How do I Choose the Best over-The-Counter Cold Sore Treatment?

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  • Written By: K.G. Spangler
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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When selecting the best over-the-counter cold sore treatment, it is important to know that there is only one medicine that has received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Docosanol 10% is said to be the only cream that can reduce the healing time of a cold sore if it is applied at first wind of an outbreak. If an outbreak is full blown, finding an over-the-counter (OTC) medication that reduces pain, itching, and that nagging tingling sensation should be the first order. Stopping a cold sore from maturing should be the next consideration. Cold sores can be brought on due to sun exposure, so keeping the lips covered by a sunscreen could help limit the number of cold sore incidents.

The pain and itching associated with cold sores can be alleviated through the use of products containing benzocaine. Camphor, known for its cooling effect, is a favorite to minimize the pain associated with cold sores. Menthol helps reduce the tingling and itching of cold sores. Products containing benzyl alcohol are also used to soothe the itching of cold sores. Although technically not over-the-counter cold sore medications, all can be used to help treat the symptoms.


As an inhibitor to the swelling and growth of an existing cold sore, there are a number of ingredients that are effective. Products containing tannic acid are said to reduce the swelling of the cold sore. Tannic acid also helps stop a cold sore from developing if used at the onset. Products containing docosanol are proven to reduce cold sore duration, when used as directed. It also protects nearby skin cells from infection.

Keeping lips both moist and protected with an OTC sunscreen could help prevent the number of cold sore occurrences. It is important to select the appropriate lip balm, however. A good lip balm should contain zinc oxide because it is non-toxic, holds up well in moist environments, and protects against damaging ultraviolet rays.

Many sunscreens contain an ingredient called para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA). While PABA protects against UV rays, it is also believed to increase the risk for skin cancer. Therefore, lip balm containing PABA should be avoided.

When shopping for an over-the-counter cold sore medicine, be sure to read the list of ingredients carefully. Those items found at the beginning of the list have a stronger concentration than those found at the end. After the appearance of a cold sore, using lip balms containing botanical extracts which promote healing, and/or salicylic acid which promotes exfoliation, can aid in cold sore relief.


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Post 3

@ZipLine-- I take Lysine supplements for cold sores, it works! It fights the virus by strengthening the immune system.

I start to take it as soon as I feel one coming on. It prevents the cold sore from forming and if it has already formed, it prevents it from maturing and ulcerating.

I highly recommend this supplement. You don't need to take it all the time. Just take it at first signs of a cold sore and keep taking it every day until it's completely gone.

Post 2

@ZipLine-- Camphor lip balm isn't going to make a cold sore heal faster. That's for moisture and pain relief. If you have nothing else at home, applying camphor lip balm is still better than nothing. Because dryness actually makes dry sores worse and it will take longer for it to heal.

You should probably try one of those antiviral cold sore medicines over-the-counter if you want to shorten healing time. I've never tried them because they cost too much for me.

I personally apply a regular lip balm and apply a remedy with salt water at home to treat cold sores. Cold sores heal on their own, they just need time.

Post 1

I've been using a lip balm with camphor on my cold sore. It relieves the pain a little bit but it hasn't quickened healing time at all. I'm not very impressed.

I've heard good things about lysine supplements for cold sores. Anyone try it?

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