Cold Sores

Cold Sore Myths

6 min read
Cold Sore Myths Cold Sore Myths Cold Sore Myths

Having a cold sore can be more than just an itchy nuisance – they can become seriously painful and make you want to act on them quickly. People might immediately jump online and search for symptoms and possible remedies, many of which may or may not be clinically proven. This has caused a lot of information to get out there, which is why it’s worth looking into the myths surrounding remedies for a cold sore.

What Causes Cold Sores?

Cold sores are commonly caused by certain strains of the herpes simplex virus or HSV-1 for short.  It is a common myth surrounding the virus that if you get it once, you’re immune forever. Unfortunately, once you’ve had an episode of this infection, it stays dormant inside nerve cells in your skin1 and only stops being contagious once the cold sore has completely healed.

A cold sore can be triggered by common factors2 including:

  • Fevers caused by viral infections, such as influenza
  • Excessive stress and fatigue
  • Exposure to cold and windy conditions
  • Changing hormonal levels
  • Weak immune system.

The cold sore virus is also highly contagious and contracted by close contact3. It is important to avoid transmitting cold sores by:

  • Minimising kissing, hugging or any other skin contact
  • Not sharing items such as towels, drinking glasses and utensils4, although it is rare for the cold sore virus to be spread in this manner.

The Truth Revealed About These Cold Sore Myths

In the past there has been a lot of confusion around what are the myths and facts, especially when it comes to preventing cold sore outbreaks. Depending on how severe your cold sore is, you may require a health care professional and prescription medicines. But for most people, a cold sore is just an irritating nuisance. Still, if you search for cold sore symptoms online, you may also come across many (unhelpful!) myths.

Do Cold Sores Only Affect Lips?

While the lips are usually where the first sign of a cold sore virus appears with tingling, itchiness, and redness around this area, they can also infect the cheeks, tongue, and the eye areas if you have a habit of scratching your eyes. You can use a Compeed Cold Sore Discreet Healing Patch to both conceal, protect, and heal an active cold sore.

Can Cold Sores Only Appear During the Cold?

As mentioned before there are many triggers for a cold sore2, but the answer as to why it is believed you can get them only in the cold, is all in the name. People assume only cold weather can cause them to spread, but this isn’t always the case as exposure to extreme sunny conditions can also trigger an outbreak. The ultraviolet rays that come from sunlight might weaken your immune system, so if you are sensitive, take extra precautions while out in the sun as well.

Can Green Tea Bags Help Cold Sores?

Applying a green tea bag over an infected area might not be clinically proven1 to cure a cold sore but it will reduce redness. Green tea contains powerful antioxidants, which are great for reducing inflammation. You might also want to save a couple of tea bags to drink, as green tea is widely known for its ability to boost your immune system.

Does Ice Help Get Rid of Cold Sores?

A cold sore can start being itchy and irritating, but that first tingle can quickly develop into pain as the sore swells up. To soothe the sting of pain, applying ice directly onto a cold sore can help to reduce the swelling and even redness around the sore. This will only temporarily numb the pain, not get rid of the cold sore all together. Be sure to discard the ice after use!

Always consult a healthcare professional if cold sores worsen or remain after few days.

Is Alcohol Bad for Cold Sores?

Drinking alcohol whilst trying to recover from an infection or injury is generally not recommended, as alcohol can negatively impact your immune system6 and chances at recovery. However, applying rubbing alcohol7 onto one can dry it out and minimise healing time – but it will likely sting, as alcohol is an astringent, which means it removes excess oil from the skin that would otherwise pollute the infected area. Another popular astringent is the plant extract witch hazel.

Nothing can cure a cold sore overnight but hopefully we’ve dispelled some of the myths surrounding the symptoms and triggers for this virus and how to treat them effectively. If you are interested in learning more about cold sores check out more treatment advice.

Please note that you should always consult a healthcare professional if cold sores worsen or remain after few days.



Torborg, L. Mayo Clinic Q and A: Cold sore virus can “wake up” after remaining dormant for years. Mayo Clinic News Network. (2019, February 8).


Cedars Sinai. Cold Sores.


Mayo Clinic. Cold Sores.


Healthline. You Probably Won’t Get Herpes By Sharing a Drink, Glass, or Straw.


De Oliveira, A., Adams, S. D., Lee, L. H., Murray, S. R., Hsu, S. D., Hammond, J. R., Dickinson, D., Chen, P., & Chu, T.-C. Inhibition of Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 with the modified green tea polyphenol palmitoyl-epigallocatechin gallate. Food and chemical toxicology : an international journal published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association, (2012), 52. 207–215. 23182741.


Sarkar et al. 2015. National Library of Medicine. Alcohol and the Immune System. Sarkar, D., Jung, M. K., & Wang, H. J. Alcohol and the Immune System. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, (2015), 37(2). 153–155.


Croughan, W. S., & Behbehani, A. M. Comparative study of inactivation of herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 by commonly used antiseptic agents. Journal of clinical microbiology, (1988), 26(2). 213–215. 2830306