What can I put on a peeling cold sore?

Updated April 17, 2017

Cold sores most often appear on the lips as a fluid-filled blister on top of reddened skin. They are painful, itchy and embarrassing. The pain and itching of a cold sore can last from 10 to 14 days. Using make-up to cover a cold sore usually only aggravates the condition. A variety of treatments are available including over-the-counter medications, prescription medications and home remedies.

Over-the-Counter Medications

For pain and discomfort, a variety of medications are available, including acetaminophen, ibuprofen and anesthetic ointments. Products that relieve pain and itching include products containing benzocaine; lidocaine, camphor and tetracaine are effective. Tetracaine has been shown in some clinical trials to speed the healing time of cold sores.

A new medication has become available over the counter for cold sore treatment, 10 per cent docosanol cream. Docosanol seems to inhibit viral growth of the herpes labialis virus. Docosanol works best if applied early after the first signs of a cold sore.

Prescription Medications

Your doctor can prescribe oral and topical antiviral medications for cold sores including Zovirax and Denavir. These two medications shorten the length of a cold sore and also help with the pain. You should apply these products very soon after the first signs of a cold sore and then once every 2-3 hours. Famvir and Valtrex are other prescription medications taken orally to reduce the length and severity of a cold sore.

Home Remedies

Applying ice to newly developing cold sore will reduce the temperature of the skin and inhibit the growth rate. Ice also has a numbing effective, helping to relieve pain.

Tea contains tannic acid, also an ingredient found in some over-the counter medications for cold sores. Place a moistened tea bag on the cold sore area for a few minutes every couple of hours.

Petroleum jelly will help keep the cold sore moisturised and prevent cracking and bleeding. Keeping the cold sore soft will help speed healing time.

Aloe Vera has long been known for its healing properties. Apply fresh aloe vera extract directly to the cold sore.

Things to Avoid

To help speed the healing process of a cold sore, avoid exposure to direct sunlight. Avoid spicy or hot foods and drinks. Citrus fruits and foods high in salt also burn and aggravate a cold sore.


The best treatment is prevention. There is no guarantee that you will not get a cold sore but you can take some measures to help prevent them. Avoiding infection with the virus that causes cold sores is no easy task. Avoid contact with fluids from infected people including kissing, sharing foods or beverages, towels or toothbrushes. Stress can also trigger an outbreak of a cold sore. Finally, anything you can do to lessen the amount of stress in your life will help prevent cold sores from occurring.

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About the Author

Janet Hunt has worked in the insurance industry for more than 15 years. Now serving in online marketing, she also has expertise in business and finance topics. Hunt received her Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix. Hunt has also worked as a food services manager for a high school cafeteria and received her school nutrition certification in 2002.