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Every Trick in the Book To Dry Out a Cold Sore

how to dry out a cold sore


You know it as soon as that tingling sensation starts near your lip — a cold sore is about to erupt.

Instead of spending the next two weeks feeling uncomfortable and humiliated, take action to accelerate the cold sore healing process. When you learn how to dry out a cold sore at the right stage, you can cut the duration of your outbreak in half. It’s all about timing!

What Does a Cold Sore Do to Your Skin?

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). This condition is so common that an estimated 3.7 billion people under age 50 are infected with HSV-1 worldwide. 

The herpes simplex virus is highly contagious, especially when oozing blisters are present. It spreads easily through the body, triggering cold sores around the lips and mouth. After your first outbreak from a herpes infection, the virus becomes dormant and remains in your nerve cells. It may lie inactive for weeks, months or even years. 

A variety of triggers can activate the “sleeping” virus, causing symptoms to re-emerge. These triggers include stress, fatigue, illness and sun exposure. Each outbreak passes through five distinct phases:

  1. Tingling — Itching or burning sensation develops under the skin to indicate a cold sore is forming
  2. Blistering — Fluid-filled cold sore blister develops
  3. Weeping — Blister bursts or “weeps” and releases its fluids
  4. Crusting — Cold sore dries up into yellow or brown crust
  5. Healing — Cold sore scab heals; skin around the mouth looks healthy again

Make sure you don’t pop your cold sore blisters before they’re ready to enter the “weeping” phase. Doing so increases your risk of prolonging the recovery process with additional inflammation and infection. 


The Right Time To Dry Out a Cold Sore

The decision to keep your cold sore scab wet or dry is one element of treatment that most people don’t consider. It’s important to time this carefully.

When To Keep Your Cold Sore Dry

Cold sores should be kept dry during their first four phases. 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. If needed, use a Q-tip to carefully apply lip balm — away from your cold sore — to keep your lips comfortable during this time. Take care to avoid letting your cold sore contaminate your lip balm.

When To Keep Your Cold Sore Moist

After your cold sore blister bursts, it develops into an open sore that dries out and scabs. This can be just as uncomfortable as the blister that preceded it! Thankfully, then, this is the time for moisture.

Vaseline can alleviate that stiff, dry, cracking sensation you hate so much. Apply Vaseline with a Q-tip to prevent direct skin contact with your cold sores. Since Vaseline is safe and gentle, you can apply it as frequently as needed for your comfort. 

Lip balm or a light moisturizer can also 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


The Best Ways To Dry Out a Cold Sore

As you’re learning how to dry out a cold sore, you can experiment with a few different options to find your favorite. These include common household products, over-the-counter treatments, and low-level light therapy. 

Household Products

Minor cold sore outbreaks can sometimes be treated with household products you already have on hand. 


There’s no clinical research to prove toothpaste as an effective cold sore treatment, but plenty of anecdotal evidence supports its use. 

According to one study, the toothpaste ingredient sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) suppresses the activity of the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). If you apply toothpaste to your skin at the earliest signs of a cold sore outbreak, your sore may not erupt so aggressively. 

To try this method, apply a thin layer of white, non-gel toothpaste on the area of itching and tingling skin. It’s best to do this before bed so the area can dry out as you sleep. 

Corn Starch

You probably have a box of cornstarch hiding somewhere in your pantry. This affordable kitchen staple neutralizes the pH of your cold sores by creating an alkaline environment. Create a paste by blending corn starch with a bit of water. Apply the paste to your cold sores to limit the duration of your outbreak. 

Over-the-Counter Products

When household products don’t cut it, over-the-counter products can help dry out cold sores and speed along the healing process. 


Lysine is an essential amino acid that the body cannot produce. It helps the body produce antibodies that fight infections, including the herpes virus. Lysine supplements, also known as L-lysine, are popular natural treatments for cold sores.

Research suggests that lysine works against cold sores by interfering with the absorption of arginine, which the herpes virus needs. With the help of enough lysine, arginine becomes unavailable to the herpes virus and shortens the duration of an outbreak. 


Aluminum acetate solution, also known as Domeboro astringent solution, is mixed with water and applied to the skin as a wet dressing or compress. The active ingredients temporarily relieve inflammation and irritation on the skin. For cold sores, the ingredients of aluminum sulfate and calcium acetate also remove moisture to help sores dry faster. 

Calamine Lotion and Witch Hazel

Calamine lotion, though best known for relieving itchy insect bites, is also a drying agent that can dry up cold sore blisters. Apply two to three times a day for best results. 

Witch hazel is another popular natural astringent that can help dry out and heal cold sores. It even offers antiviral properties that may reduce the spread of the herpes virus. It can be applied alone or in combination with calamine lotion to dry out troublesome sores. 

Zinc Oxide

Like calamine lotion and Domeboro, zinc oxide can decrease the duration of cold sores by drying blisters and protecting them from bacteria and infection. Triple Paste and Desitin are just a few common zinc oxide products available at the drugstore. 


Low-Level Light Therapy

The Luminance RED is an FDA-registered 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 conclusively shows that specific wavelengths of high-powered light applied to cold sores can reduce healing time by up to 50% and alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with outbreaks. 

The Luminance RED is easy to use on cold sores. It’s designed to be held about one centimeter away from the treatment area for one 60-second session. Apply it at least once a day, but up to three times a day, for maximum effectiveness.

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