When you have a cold sore, also known as herpes labialis or a fever blister, you want to be gentle with your skin. Cold sores are typically a result of the herpes simplex virus and appear as small, fluid-filled blisters or scabs that are often painful. So the last thing you want to do is make it worse or cause it to spread.
“Flares can occur as a result of stress, colds or other infections, intense heat or sun exposure, and more,” says Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “Generally, it can start off with a painful, burning, or stinging sensation, followed by a blister or scab forming. While it primarily affects the lip, some people may notice it occurs on other areas of the face, such as the nose.”
To ensure your sore is in an optimal environment to heal, there are a few cold sore skin-care rules you’ll want to follow. Keep in mind: This is not medical advice and won’t help you treat a cold sore—but if you’ve got one, it may keep it from getting worse. Read on to learn more.
5 cold sore skin-care rules to follow
1. Avoid harsh skin-care ingredients
When you have an active cold sore, you want to be gentle with your skin-care routine. “It is best to avoid any exfoliating acids, retinoids, or any ingredients that can lead to skin irritation,” says Dr. Garshick. “It is important to be gentle with your skin care because when a cold sore is active, any disruption in the skin barrier—from say, an irritant or eczema—can trigger the spread of the virus.”
2. Use disposable makeup applicators
“In general, until the area scabs over, it can be considered contagious so it is best to avoid using makeup brushes on top of it as it can theoretically cause spread if not properly disinfected,” says Dr. Garshick. “For this reason, it is best to use disposable brushes or cotton-tip applicators.”
3. Don’t pick
Just like it’s bad to pick at a pimple, you also don’t want to pick a cold sore. “It is important not to pick to minimize the potential for scarring, and rather apply a healing ointment like Vaseline Healing Jelly 2 Pack ($10) to provide a protective barrier,” says Dr. Garshick.
4. Wear sunscreen
“It is also important to wear sunscreen and protect the skin from the sun to minimize the potential for hyperpigmentation,” she says. The EltaMD UV Daily Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 ($33) is a great option as it’s a mineral sunscreen, which is a better pick for sensitive skin, and is made with hydration hyaluronic acid.
5. Consult a dermatologist
“If you are prone to developing cold sores, it is best to speak with a board-certified dermatologist to discuss treatments, such as Valacyclovir, that can be used preventively or can be taken as soon as symptoms start to reduce the severity and duration,” says Dr. Garshick.
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