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If You Touch Your Cold Sore, Will It Spread? Yes, It Can

A woman’s lips with a scabbed-over cold sore represent the question, “If I touched my cold sore, will it spread?”


Whether you’re experiencing your first or hundredth cold sore, dealing with these pesky ulcers can be stressful.

Not only do you experience physical pain, but you also have to figure out how to navigate your everyday life with a contagious ulcer on your face.

You probably already know that a cold sore spreads from person to person through direct contact, but what about spreading on your own face? You may wonder, if I touched my cold sore, will it spread?

The answer to this question is a resounding yes. Keep scrolling to learn why.

About Cold Sores

A cold sore is the result of a common viral infection characterized by blisters around the mouth or on the lips. When a cold sore forms, it begins as a series of small, fluid-filled blisters on or around your lips. Soon, these blisters merge and appear as one large sore.

Cold sores, or oral herpes, are usually caused by type 1 of the herpes simplex virus, or HSV- 1. Oral herpes may also cause genital herpes through sexual contact, especially when an active cold sore is present.


What Happens When I Touch My Cold Sore?

Before we tackle the question if I touched my cold sore, will it spread?, let’s review the life of a cold sore and explore what happens when cold sores are touched.

A cold sore progresses through five distinct stages:

  1. During the first stage, you may feel a slight tingling, itching, or burning sensation on or around your lips. This is where the cold sore will form.
  2. During stage two, blisters develop. You will likely see a small series of blisters, filled with fluid, that multiply for a short time.
  3. The cold sore is most contagious during stage three, when the small, fluid-filled blisters rupture, and the fluid inside leaks out. This is sometimes referred to as weeping.
  4. In stage four, the blister forms a layer of crust, scabbing over to protect the open sore and allow it to heal. 
  5. The fifth stage is the healing stage. The scab falls off on its own when the skin beneath is completely healed.

It can take one to two weeks from the initial onset of symptoms for a cold sore to heal. 

It’s important to avoid touching a cold sore while it’s forming, blistering, weeping, and healing. The sore needs to pass through all these stages of healing on its own. If you prematurely pop the blisters or remove the scabs, the cold sore will take longer to heal, and you’ll risk spreading it to other people or other areas of your body. 

If you do touch your cold sore, wash your hands thoroughly afterward to avoid spreading the virus. 

If I Touched My Cold Sore, Will It Spread?

Now that we’re armed with more information, we can answer the question, if I touched my cold sore, will it spread?

Even though the herpes simplex virus usually attacks the area around the mouth or genitals, it can spread to other areas of your body. While rare, the most common secondary locations for herpes to spread include your throat, chin, cheeks, nose, and eyes. 

The issue with spreading the herpes virus is not that you will aggravate your current sore, but that the virus will attack these other body parts, or another person if they come into direct contact with the sore.

How Does a Cold Sore Spread?

As mentioned, the herpes simplex virus spreads through direct physical contact. You can spread the virus through skin-to-skin contact with another person, or, as stated above, you can spread it to other parts of your own body. 

The first defense against spreading the herpes virus is avoiding any kind of oral or sexual contact with others while you have an active outbreak. The second most important defense strategy is hand-washing. If you touch your cold sore to absentmindedly scratch an itch or to apply medication, for example, always thoroughly wash your hands afterward. 

Because cold sores are so contagious, it’s also best to avoid sharing anything that comes into contact with your mouth with another person, especially when you have an active sore. This includes anything used for eating or drinking, such as a glass, straw, or eating utensil. Don’t share your toothbrush, face towel, or any kind of makeup, either.

Even though the virus is unlikely to spread through objects, it’s best to be cautious, particularly when the sore is in the blister and weeping stages. 

Infographic: If You Touch Your Cold Sore, Will It Spread? Yes, It Can

How Do I Stop a Cold Sore From Spreading?

There are a number of ways you can limit the spread of the cold sore virus.

Even though the herpes virus is most contagious during an outbreak, you can still spread it without an active cold sore. Asymptomatic shedding of the virus occurs even when there is no sign of a ulcer.


Because asymptomatic shedding is possible, always wear protection when engaging in sexual activity with a partner and use caution during any oral contact. Wear a condom, and use a dental dam if possible, which is a smart way to protect your partner during oral sex.

When you have an active outbreak, practice good hygiene by keeping the sore clean and dry. Talk to your doctor about prescription antiviral medications that promote healing of active sores and reduce the chance of spreading the virus. Light therapy, like the Luminance RED, can help heal active sores quickly and prevent new sores from forming for much longer periods.

Over-the-counter medications and creams are also available to promote healing and soothe any pain or discomfort you feel.   

Quote: If You Touch Your Cold Sore, Will It Spread? Yes, It Can


Final Thoughts: If I Touched My Cold Sore, Will It Spread?

If I touched my cold sore, will it spread? Yes — so take extreme caution even when you don’t have an active outbreak.

Allow the cold sore to pass through all five stages of healing with as little interference as possible. The only time you should make contact with the cold sore is to apply an ointment or cream — and then wash your hands.

By following these guidelines, you can help prevent the spread of cold sores and keep yourself and those around you healthy.

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