The $10 Trick That Could Curb Herpes Outbreaks All Summer Long

A little sunshine feels warm and cozy on the skin—until it coaxes out a secret health problem you probably wanted to keep under wraps.

You’re probably already breaking out your best sunscreens for your shoulders, arms, and neck—but you may want to invest in an additional type to help keep herpes outbreaks, also known as cold sores, at bay. According to the World Health Organization, 50 percent of people under age 50 have the cold sore virus, which means that about half the world is just waiting for a trigger to cause an uncomfortable, if not unsightly, outbreak. According to the Mayo Clinic, once you’ve had an episode of herpes infection, the virus lies dormant in nerve cells in your skin and may emerge as another cold sore in the same place as before. Recurrence is often triggered by sun exposure, meaning even a totally tranquil and stress-free day at the beach could cause new sores to pop up.

“Sun exposure is a global immune suppressant,” explains board-certified dermatologist S. Manjula Jegasothy, MD. “UV radiation suppresses many aspects of our immune system, including the portion that fights viruses. That is why sun exposure makes us more susceptible to herpes outbreaks and cold sores. Lip and mouth skin—also our genital areas—are particularly delicate because they do not have a top layer of dead skin cells called the stratum corneum and are therefore more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections and viruses such as the herpes virus.”

The solution, says Dr. Jegasothy, is to apply lip balms with built-in sunscreen religiously before heading outdoors, and remembering to reapply every hour or so. Aside from curbing potential viral outbreaks, you’ll get the added benefits of reduced photo aging, sunburns, and general sun damage. Plus, you can buy them basically anywhere for basically $10 or less. It’s a win-win!

If it’s too late for you to apply sunscreen and you’re already mid-herpes outbreak, there are still solutions.

“The best treatment for any type of herpes virus infection, including oral cold sores, is a fairly high dose of an oral antiviral medication,” according to Dr. Jegasothy. If you don’t have access to any prescription agents, Abreva, which is a widely marketed antiviral medication that you can find in any drugstore, is a good treatment as well. “Abreva’s active ingredient is an alcohol-based wax, which is good at incorporating itself into the lip cell membrane and preventing the skin cells from interacting with the virus, therefore, theoretically preventing the virus from reproducing.”

Dr. Jegasothy stresses the importance of stocking up on a good SPF-inclusive lip balm, like COOLA Liplux SPF 30, no matter what. “Lip balms with sunscreen are great because they are formulated with waxy esters that incorporate themselves into lip tissue at the cellular level and provide broad-spectrum screening against UV radiation and the immune suppression it enacts.”

These are the sunscreen mistakes you may not know you’re making.

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