Cold Sore Care

Having a cold sore can make you want to hide. Understand more about cold sores and the right way to treat them, so you can feel comfortable doing the things you love.

What is a cold sore?

A cold sore or fever blister—also called oral herpes—is an infection on or around the lips or mouth area caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). The cold sore virus is common. In fact, 8 out of 10 people have it. Most people get it by the time they’re 20 years old.

The cold sore virus lives in your nerve tissue. While “asleep,” the virus produces no symptoms. When it “wakes up,” the virus can affect your skin’s surface and cause a blister to form on the lip area or other areas.

There is no cure for fever blisters or the cold sore virus, but there are ways to manage your cold sore symptoms.

Talk to your doctor if:

  • Cold sore symptoms do not improve in 7 days
  • Irritation, pain or redness persists or worsens
  • Swelling, rash or fever develops

Try Carmex® Cold Sore Treatment to hide your cold sore while you treat it

What are cold sore symptoms?

Some people who carry the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) virus experience no cold sore symptoms at all. For those who do, mild-to-severe symptoms appear around the lips or mouth area.

Cold sore symptoms you may experience


  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Tingling
  • A blister
  • A cluster of blisters, or an “outbreak”
  • A rash

Before a cold sore blister appears, some people even experience a sore throat, fever, swollen glands or painful swallowing.

What should I do if I experience cold sore symptoms?


Most cold sore symptoms go away in 7–12 days, but there are ways to shorten the duration and reduce future outbreaks, like avoiding triggers, using medicated lip balm to keep lips moisturized and treating your cold sore with Carmex® Cold Sore Treatment when you have an outbreak.

Carmex® Cold Sore Treatment contains a formula that relieves pain and itch at the site of the cold sore, so you can feel more comfortable while you wait for your sore to heal naturally.*

How long do cold sores last?

Signs and symptoms vary from person to person, and may depend on whether this is your first outbreak or not. Cold sore symptoms can last several days, and cold sore blisters can take two to four weeks to heal completely. If an outbreak occurs again, it is typically at the same spot each time and tends to be less severe than the first time.

Carmex® Cold Sore Treatment contains a formula that relieves pain and itch at the site of the cold sore, so you can feel more comfortable while you wait for your sore to heal naturally.*

What are cold sore causes?

The virus that causes cold sores and future outbreaks is contagious and spreads easily. Once you get the virus, you’ll always have it, even though you may not always have visible sores. Cold sore blisters or sores usually appear when your defenses are down—when you are stressed, or your immune system is weak.

Common cold sore triggers that cause outbreaks

  • Exposure to sun
  • Being stressed out
  • Getting sick
  • Having a fever
  • Having surgery
  • Having your period

Managing the causes of cold sores

While you can’t fully stop cold sores from happening, you can try to prevent how often they show up by knowing the causes of cold sores, and minimizing how painful they are and how long the outbreaks last.

What are the cold sore stages?

There are 5 stages of a cold sore outbreak.

Cold Sore Stage 1: Tingle and Itch

What to expect:

  • A tingling sensation on the cold sore site
  • Burning or itching
  • Swelling, redness, and soreness

Ways to manage symptoms:

The tingle and itch cold sore stage is a good time to begin treatment. If you take a prescription antiviral medication, it’s most effective during this stage.

How Carmex® Cold Sore Treatment can help:

It’s available over the counter (OTC) and can help relieve pain and itch.

Cold Sore Stage 2: Blister

What to expect:

  • One blister or a cluster of blisters
  • Inside each blister is fluid that’s clear and yellowish

Ways to manage symptoms:

During the cold sore blister stage, applying ice can help with the pain. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help reduce the inflammation of your cold sore. Never squeeze blisters.

How Carmex® Cold Sore Treatment can help:

Put a dab on blisters to help relieve pain on the inside with benzocaine, and smooth and fill to make your cold sore less noticeable on the outside. It works on contact, so you see and feel results fast.*

Cold Sore Stage 3: Open Sore

What to expect:

  • Blisters break open
  • A reddish sore turns gray in color
  • Oozing or leaking liquid

Ways to manage symptoms:

The open cold sore stage—also called the weeping stage or the ulcer stage—is the most contagious cold sore stage because there are millions of infectious viruses in the cold sore’s liquid. Wash your open cold sore blister with antiseptic soap and water to help prevent the cold sore virus from spreading to other parts of your body. And wash your hands to help prevent spreading to other people. Avoid drinks and foods that are hot, spicy, salty or contain citrus. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help reduce the inflammation of your cold sore. Never squeeze blisters.

How Carmex® Cold Sore Treatment can help:

On contact, the benzocaine immediately goes to work to relieve pain and itch. And the unique TriPLEX™ Formula smoothes and fills to make your cold sore less noticeable.*

Cold Sore Stage 4: Scab

What to expect:

  • Crusty, yellow scab
  • Breaking open and bleeding
  • Itching and burning
  • Re-scabbing

Ways to manage symptoms:

To help the cold sore healing process during this stage, it’s important to protect your cold sore. Try medicated lip balms from Carmex® to moisturize dry, cracked lips. Do not pick at the scab or peel it off.

How Carmex® Cold Sore Treatment can help:

Carmex® Cold Sore Treatment has an advanced formula—just a dab works inside and out. Benzocaine relieves pain and itch, and the unique TriPLEX™ Formula smoothes and fills to make your cold sore less noticeable.

Cold Sore Stage 5: Healing

What to expect:

  • Pink skin


Watch how Carmex® Cold Sore Treatment works

How can I treat and prevent cold sores?

While you can’t fully prevent cold sores from happening, you can use prescription or over-the-counter cold sore treatments to minimize your symptoms.

Here are some tips to best prevent and treat cold sore symptoms

  • Avoid known cold sore triggers.
  • Ask your doctor about antiviral prescription cold sore medicines that limit the growth of the virus.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle. Eat right, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and try to avoid stress and long exposure to the sun.
  • Use an over-the-counter cold sore treatment that relieves pain and itch. Carmex® Cold Sore Treatment contains the fast-acting ingredient benzocaine for relief from pain and itch.*
  • Keep your lips moisturized. Dry or cracked lips may cause cold sores, so keep them moisturized with medicated lip balm. Carmex® has been in the lip business for more than 78 years and offers a family of medicated lip balm products 
  • Wear sunblock on your lips. Carmex Daily Care™ Lip Balm provides broad spectrum sun protection. Or use other products that contain these protective ingredients: zinc oxide, titanium oxide, octocrylene, oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate or padimate.
  • Don’t touch your cold sore to help keep the virus from spreading.
  • Wash your hands often.

How do I hide a cold sore?


Having a cold sore may make you feel self-conscious. It’s natural to want to hide it. Some people try to conceal a cold sore with cosmetics or a small bandage. Now you can hide your cold sore while you treat it.

Carmex® Cold Sore Treatment helps hide cold sores with a unique formula that smoothes and fills to minimize the appearance of your cold sore. It also contains benzocaine to help relieve pain and itch for fast relief.*

*For treatment of symptoms associated with cold sores. Product does not treat viral infections or heal cold sores. When used to help conceal. Individual results may vary. For external use only. Use only as directed.

†Symptoms and outbreak can vary among individuals.