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Should You Keep Your Cold Sore Scab Wet or Dry? The Answer is Both!

keep cold sore scab wet or dry

It's a natural instinct to add moisture to something that’s too dry, whether it’s your chapped lips or that pork loin cooking in the oven. This is especially true when it comes to dry skin which is prone to cracking, scabbing, and bleeding when it becomes too dry.

However, a dry cold sore isn’t always a bad thing. By keeping your cold sore dry during its initial stages and waiting to add moisture until the end of the sore's life cycle, you can accelerate the healing process.

Should You Keep a Cold Sore Scab Wet or Dry?

Cold sores are uncomfortable, frustrating, and embarrassing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t control your outbreaks. Strategic preventative and treatment measures make it possible to reduce your cold sore’s lifespan.

The decision to keep your cold sore scab wet or dry is one element of prevention and treatment that most people don’t consider. It’s important to time this carefully. Cold sores should be dry during the first four phases, then moistened only during the final phase of healing.

As a quick reminder, the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) emerges and heals in five distinct phases:

  1.  An itching and burning feeling develops underneath the skin, which indicates that a cold sore is forming
  2. Fluid-filled cold sore blisters develop on or around the mouth
  3. The blisters burst or “weep” and release their fluids
  4. The core sores dry up into yellow and brown crust
  5. Cold sore scabs heal; the skin around the mouth starts to look healthy once again

When to Keep Your Cold Sore Dry

It’s important to keep your cold sore dry during phases one through four. Cold sores love warm, moist environments, so adding moisture in the early stages only makes symptoms worse.

Give your cold sore time and space to dry out. You can always apply chapstick with a Q tip or a disposable lip brush carefully to your lips, without going near any cold sores, to stay comfortable during this period of time. Take extra precaution not to contaminate your lip balm with HSV, or you may risk spreading the virus or getting another outbreak too soon.

dry out a cold sore scab

When to Keep Your Cold Sore Moist

After your cold sore blisters burst, they develop into open sores that dry out and scab. These scabs are just as uncomfortable as the blisters that preceded them!

Vaseline on cold sores acts like chapstick to alleviate that stiff, dry, cracking sensation you hate so much. It’s best to apply Vaseline with a Q-Tip to prevent direct skin contact with your sores. Since Vaseline is safe and gentle, you can apply it as frequently as needed to remain comfortable.

Lip balm or a light moisturizer can also be used to moisten your scabbing cold sores, as long as you don’t apply too much. Heavy moisturizer can make the scab fall off prematurely and lead to bleeding.

How to Dry Out a Cold Sore

You may need to take active steps to dry out your cold sore. These simple at-home techniques can help!


Salt helps alleviate cold sore discomfort by drawing out the extra moisture that the herpes simplex virus needs to thrive.

It’s simple to apply salt on cold sore outbreaks. Just moisten your index finger and apply salt directly onto bothersome cold sores. Gently press the salt against each sore for 30 seconds.

luminance red for cold sores


There’s no clinical research on toothpaste and cold sores, but plenty of anecdotal evidence that it helps control outbreaks.

According to the Infectious Disease Research Center, the toothpaste ingredient sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) suppresses activity of the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1). If you apply toothpaste over your skin at the earliest signs of a cold sore outbreak, your sores may not erupt so aggressively.

If you want to try this method of toothpaste on cold sore blisters, simply apply a thin layer of white, non-gel toothpaste over the area of skin itching and tingling. It’s best to do this before bed so that your cold sore can dry out as you sleep.


Lysine is an essential amino acid in the body. It helps the body produce antibodies that fight infections, including the herpes simplex virus. Lysine supplements, also known as L-lysine, are popular natural treatments for cold sores.


Medically Optimized Light Treatments

The Luminance RED is an FDA-cleared device that uses high-powered light treatment to gently dry out cold sores and accelerate the healing process. Light from the Luminance RED is metabolized by the skin and converted into cellular energy used to accelerate healing and stop cold sores from coming back.

In fact, clinical data shows that when specific wavelengths of high-powered light are applied to cold sores, it can reduce healing time by up to 50% and alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with outbreaks.

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