Cold Sores

Cold sores are tiny blisters that form around the mouth affect more than 150 million people across the nation.  

 Also referred to as 'fever blisters,' cold sores typically develop on and around the lips and mouth as tiny, fluid-filled blisters or lesions. 

Over many days or weeks, they can break open and develop into a crust before healing. Cold sores are primarily caused by the HSV-1 variation of the herpes virus, which affects roughly 67 percent of people worldwide under 50. Don’t sweat it.


What Exactly are Cold Sores?

Cold sores are primarily caused by the HSV-1 variation of the herpes virus. Not to be confused with HSV-2, which usually affects the genital area, HSV-1 primarily causes the development of cold sores (herpes lesions) on and around the lips and mouth. Cold sores are super contagious and can spread like wildfire through saliva or skin contact. 

Generally speaking, people first get it when they are kids due to close contact (whether from a parent or a first kiss). Interestingly enough, only about 20 percent of those carrying the virus ever get symptoms - that is, break out in actual cold sores or small blisters. 

Cold sores can also spread from eating utensils, lip balm, and toothbrushes. They can also be triggered by various weather conditions, a weak immune system, and stress. 

The first sign of blisters can appear within days or weeks or even years following that very first exposure to the virus. The very first time symptoms appear, they are usually more intense than subsequent outbreaks. For example, some individuals experience more pain at the blister or even flu-like symptoms, including fever, swollen glands, or sore throat. 

Wait, are cold sores the same as canker sores? 

Not exactly. Cold sores typically appear around the mouth, while canker sores appear in the mouth. What’s more, cold sores are caused by a virus, while bacteria cause canker sores but, interestingly. If a cold sore does happen to appear in the mouth, it’s usually on the roof of the mouth. Canker sores typically clear up on their own, and the healing time is usually a few weeks.  

Common Signs And Symptoms Of Cold Sores

As we mentioned a little earlier, the first outbreak is usually the most severe, with symptoms varying from person to person. 

Some of the most common first-time cold sore symptoms may include:

  • Blisters or lesions on the lips, mouth, nose, cheeks, or throat
  • Gingivitis
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever and body aches
  • Mouth and throat pain
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty swallowing

You will experience irritating blisters with recurrent outbreaks, but the more severe symptoms, like fever and body aches, are less likely to return. 

A cold sore can pop up at really any given time after you are first infected with the virus. However, you may also notice some early signs of an outbreak a day or two before a blister appears. It’s important to check in with yourself and pay attention to your body so you know what to do. 

Early symptoms of a cold sore may include:

  • Tingling
  • Burning
  • Pain
  • Itching

The blister typically appears within 12 to 24 hours of the first symptom. After a couple of days, the blister will burst and ooze with pus, ultimately resulting in a scab.


The Stages of a Cold Sore

A cold store goes through five stages:

Tingling and itching occur about 12 to 48 hours before blisters erupt.

  1. Tiny fluid-filled blisters appear.
  2. The blisters burst, ooze and form tiny painful sores. 
  3. The sores dry out and eventually scab over, causing cracking and itching.
  4. The scab finally falls off, and the cold sore heals.

How to Prevent a Cold Sore Outbreak

Mayo Clinic recommends visiting a general doctor or a  dermatology practice; they can conduct a visual exam to confirm if you have cold sores or not.

Once you’ve been infected with cold sores, there are quite a few things that can trigger a cold sore outbreak, some of which include:


Your skin does not like stress, so try to keep it minimal, okay? Research has shown that feeling stressed or under pressure can definitely affect you physically. So if you’re wondering if stress can be one of the many culprits behind cold sources -- the answer is yes. 

When you're under mental stress, your immune system always tends to suffer. This provides your dormant cold sore virus a chance to multiply itself and form itty-bitty blisters.   

If you’re feeling super stressed, take a deep breath and try these home remedies:

  • Yoga
  • Exercise
  • Breathwork
  • Go outdoors and spend time in nature

You can also treat yourself to your very own relaxing spa night! Fill the bath with some warm bubble water, light a candle or two, put on a super hydrating whipped mask like the one from Topicals (our fave), pour yourself a glass of rosé, and relax as your troubles and stress melt away. 


Incertain scenarios, medication may be required to help treat the cause of cold sores.

Here are over-the-counter and prescription medications that could help with healing cold sores:

  • Acyclovir
  • Penciclovir
  • Famciclovir
  • Valacyclovir
  • Docosanol (or Abreva)
  • Acetaminophen


Fatigue, believe it or not, is another possible answer when it comes to what can cause a cold sore outbreak. Feeling burnt out and tired can make you vulnerable to cold sores because lower energy stores weigh on your immune system.

Getting quality shut-eye each and every night is key to helping your body fight off the virus (or any virus) and prevent it from producing painful blisters. A handful of things can interfere with getting a solid night’s sleep -- from having too much caffeine to stress. 

Here are a few simple ways to help you get the quality sleep your body needs:

  • Stick to a bedtime routine.
  • Avoid blue light from screens (phone, TV, laptop, etc.) after 8 pm. (Ugh, right? But hey, you have to do it. Your skin will thank you.)
  • Eat sleep-promoting foods such as beans, lean proteins, and fresh veggies. 
  • Exercise earlier in the day (ideally in the morning).
  • Make your bedroom dark, quiet, and comfortable.

Excessive Sunlight

Sun exposure -- along with the common cold and fatigue -- is one of the top three causes of cold sores. Thankfully, there are some easy ways to protect yourself:

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Stay in the shade.
  • Wear a lip sunscreen or block. 

Chilly Weather

Chilly weather can also trigger cold sores. Changes in air moisture and temperature can lessen the body's ability to keep the virus from producing blisters. The colder temps,dry winter air and  wind -- can cause your lips to dry out, making them much more vulnerable to a cold sore outbreak. 

Show your lips some love and keep blisters at bay with these simple methods:

  • Dress warmly.
  • Protect your face against cold, sun, and wind. 
  • Drink plenty of liquids to keep yourself properly hydrated.
  • Stay indoors to avoid severe weather. 

Hormonal Changes

The rise and fall of hormones during your menstrual cycle can be a cause of cold sores, too. These painful blisters are often experienced just before or during your time of the month as a result of the hormonal changes. Some folks also experience cold sore outbreaks during pregnancy and menstruation.

To combat this, you can try the following tips:

  • Get more rest. 
  • Try relaxation exercises.
  • Pay close attention to your menstrual cycle.

Weakened Immune System

Cold sore bacteria lies inactive in nerve cells found in your mouth. But while your immune system usually does an excellent job of making sure that the virus doesn’t multiply and result in blisters, if it’s busy fighting off another virus or infection -- such as the flu or a cold -- you may experience a cold sore outbreak. 

Here are some steps you can try to help avoid a blister outbreak during cold and flu season:

  • Get a flu vaccination.
  • Be super germ conscious and wash your hands more often. 
  • Give your body time to rest, relax, and repair.
  • Eat healthy foods that are rich in vitamins A, C, and E. 
  • Stop smoking.

Bottom Line

Cold sores can be difficult to deal with. However, with a little bit of guidance and practice, you can prevent future outbreaks from occurring to keep blisters at bay. One of those ways is by eliminating stress. Try meditating or simply show yourself some love with a fab skincare routine using top-notch products like the ones from Topicals. 

Topicals are much more than beauty and much more than skincare; they are the new standard-- medicated botanicals. Using science-backed ingredients and herbals to soothe, hydrate, and moisturize skin gently, it’s hard not to feel relaxed after using Topicals!

Check out Topicals today and transform the way you feel about your skin tomorrow. 



Herpes Simplex | WHO

Cold sores | Harvard Health

Cold Sores | Science Daily

Can Cold Sores Be Prevented? | NCBI.

Cold Sores | Hopkins Medicine 

Canker Sore - Diagnosis and Treatment | Mayo Clinic