During warm weather and bright sunny days, the last thing you want is to feel self-conscious about the appearance of your lips. Some summertime conditions can trigger cold sore outbreaks, even though that may sound counterintuitive. Fortunately, there are some simple preventative measures you can take to keep your lips clear and your summer adventures unimpeded!
Cold sores, also called fever blisters, are an outbreak of the herpes simplex virus. They are a grouping of irritated, fluid-filled blisters on or around your lips - and those who get them know that they can be frustrating and uncomfortable! The life cycle of a cold sore outbreak is usually a tingling sensation, followed by the formation of the blisters, and then a scabbed, sore area as the broken blisters heal.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for the herpes simplex virus, and though many people get cold sores, a large percentage of those who carry the virus are asymptomatic. The virus is most infectious during an active outbreak but it can still be transferred almost anytime, so do be careful about sharing beverages, lip balm, or kisses, especially if you have an active cold sore! If you’re prone to frequent outbreaks, it may be helpful to identify factors in your daily routine just before the first “tingling” stage begins and take steps to avoid them.
Although it seems counterintuitive for a condition called a “cold sore,” it is warm summer conditions that are more likely to bring on outbreaks. Some common causes of cold sore outbreaks in those who have the virus are:
- Increased exposure to sunlight - the sun’s UV rays can provoke cold sore outbreaks, so be sure to limit your time in direct sun.
- Stress - getting stressed can tax your body in many subtle ways. The link between stress and negative effects on your immune system is well-documented, and when your immune system is strained, you are more likely to experience a viral outbreak. Although summer seems easy-breezy, stress can be brought on by occurrences like summer travel, intense outdoor activities, as well as external factors like big projects at work, or relationship conflict.
- Physical damage - if you have chapped, dry lips or some other form of mild irritation on or around your lips like cracked lips or even acne, it can trigger a cold sore outbreak - not fun in an already-injured area! These sorts of irritations can be caused by hot, dry weather conditions or dehydration.
- Hormonal changes - hormone fluctuations happen throughout our monthly cycle and can be a trigger for the onset of cold sores. There aren’t many ways to combat hormonally associated outbreaks, but if you know they are a contributing factor, you can do your best to avoid other causes that can contribute to cold sores!
It can be disheartening to deal with the difficult cycle of cold sore outbreaks, but there are strategies to help! We’ve compiled some options aimed at helping you to reduce the likelihood of cold sores appearing, as well as their recurrence.
Protect your face
1. Apply sunscreen to your face (and any exposed areas of your body as well) and a lip balm with SPF on your lips and the skin around your mouth to protect yourself from sunburn, which is a cold sore trigger.
2. Use physical blockers to keep your face under shade when spending time outside, such as beach umbrellas or hats with wide brims. Pick a covered, shady spot for your picnic instead of baking under the sun’s burning rays.
3. Keep your skin and lips nourished and resilient to prevent any irritations that could cause an outbreak. A rich facial oil and frequently-applied, moisturizing lip balm can help condition your skin. Including supplements that support skin health in your routine, such as collagen, can also be beneficial!
Keep your body strong
4. Take steps to protect your immune system as part of your everyday routine. Adequate sleep, a healthy diet, and regular exercise are all good aspects to supporting your optimal immune health.
5. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated during the summer heat and support your body’s normal functions, as well as to help prevent your lips from getting dehydrated and chapped.
Diet and supplements
6. If you frequently experience cold sores, your doctor may suggest a prescription antiviral to help reduce their duration and frequency.
7. Curate your diet to include more of the amino acid lysine, and less of the amino acid arginine., Arginine is present in foods such as nuts, legumes, high-sugar foods, and more, and is linked to more frequent cold sore outbreaks. Although you shouldn’t omit it from your diet altogether, eating foods that are rich in lysine can help mitigate the cold sore-triggering effect of excess arginine. Some foods that are good sources of lysine include plain yoghurt, beef, Parmesan cheese, and soy-based products.
8. In addition to a healthy diet, supplemental lysine along with herbs known to support healthy immune function can help decrease the likelihood of a cold sore outbreak. Choosing a targeted, effective supplement that is specifically formulated with both immune support and lysine makes it even easier to help stave off cold sores.
9. Track your routine, diet, stresses in your life, and any other relevant factors to establish if there are commonalities to when you experience a blister onset. You can take notes in a handy bullet journal, or even just in a note on your phone to give yourself the best chance at preventing outbreaks in the future!
Keep your chin up! Cold sores can negatively impact self-esteem and body image, but we are our own worst critics. Others aren’t usually looking as closely as we might think, so do your best to stay resilient and confident. What you’re going through is a common experience, and even though it might feel isolating, you’re not alone: 50-80% of adult Americans experience cold sores!