Cold sore: how to get rid of it quickly

Because they are officially the WORST

cold sore
(Image credit: IMAXtree)

Because they are officially the WORST

Picture this: you wake up one morning, ready to take on the day, stand in front of your bathroom mirror and there staring back at you, just above your top lip is a cold sore. Have you ever heard of a more distressing tale? We thought not.

Cold sores are horrific - they're painful, they ooze, they look really, really unsightly. Ghastly in fact. Which is awful, because they already make you feel like a social pariah, what them being super contagious.

So to sum up - a cold sore is just about one of the worst things that you could wake up to.

However, they can be treated. And if done so properly, they won't hang around for long. May your social life prevail once more.

Here's everything you need to know about the dreaded cold sore...

What is a cold sore?

'To put it simply,' Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe, medical doctor and skincare expert, explains. 'Cold sores are blisters that typically appear around the mouth (i.e. the lip border) secondary to a viral infection.' According to NHS Inform, they 'often start with a tingling, itching or burning sensation around your mouth and clear up between seven and ten days without treatment.'

What causes a cold sore?

'It is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV-1), which is an extremely common and highly contagious virus. The virus is spread by direct or indirect contact with someone who actively has the virus.' That means, you shouldn't kiss, share glassware, cutlery or even towels with someone who has a cold sore.

There are different triggers for different people; some people will find that the sunlight gives them a cold sore, others get them from stress, hormone changes, injury to the area and exhaustion. Each of these wakes the virus up, and the result is a nasty cold sore.

'Cold sores and genital herpes are caused by the same group of virus - Herpes Simplex. However, cold sores are caused by HSV1 (Herpes Simplex Virus 1) and genital herpes are caused by HSV2 (Herpes Simplex Virus 2). It's important to note that genital herpes occur after sexual activity. Painful genital blisters, ulcers, redness, swelling and swollen glands (lymph nodes) are the symptoms associated with this.

This means that you should be wary of oral sex - don't go down on anyone with genital herpes (not that you would knowingly) and a person should never go down on somebody else whilst with a cold sore.

cold sore

(Image credit: Shutterstock/Rex)

What are the best cold sore treatments?

'Mild uncomplicated episodes of cold sores don't require treatment, as they totally resolve without treatment within 10 day,' says Dr Ukeleghe. 'However, in order to get rid of them faster, you can use a topical anti-viral medication. An example of this is Zovirax - which contains an anti-viral ingredient called Aciclovir.' You can also get your hands on patches that go over the cold sore to stop any aggravation from weather or contact. These have hydrocolloid gel in them, which according to the NHS works well at treating wounds.

Can you ever get rid of cold sores completely?

Annoyingly you will never get rid of the virus. Once it's in your system, it's set up camp, built a fire and plans to stay for the long haul. Dr Ukeleghe goes continues, 'After the initial infection, the virus lays dormant in the nervous system, it can then reoccur at a later stage. This can happen multiple times over one's lifetime.'

How to prevent a cold sore?

A perfectly, hydrated lip is unlikely to fall foul to a cold sore. Keeping your lips super hydrated, to prevent chapping, with the best lip balm will really help keep them at bay. You ideally want to pick a lip balm with an SPF to add another layer of protection.

cold sore

(Image credit: Shutterstock/Rex)

Are lips the only place that you can get a cold sore? Can you get them on your nose?

Yes, you can get a cold sore on your nose, as Dr Ukeleghe explains: 'It can technically occur anywhere on the face, but it's found most commonly around the mouth.'

So there we have it, everything you could ever hope to know about a cold sore. If you have any other questions that you would like us to ask, please tweet us at @marieclaireuk.

Katie Thomas

Katie Thomas is the Senior Beauty Editor at Marie Claire UK. With over 10 years of experience on women's luxury lifestyle titles, she covers everything from the best beauty looks from the red carpet and stand out trends from the catwalk, to colonic irrigation and to the best mascaras on the market. She started her career on fashion desks across the industry - from The Telegraph to Brides - but found her calling in the Tatler beauty department. From there she moved to Instyle, before joining the Marie Claire digital team in 2018. She’s made it her own personal mission to find the best concealer in the world to cover her tenacious dark circles. She’s obsessed with skincare that makes her skin bouncy and glowy, low-maintenance hair that doesn’t require brushing and a cracking good manicure. Oh and she wears more jewellery than the Queen.