The winter season offers both joys and challenges; in 2020, there’s an awful lot more to navigate when it comes to protecting your health during the chilly, darker days. Not only are you combating cold weather, shorter daylight hours, and an increased likelihood of a cold sore outbreak, but this year you’re navigating all the lifestyle complications of the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be a lot - but there are some ways to work towards keeping your face and body nourished and prevent those pesky cold sores from cropping up!
What causes cold sores?
If you’re one of the many people who experience cold sore outbreaks, you may already know all about them. Cold sores, or “fever blisters,” are outbreaks of the very common herpes simplex virus. Many people carry this virus, but it remains dormant in some and causes outbreaks for others. Cold sores usually present as a small bunch of painful blisters which form on or near the lips, then burst and scab over before healing. Other symptoms that may accompany an outbreak can include fatigue, aching muscles, and tingling around the mouth before the blisters develop.
Herpes simplex virus outbreaks are colloquially known as cold sores because - you guessed it! - they may be triggered by environmental stressors, such as winter’s cold weather patterns. However, other factors may also influence outbreaks, such as hot summer weather, sunlight, weakened immune response, hormonal changes, and life stresses. Skin irritation due to chapped, cracked lips, or dry, flaking skin caused by drier indoor air, may also induce a cold sore outbreak.
Cold sores in the COVID-19 era
This year in particular, there’s a new consideration for cold sore outbreaks: the common usage of protective face masks as a precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wearing a face mask for longer periods can cause skin irritation due to the friction of the mask’s material, well as trapping bacteria and moisture between your mask and your skin in a breath-fueled environment.
While there isn’t research yet to support the direct correlation between the two, mask-wearing may cause or exacerbate various skin irritations such as acne (or “maskne”). However, wearing a mask is an essential protective measure and should not be disregarded due to skin concerns.
Prevent winter cold sore outbreaks without ditching your mask
- Bust your stress - while we know that’s not as easy as it sounds, find ways to decompress during these tough times. Practice yoga, meditation, or other mindfulness exercises; make sure to talk to trusted loved ones or a counselor; and work to eliminate any sources of anxiety from your life while you focus on what’s important to you.
- Take breaks from mask-wearing when you can - try to find moments where you are at a safe distance from others, with adequate air circulation, to remove your mask throughout the day to get some fresh air on your skin! The products you’re using to take care of your face under your mask can also factor into your skin’s reactions.
- Protect your skin - Sun exposure skin damage can be a trigger for a cold sore outbreak, even in winter! If you’re spending time outside, be sure to keep up with your sunscreen use. If you’re using skincare products under a face mask, it might be good to stick to simple, gentle formulations and basic products; an unscented moisturizer or face oil is a good bet for uncomplicated moisturization. You may also wish to consider adding skin-nourishing supplementation to your daily routine.
- Nourish your lips - avoid licking your lips if they feel dry, especially under a mask! This can irritate them further and exacerbate any chapping. Instead, use a gentle, emollient lip balm to keep your lips supple, and apply to the skin around your lips as well.
- Eat well - If you are prone to cold sore outbreaks, one of the steps you can take is incorporating foods with a high lysine to arginine ratio into your diet. Lysine is an essential amino acid that may help support your body against cold sore outbreaks. Keeping to a varied diet composed of nutritious foods can also help support your body’s resilience, as well as benefit your immune system and emotional wellness.
- Supplement to halt the outbreak cycle - adding a targeted cold sore support supplement formulated with bolstering organic herbs and lysine to your routine can help you maximize your nutrition efforts. Lysine reduces the activity of arginine, an amino acid that allows for the growth of the herpes simplex virus. Smart supplementation as part of your prevention plan can help keep your lips clear and blister-free.