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What Is Carmex and Can It Help Heal Your Cold Sore?

A brunette woman who gets cold sores smiles at a camera after using Carmex.

Waking up with a cold sore isn't exactly a fun surprise and can have you reaching for anything you already own that might help.

One product many of us have at home is Carmex Classic Lip Balm, but can Carmex help heal cold sores?

What Is a Cold Sore?

A cold sore, also called a fever blister, is a small, painful blister that appears on or around the lips.

Cold sores are caused by an infection with the herpes simplex virus, type 1 (HSV-1). HSV-1 is an extremely common virus and spreads easily from person to person. Once you become infected, the virus remains dormant in your nerve cells for the rest of your life. Triggers can reactive the virus to cause additional outbreaks of cold sores.

What Is Carmex?

Carmex Classic is one of the most popular medicated lip balms. The product is perhaps most recognizable in its tiny, yellow-and-white jars, but it comes in sticks and tubes as well.

Carmex carries a variety of lines, such as their Comfort Care and Daily Care Minis, but today we'll focus on Carmex Classic, the top-selling, original product the company offers.

Carmex Classic contains a variety of ingredients to soothe dry lips, numb pain, and provide a protective barrier for the skin. Its active ingredients include:

  • Camphor — made from turpentine oil, has pain-fighting and anti-inflammatory properties, and acts as a skin protectant.
  • White petrolatum — a semi-solid moisturizing agent also referred to as petroleum jelly.

Carmex Classic's inactive ingredients include:

  • Lanolin.
  • Beeswax.
  • Cetyl esters.
  • Paraffin.
  • Theobroma cacao seed butter (cocoa butter).
  • Menthol.
  • Salicylic acid.
  • Phenol.
  • Vanillin.
  • Flavor.

Lanolin and beeswax work to create a barrier to seal in the moisture created by the other ingredients. Cocoa butter moisturizes the skin and also works as a barrier to seal in moisture. Salicylic acid encourages old skin cells to slough off, reducing swelling. Menthol works quickly to soothe and cool irritated skin.

The other inactive ingredients in Carmex Classic are included for the consistency, texture, and flavor.

Does Carmex Help Cold Sores?

If you use it at the right time in the healing process, Carmex Classic may help to reduce discomfort and moisturize your cold sore scab. It's important to refrain from using a moisturizer like Carmex Classic during the first four stages of the cold sore process, before the blister bursts and scabs over.

Besides its protective, moisturizing effects, Carmex Classic does not contain ingredients specifically designed to treat cold sores.

Another Carmex Product for Cold Sores

The good news is, Carmex Classic isn't your only Carmex option for cold sores. The company also produces Carmex Multi-Symptom 3-in-1 Cold Sore Treatment, a specifically targeted treatment for cold sore healing.

The active ingredients in Carmex Cold Sore are:

  • Benzocaine 10% — a topical numbing agent to ease pain caused by cold sores.
  • White petrolatum — the same semi-solid moisturizing agent mentioned above, also known as petroleum jelly.

The inactive ingredients in Carmex Cold Sore are:

  • Polyethylene glycol.
  • HDI/trimethylol hexyllactone crosspolymer.
  • Titanium dioxide.
  • Behenyl olivate.
  • PPG-51 SMDI copolymer.
  • Mica.
  • Synthetic wax.
  • Calcium silicate.
  • Flavor.
  • Isopropyl titanium triisostearate.
  • Silica.
  • Tin oxide.
  • Iron oxides.

The blend of minerals in the inactive ingredient list is to help camouflage the redness of a cold sore.

Alternatives to Carmex for Cold Sores

There are quite a few other over-the-counter options besides Carmex for treating cold sores. Below are just a few.

Many of us already have Carmex Classic Lip Balm, but can it help heal cold sores? What about Carmex Cold Sore Treatment?

Abreva

Abreva is one of the most commonly used treatments for cold sores.

Abreva contains docosanol, the only non-prescription ingredient that's FDA-approved to accelerate cold sore healing. Docosanol blocks the herpes virus from entering healthy skin cells and replicating. When used at the first sign of a cold sore's telltale "tingle," Abreva can reduce healing time to between 2.5 and 4.1 days.

Compeed Cold Sore Discreet Healing Patch

The Compeed Cold Sore Discreet Healing Patch aids the body's natural healing processes. Its hydrocolloid gel provides a soothing barrier that protects the cold sore and minimizes scabbing. The barrier also protects against further infection and helps camouflage the cold sore. You can even apply lipstick or foundation over the patch to maintain a more natural look.

Herpecin L Pain Relief

Herpecin L Pain Relief contains lidocaine, a topical anesthetic that numbs pain and itching, as well as benzethonium chloride and allantoin to protect the skin and cleanse the cold sore area. Two of its other ingredients, bee balm and lysine, have been shown to promote faster healing.

Lip Clear Lysine+ Ointment

Lip Clear Lysine+ Ointment uses a combination of natural ingredients to treat and soothe cold sores.

  • Menthol works to quickly cool and numb pain.
  • Olive oil and propolis moisturize the skin.
  • Calendula is an anti-inflammatory that soothes inflamed skin.
  • Beeswax, echinacea, honey, and lysine promote and speed healing.

Orajel Touch-Free Cold Sore Patented Treatment

Orajel is widely known for its effective oral pain-fighting products. Orajel Cold Sore uses benzalkonium chloride to cleanse the skin and kill germs and benzocaine to treat cold sore pain.

Can Carmex Prevent Cold Sores?

Carmex's website doesn't make any claims about cold sore prevention. Most creams, ointments, and lip balms aren't designed for daily use to prevent further outbreaks. However, there are a few steps you can take to prevent cold sore outbreaks in your future.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Eating healthy, avoiding problem foods, and taking dietary supplements can actually help you prevent cold sore outbreaks. Clinical and anecdotal research show these choices in particular are helpful.

  • Lean protein.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Lysine.
  • Probiotics.
  • Vitamin B complex.
  • Zinc.

Stay Well Rested

Sleep is one of the most valuable tools in your arsenal against cold sores. Rest helps recharge your immune system. To help you optimize your sleep, here are a few helpful tips:

  • Reduce technology use for an hour or two before bedtime.
  • Create a soothing sleep environment with a dark, cool room.
  • Develop a consistent evening routine to help you wind down.
  • Get plenty of exercise during the day to ensure you're tired at bedtime.

Low-Level Red Light Therapy

Low-level red light therapy is a completely chemical-free alternative to topical products like Carmex for cold sores. This treatment directs medically optimized wavelengths of red light onto the skin to encourage healing and decrease inflammation, and research indicates that it can dramatically reduce the pain and frequency of cold sore outbreaks.

The Luminance RED Lip Sore Treatment Device is an FDA-registered device that uses red light therapy for the home management of cold sores. The Luminance Red can be used in tandem with other treatments for cold sore outbreaks, including Carmex. While researchers haven't specifically studied the use of red light therapy in conjunction with Carmex or its alternatives, no evidence suggests that they would interact poorly.

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