How Long Can the Cold Sore Virus Live on Chapstick?
Perhaps you already get cold sores, or maybe you're trying to avoid them. Either way, you might have questions about whether it's safe to borrow or lend chapstick.
Can you contract cold sores from borrowed chapstick? How long can the cold sore virus live on chapstick?
What Is a Cold Sore?
A cold sore, also referred to as a fever blister, is a small, painful ulcer that erupts on or around the lips.
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, type 1 (HSV-1). HSV-1 has no cure, and after an initial outbreak, the virus becomes dormant in your nerve cells until a trigger reactivates it. Reactivation of the virus causes further cold sore outbreaks, which often occur in small clusters.
HSV-1 is an extremely common viral infection and spreads easily from person to person. This is why many people wonder how long the cold sore virus can live on chapstick.
How Do Cold Sores Spread?
Because HSV-1 is so highly contagious, it affects a huge number of people. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that two-thirds of the global population under age 50 is infected with HSV-1, although many of them have not had an actual cold sore outbreak.
HSV-1 spreads through contact with an infected person's affected skin or bodily fluids. For cold sores, this is usually saliva and the skin around the mouth, but it can include infected genitals as well. HSV-1 is most contagious via the cold sore itself, especially the fluid inside. That's one reason it's important to wash your hands after touching your cold sore.
Asymptomatic spread of HSV-1 is also possible. Even when you're not experiencing an active cold sore outbreak, you can still spread the virus. If you develop cold sores for the first time, but haven't had contact with anyone experiencing a cold sore outbreak, asymptomatic shedding could be the culprit.
How Long Can the Cold Sore Virus Live on Chapstick?
Unfortunately, there are no available studies on how long the cold sore virus can live on chapstick. Scientists do know that HSV-1 can live outside the body for some time, from a few hours up to several days. Herpes viruses survive longer in dryer, lower-temperature environments.
Just because someone doesn't have an active cold sore doesn't mean the cold sore virus isn't present. People with HSV-1 carry the virus in their system at all times, and it's contagious up to several days before a cold sore appears.
So while it may not be likely that you'll contract HSV-1 from someone else's chapstick, it's still possible. And for that reason, it's wise to avoid sharing chapstick and other cosmetics with friends and family members.
What About Lipstick?
You may have followed the 2017 news story about a California woman's lawsuit against a high-end cosmetics retailer. The lawsuit alleged that the customer contracted HSV-1 from a lipstick sample in a retail store and that the retailer should have known the risk of multi-user samples. In general, retailers typically use single-use samples.
This case was settled out of court in 2019, so the question remains: Can you contract a herpes virus from lipstick? The answer is similar to sharing chapstick. It's not likely, but it's possible. Since even sharing a friend's cosmetics can lead to infections, you should definitely steer clear of multi-user samples in retail settings that could harbor contaminants from many customers.
What About Other Shared Objects?
Aside from lip care products, you may wonder whether HSV-1 can spread through shared cups or straws. The risk is miniscule, although researchers agree a risk does exist. But since sharing these objects is easy to avoid, it's best to eliminate the chance of transmission altogether and stick to using your own.
How To Avoid Spreading Your Cold Sore Virus
In addition to not sharing beverages, straws, or lip care products, there are several other steps you can take to avoid spreading your cold sores (or catching cold sores from someone else).
Your likelihood of spreading HSV-1 depends on a variety of factors, including the length of time you've been infected with HSV-1 and whether you take antiviral medications.
The herpes virus is always contagious, even when no symptoms are present. But the risk of transmission increases significantly when wet, open sores and blisters are present. From the time you begin to feel the itching or burning sensation that precedes cold sores until your outbreak has completely healed, you should take extra precautions to avoid spreading the virus.
Refrain From Intimate Contact During Outbreaks
Kissing and oral sex are two of the most common ways HSV-1 spreads from one person to another. Avoid kissing during an active cold sore outbreak and be sure to abstain from intimate contact with others until the outbreak has passed. Use a condom or dental dam during oral sex, even when no cold sores are present.
Practice Good Hygiene
Maintaining good hygiene goes a long way in keeping HSV-1 from spreading. Keep the affected area clean and dry and avoid touching your cold sores when possible. If you do need to touch them, wash your hands immediately after. Avoid picking at the sores, as this can cause further infection.
Avoid Triggering More Cold Sore Outbreaks
If you suffer from recurring cold sores, try to avoid foods that commonly trigger outbreaks. Be careful not to bite your lip when you chew your food. Also take steps to protect your skin during prolonged exposure to harsh wind and sunlight.
Restrict the alcohol and sugar in your diet to moderate levels and manage your daily stress. Nourish your body with plenty of healthy foods: fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and water. Know that outbreaks are more likely when your immune system is fighting off other infections.
Using light therapy, like that used in the Luminance RED Lip Sore Treatment Device, at the first sign of an outbreak can also decrease your pain, healing time, and frequency of outbreaks.