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Everything You Need to Prevent and Treat Cold Sores, According to Dermatologists

It doesn’t have to be this way. Photo: Debrocke/ClassicStock/Getty Images

For the 40 percent of U.S. adults that get cold sores, the painful skin bumps that flare up when the immune system’s compromised (most often but not strictly around the mouth and nose) are likely a recurring problem. Caused by the herpes-simplex virus, cold sores are spread from one person to another upon contact. They like to make an entrance in times of “concurrent illness — hence the name — or when you’re stressed, fatigued, or sleep deprived,” according to dermatologist Hadley King, a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College at Cornell University, who adds that sun exposure and injury to the area are potential triggers too. She and the five other dermatologists we spoke to all suggest seeing a doctor who can prescribe topical or oral Valtrex to minimize symptoms, but there are things to buy without a prescription too. Below, our experts share their recommendations on the best over-the-counter products to prevent and get rid of cold sores fast.

Best products to prevent a cold sore

Taking steps to prevent a cold sore is always better than waiting for the thing to rear its head and then doing damage control. Because cold sores are a viral infection, you may be able to prevent it the same way you would an incoming cold. “Small studies have shown that taking oral zinc supplements daily may help prevent outbreaks and reduce duration of symptoms,” says King, which is why she recommends adding zinc (you can take one tablet per day with a meal) to your diet to boost your immune system.

Because the herpes-simplex virus needs a steady supply o