The best way to reduce your risk of cold sore is to avoid an infection with herpes simplex virus (HSV). Unfortunately, most people are infected by the virus when they are children. Once you have HSV, it cannot be cured. You can lower the risk of recurrent cold sores by changing some lifestyle activities.
Here are some tips to reduce your risk of getting an HSV infection or having recurrent outbreaks of cold sores:
HSV can be spread by close contact with someone who has a cold sore. It can also spread by their sharing personal items such as towels, razors, or eating utensils. Do not kiss, have close contact with, or share personal items with someone who has an active cold sore. This also applies with someone who thinks they are about to have a cold sore. HSV can also spread to the genital area by having oral sex. Do not let a partner with an active cold sore perform oral sex on you.
Exposure to sunlight is known to cause outbreaks of cold sores. It is impossible to avoid all sun exposure but you can reduce the sun's effect. Use sunscreen on your lips and skin. Also, whenever you go outside in sunny weather, wear a large-brimmed hat. This will help to protect your face from the ultraviolet rays.
Physical and emotional stress may reduce the body’s ability to fight HSV. Stress can also trigger an outbreak of cold sores.
Good hygiene can prevent the spread of cold sores. It may also help to reduce the length and severity of the outbreaks. During an outbreak:
The body heals fastest when it receives rest and good nutrition. Strive for a good night’s sleep. Eat a balanced, healthful diet.
Herpes simplex. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/contagious-skin-diseases/herpes-simplex. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Kuehl B. Cold sores: how to prevent and treat them. Skin Care Guide website. Available at: http://www.skincareguide.ca/articles/herpes/to_prevent_cold_sores.html. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Oral herpes. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115104/Oral-herpes. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP