You associate the sun with warm spring days, trips to the beach, and sunscreen. But the sun and cold sores? Isn’t that just an old wives' tale?
Well, those old wives knew their stuff: you really can get cold sores from sun exposure. That doesn’t mean you need to stay inside with the curtains closed, though. Learn more about the connection between the sun and cold sores so that you can prevent cold sores and help outbreaks heal faster.
Yes, Sunlight Causes Cold Sores – Here’s the Science
Sunlight—or more specifically, the ultraviolet light found in direct sunlight—is a scientifically documented trigger for outbreaks of the herpes simplex virus. Studies show that UV light has a significant effect on the skin’s immune activity. Sunburn is the most familiar example of the inflammatory consequences of sun exposure to the skin.
When the skin around your mouth is exposed to the sun, its UV radiation triggers viral activity within the body. This draws the herpes virus out of dormancy and often leads to an unwanted, unexpected cold sore outbreak.
One study from the Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine found that the number of people who reported herpes outbreaks nearly doubled during the summer months, from 10.4 percent of participants to 19.7 percent. Another scientific study found that the use of sunscreen achieved more than 95% suppression of oral herpes recurrences compared to the use of a placebo.
Summertime Causes of Cold Sores
Even if you love the summer season, you don’t always love what summertime does to your skin. Make sure you’re aware of these common summertime causes of cold sores so that you can prevent painful outbreaks.
Sunlight is a well-established trigger for cold sores around the mouth. Unprotected exposure to even relatively small levels of UV radiation may stimulate herpes virus activity. When this happens, the virus moves from its dormant resting place in the nerve ganglia and travels into cells on the lips and mouth.
Persistent mental stress and fatigue can trigger viral activity just like sunlight. This type of psychological strain actually interrupts the regulation of cellular immunity, which increases the likelihood of herpes virus reactivation. If the summer season causes significant stress in your personal life or workplace, you may see the side effects of that stress in the form of a cold sore outbreak.
The wrong eating habits also increase your risk of a long-lasting herpes outbreak. Acidic foods are some of the worst culprits because they aggravate the virus and make existing cold sores even worse. Try to avoid wine, soda, tomatoes, and citrus fruits at your next backyard barbeque.
There’s no time for a party like the summer, right? Unfortunately, excessive partying compromises your body’s immune system and makes it much easier for the herpes simplex virus to take control. Partying involves too much alcohol, not enough water, and very little sleep. That’s a dangerous combination for your health, especially if you’re trying to avoid an outbreak of cold sores.
Just like greasy skin causes unsightly pimples, it also leaves your skin more vulnerable to cold sores. Grease, dirt, and debris block skin pores. This creates a recipe for disaster around your mouth as cold sores start to develop.
Dry, chapped lips can even cause cold sores because the damage weakens your skin’s immune function. The herpes virus takes every opportunity it gets to sneak past a fatigued immune system and activate within the cells around your lips and mouth.
If your lips are sunburned, it means your mouth was exposed to intense UV radiation for a significant period of time. We already know that sunlight triggers the herpes simplex virus, so it makes sense that sunburned lips cause cold sores.
How to Tell If Your Lips are Sunburned
You know to apply sunscreen to your face, shoulders, and neck, but most of us overlook the importance of sun protection on our lips! Your lips are sensitive and vulnerable to sun damage, so it's important to identify the symptoms of sunburned lips and take steps to protect them from the sun in the future.
Mild sunburn on the lips usually lasts three to five days with the following symptoms:
- -Swollen lips
- -Lips that look redder than usual
- -Tender, painful skin
- -Blistering on and around the lips
However, it's important to spot the difference between sun blisters on lips vs cold sores. Sunburn blisters tend to appear as small, white, fluid-filled bumps surrounded by red, swollen skin. Cold sores, on the other hand, tingle, burn, and itch as they develop into pus-filled ulcers and sores.
What to Do If Your Lips are Sunburned
If your lips are already sunburned, there are steps you can take to minimize your pain and discomfort. Healing and cooling ointments are the best way to seek relief:
- -Cold compresses
- -Aloe vera
- -Petroleum-free moisturizers
Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen can also help ease the pain and redness while your skin heals.
How to Prevent Summer Outbreaks
You want to enjoy your summer free from the embarrassment and discomfort of cold sore outbreaks, so take these steps to stop the herpes simplex virus in its tracks.
Sleep is one of your most valuable defenses against disease. Rest doesn’t just refresh your mind, it recharges your immune system as well.
Stop fatigue from zapping your immune system and making you vulnerable to cold sore outbreaks with these strategies:
- -Create a soothing sleep environment
- -Reduce technology and blue light before bedtime
- -Develop a consistent evening routine to wind down
- -Get regular exercise during the day
Hydration plays a major role in your body’s ability to fire on all cylinders. This is especially true if you replace acidic and unhealthy beverages with thirst-quenching water.
Use Sunscreen Lip Balm
Keep a sunscreen lip balm handy at all times! Applying sunscreen lip balm is an affordable and easy way to stop UV radiation from targeting your lips and mouth. This blocks harmful sun exposure at its source and reduces the likelihood of cold sore outbreaks, even after a long day on the beach.
How to Treat Sun-Induced Cold Sores
If the sun has already triggered cold sores near your mouth, you can still treat them strategically to minimize recovery and healing time.
Use Ibuprofen to Reduce Pain and Swelling
This is an easy remedy that you probably already have in the medicine cabinet. Most of the pain and discomfort caused by cold sores originations from underlying inflammation. NSAID medications like ibuprofen temporarily reduce inflammation so that you can feel better in less than 24 hours, even if that stubborn cold sore hasn’t disappeared quite yet.
Try an Over the Counter Treatment
There are many over-the-counter options available for cold sore relief. Abreva® and Orajel™ are the two strongest OTC options.
Orajel™ provides instant and targeted pain relief in and around the mouth. For herpes simplex cold sores, the Orajel™ Cold Sore formula includes six active ingredients shown to treat the pain, itching, and dryness caused by cold sores. It can be applied up to four times a day to help you stay comfortable through an outbreak.
Abreva® is also an over-the-counter cream used to treat cold sores and fever blisters, but it works differently. Abreva® contains the only non-prescription ingredient approved by the FDA to accelerate the cold sore healing process. This OTC treatment can be used up to five times a day, or as directed by your doctor.
Use Luminance RED to Fight Cold Sores From Sun Exposure
Luminance RED is a breakthrough cold sore treatment that harnesses high-powered light technology to shorten healing time and decrease the frequency of sun-induced cold sores.
This FDA-approved device nourishes the skin with red light, which is metabolized to accelerate the body’s healing process and strengthen its defenses against future attacks. Studies show that regular application of this treatment not only shortens the healing time of active outbreaks, but it can prevent future outbreaks altogether!
The Luminance RED device is easy to use to reduce the effects of sun-induced cold sore outbreaks. It is designed to be held about one centimeter from the area being treated for up to three 60-second sessions per day.
Thanks to the precise design of Luminance RED cold sore treatment device, every treatment provides the exact medically-optimized wavelength and irradiance of light necessary to maximize treatment efficiency and prevent future cold sore outbreaks.
In fact, clinical research shows that patients who received treatment had a 49% reduction in time to heal compared to those who had no high-powered light treatment at all. Those are the results you want in the summertime and all year round!