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Which cold sore treatment is best?

Whether you call them cold sores or fever blisters, they’re all the same. These painful, itchy bumps that form on the lips and around the mouth make life difficult and unpleasant. Eating, drinking and talking can be impacted by a serious cold sore outbreak, and those affected regularly report feeling embarrassed and unattractive.

If you want to relieve painful symptoms and make cold sores disappear fast, Abreva 10%  Docosanol Cold Sore Treatment is a good choice.

What to know before you buy a cold sore treatment

Stage of infection

Cold sore treatments should be tailored to whatever stage the cold sore is in:

  • Stage 1: There is nothing visible at this stage, but you might feel tingling or itching on your lip or in other areas of your mouth. Within 24 hours, a lump forms at the site of the sensation. You may be able to head off an outbreak if you apply cold sore treatment at this stage.
  • Stage 2: The tingling you felt in stage one transforms into a blister that is filled with fluid. Some people have multiple blisters, while others just have one. As the days pass, the blister peels.
  • Stage 3: A crust forms over the open blisters. This is a sign that healing is beginning. Some blisters take up to a month to heal.

Form of treatment

Cold sore treatments come in three main forms:

  • Ointment or cream: Ointment or cream delivers powerful medication directly to the cold sore. They can be applied on the go and are generally invisible.
  • Balm: Balms are portable, but they can leave a visible film. This protects the cold sore, but may not speed healing.
  • Oral medications: Prescription antiviral medications provide systemic support for cold sores. These are more common for people who have frequent, painful outbreaks.

What to look for in a quality cold sore treatment

Effective active ingredients

There are four main active ingredients to look for in a quality cold sore treatment:

  • Benzyl alcohol: This provides pain relief for up to six hours. Apply it at the first signs of a cold sore for best results.
  • Docosanol: It’s an antiviral that works to speed up healing and relieve uncomfortable symptoms.
  • Lysine: Ointments and balms make the best use of this ingredient. It is applied every two hours for two weeks to prevent cold sores (or slow their formation).
  • Benzalkonium chloride: Although not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for cold sores, it has been shown to prevent infection.

Natural formulations

Many natural formulations are meant to ease uncomfortable symptoms. There is minimal research as to their effectiveness in actually shortening the duration of a cold sore outbreak, but they can be helpful in easing pain and itching.


Cold sores are already embarrassing enough without toting around a vat of cream for treatment. If you want relief on the go, look for small tubes or lip balms that can be discreetly tucked into a pocket or a purse.

How much you can expect to spend on a cold sore treatment

The price varies dramatically depending on the proven effectiveness of the ingredients in the treatment you choose. Expect to spend $4-$30.

Cold sore treatment FAQ

What causes cold sores?

A. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, but outbreaks can be sporadic, with identifiable triggers that include:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Stress
  • Illness
  • Excessive sun exposure
  • Cold wind

Can you use essential oils to treat cold sores?

A. That depends. When it comes to treating cold sores, essential oils can be soothing, but there is little research as to their effectiveness. Of the available research, the National Institute of Health found that several types of oils were effective in treating cold sores caused by the herpes simplex virus I and II.

These include:

  • Peppermint oil
  • Eucalyptus
  • Tea tree

These oils are known for their antiviral and antibacterial properties which may speed healing and provide comfort.

How do you prevent a cold sore?

A. In this case, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. Getting plenty of rest, exercising, managing stress and eating well are the best ways to prevent cold sore outbreaks.

What’s the best cold sore treatment to buy?

Top cold sore treatment

best Abreva 10% Docosanol Cold Sore Treatment

Abreva 10% Docosanol Cold Sore Treatment

What you need to know: This relieves cold sores and makes them disappear in under three days.

What you’ll love: This tube contains powerful medicine. Just a small amount starts working immediately. The tube is convenient to take with you, and it treats all symptoms of a cold sore, including tingling, itching and burning.

What you should consider: The white cream is very visible and does not blend in, so if you’re out in public while treating your cold sore, it can be embarrassing.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top cold sore treatment for the money

best Campho Henique Cold Sore Treatment

Campho Phenique Cold Sore Treatment

What you need to know: Start this when the first signs of a cold sore appear for best results.

What you’ll love: This fights all signs and symptoms of cold sores and also has aloe to relieve itching and ease the pain. Camphor and a pain reliever in this treatment help you feel better fast. It can be used for children over age 2, and it works to prevent infection and spreading.

What you should consider: This has a strong smell that some people did not like.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Best Mederma Cold Sore Treatment Patches

Mederma Cold Sore Treatment Patches

What you need to know: These discreet patches heal for up to 12 hours with hydrocolloid gel.

What you’ll love: Not only do they protect and heal, they also conceal without being too obtrusive. Reviewers said they work quickly when applied within first signs of cold sores.

What you should consider: Some said the patches didn’t stay on as well as they’d like.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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Suzannah Kolbeck writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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