you were initially exposed to the virus. These sores may last several days, and the blisters may take two to three weeks to completely heal. Recurrences, on the other hand, usually appear at the same spot every time and tend to be less severe compared to the first outbreak. [1]

In a first-time cold sore outbreak, you might experience fever, sore throat, headache, painful gums, swollen lymph nodes, and muscle aches. Children who are under five years old may experience cold sores inside their mouths, and the lesions are often mistaken for canker sores, which involve only the mucous membrane and are not caused by the herpes simplex virus. 

Cold sores usually clear up without any treatment. However, it is important to see a doctor if you have a weakened immune system, if the symptoms are severe, or if the cold sores do not heal within two weeks. It is also a good idea to reach out to your doctor if you have frequent recurrences of cold sores. [1]

woman with cold sores on the lip

Complications of Cold Sores

Cold sores may also cause problems in other areas of the body in some people. These include:

Fingertips: Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can spread to the fingers. This type of infection is often called herpes whitlow. It’s conceivable that kids who suck their thumbs will spread the virus from their mouths to their thumbs. [1]

Eyes: There are times when the virus may cause an eye infection. Repeated infections may cause injury and scarring, which may also lead to vision problems or, worse, loss of vision.

Widespread Areas of Skin: Individuals who have skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis, are at higher risk of acquiring cold sores, and these can spread across their bodies. When this happens, it can become a medical emergency. [1]

How to Prevent Spreading Cold Sores

How to Prevent Spreading Cold Sores

In order to stop or prevent spreading cold sores to other people or to other parts of your body, below are some precautions that you may follow: [1]

Avoid kissing and other forms of skin contact with people when blisters are present: Keep in mind that the virus spreads most easily when the blisters leak fluid.

Do not share items: Towels, lip balm, utensils, and other personal items can also spread the virus when blisters are present.

Always keep your hands clean: Always wash your hands thoroughly before touching yourself or anyone else, especially a baby, if you have a cold sore. [1]

person washing hands

Prescription Creams and Ointments for Cold Sores

Doctors may prescribe patients with medicines that may slightly shorten the duration of cold sores to just one to two days. Below are some examples of prescription creams and ointments for cold sores:

Penciclovir Cream: This is an antiviral cream that reduces healing recovery by one to two days if the cold sore is triggered by sunlight exposure. This cream can reduce pain, burning, and itching. However, it may have side effects like mild pain or stinging feeling when applied.

Acyclovir Ointment or Cream: This medication works best when used at the first symptom of a cold sore. However, it may have side effects like a stinging feeling or mild pain when it is applied. It may also sometimes cause temporary skin irritation. This prescription medication is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) to treat repeated cold sores in people older than 12 years old.

Non-Prescription Creams and Ointments for Cold Sores

person putting cream on a finger

There are also non-prescription topical products that may help speed recovery by just a few hours or a day when used frequently at the first sign of an outbreak. Below are the non-prescription creams and ointments for cold sores:

Topical Pain Medicines: These creams and ointments can relieve pain and itchiness caused by cold sores. Some of the common ones are benzocaine and camphorated phenol. However, keep in mind that benzocaine should not be used for children under the age of two.

Docosanol 10%: This type of topical medication should be applied at the first sign of a cold sore outbreak. It is the first non-prescription cold sore medicine that has been approved by the US FDA.

Benzyl Alcohol: This is a type of topical gel that can relieve the pain of cold sores. It can also help shorten healing time when it is used as soon as the cold sore starts to develop.

Dimethicone: This type of OTC medication moisturizes lips and protects them from the sun. Aside from that, it also reduces the pain and itchiness of cold sores and prevents cold sores from occurring again. 

It is more convenient to use OTC products, such as creams and ointments, as you can get them without the need for a doctor’s prescription. There are also a lot of options to choose from when it comes to these topical products. Below are a few examples of non-prescription creams and ointments for cold sores to help you choose:

  • Abreva Cold Sore Treatment: This topical cream contains 10% docosanol. It can help heal cold sores in 2.5 days. It penetrates deep into the skin to tackle cold sores at their sours. It shortens the duration of tingling, pain, burning, and itching, which are associated with cold sores. It is also packed in a convenient tube for on-the-go cold sore treatment.
  • Campho Phenique Cold sore Treatment: This topical gel is specially formulated for cold sores or fever blisters. It can instantly relieve pain and itch and prevent infection, promoting faster healing. It can be used for adults and children two years old and up. 
  • Herstat Cold Sore Relief: This cream works by soothing the symptoms of a cold sore. It can provide relief from dry, cracked, and sore lips by creating a protective barrier that retains moisture, softening the affected area. It can be applied at any stage of a cold sore outbreak. It contains 3% of high-quality propolis, which is a natural substance collected from beehives. 
  • Docosanol Cream 10%: This is a healing cream that is used for treating cold sores and fever blisters on the face or lips. It shortens the duration of tingling pain, burning, and itching symptoms. It can deliver the best results when used at the first tingle. This cream penetrates deep into the skin to the source to prevent the virus from spreading. 
  • Orajel Moisturelock Cold Sore Symptom Treatment: This topical gel is used for instant pain relief caused by cold sores. It can protect the affected skin and may treat six symptoms of cold sores, which are pain, itching, redness, scabbing, cracking, and dryness. It contains maximum-strength benzocaine.
  • Urban ReLeaf Lemon Balm Salve: This salve can be used to quickly soothe the symptoms of cold sores, shingles, and rashes on the lips. It is a strong and natural remedy for cold sores. It soothes sores by taking the fire and itch away. It is made using raw shea butter, making it 100% natural and safe to use even for sensitive skin. 
  • CUROXEN Cold Sore Day & Night Relief: This is a cold sore formula that has been proven to kill the cold sore virus and relieve the symptoms fast. It includes two ointments that are used for daytime and nighttime. It should be used at the first sign of a cold sore or fever blister. These ointments are made using all-organic ingredients to create a highly effective ointment.   

Things to Consider When Choosing a Cold Sore Cream

Things to Consider When Choosing a Cold Sore Cream

There is no cure for herpes, which means there is also no cure for cold sores. But common cold sore treatments like creams and ointments can be used to reduce the symptoms and speed up healing. When choosing creams and ointments for cold sores, below are some of the things you need to consider:

Antiviral Ingredients: It is great if you can choose to use cold sore creams that contain antiviral ingredients like acyclovir, penciclovir, and docosanol. However, these medications may only work a bit better than a placebo when reducing the pain of a cold sore in 24 hours. [2]

Zinc Oxide: There was a study wherein zinc oxide cream was applied to the cold sores of participants every two hours. Others used a placebo at the same time. In comparison to those who used a placebo, individuals who applied the cream within 24 hours saw quicker recovery times and fewer severe symptoms. [2]

Anesthetic: Creams that contain anesthetic can numb a cold sore and reduce pain, itching, and burning. They are also great if you want to alleviate the pain. However, keep in mind that these creams do not speed up the healing time. [2]

Other Cold Sore Treatments

In addition to OTC ointments and creams, there are other medications and home remedies that you can use to help reduce cold sore symptoms. Below are some examples:

OTC Pain Medications: Ibuprofen or acetaminophen medications, for example, may help lessen cold sore discomfort and swelling. These can be bought under the brands Tylenol, Advil, and Motrin. [2]

Cold Compresses: You can also utilize cold compresses to help heal pain or discoloration. You can cover an ice pack using a cloth and hold it against the affected area. [2]

Kanuka Honey: According to a 2019 study, Kanuka honey may be just as good at treating cold sores as antiviral drugs. [2]

Conclusion

Cold sores are not generally serious, but they can become complicated, particularly for those who have weak immune systems. They can be passed easily from one person to another. Therefore, it is very important to avoid obtaining it. Ensure that your hands are always clean, and avoid sharing personal things with other people. Prevention is always better than cure. 

If in case you acquire cold sores, using medications like ointments and creams on their onset may help speed up their healing and prevent them from being passed to other people. We hope this post helped you learn more about the best ointments and creams for cold sores.

References

[1] Mayo Clinic, S. (2020, June 17). Cold sore. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cold-sore/symptoms-causes/syc-20371017

[2] Brown, L. M., & Davenport, S. (2022, August 11). 6 of the best cold sore creams. Medical News Today. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/best-cold-sore-cream#other-treatments