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Best cold sore treatment 2023: The best cold sore creams and patches, from £1.30

Kiss goodbye to cold sores with our pick of the best cold sore creams and patches to fight the virus and heal sore, cracked lips

Cold sores are those unfortunate red blisters that appear around your mouth and make everyone ask who (or what) you’ve been kissing. The best cold sore treatments not only tackle newly forming cold sores but can protect painful scabbed cold sores and prevent them from spreading to other people.

Cold sores have something of a stigma attached. That’s partly because they’re highly contagious and look awful, but also because they’re caused by the herpes virus. Here’s even more unsettling news: you’re probably carrying it right now. Between two-thirds and 90% (depending on your source) of everyone under 50 is infected with the virus. It lies dormant most of the time, but occasionally it flares up and triggers cold sores, which can then spread.

Skip down the page to discover which cold sore treatments we recommend for clearing the offenders fastest, or read on or for more detailed advice on choosing the best cold sore treatment for you.

Best cold sore treatment: At a glance

  • Best antiviral cold sore cream: Zovirax | Buy now
  • Best moisturising cold sore cream: Bonjela | Buy now
  • Best cold sore treatment patch: Compeed | Buy now
  • Best value cold sore treatment: Cymex | Buy now
  • Best natural cold sore treatment: Herstat | Buy now

What are cold sores, and why have I got one?

Cold sores are small blisters that appear on or around your lips. They’re caused by the HSV-1 herpes virus, rather than HSV-2 (the STI type). HSV-1 can lie dormant in you for years, before it’s finally triggered into creating a cold sore. The most common triggers are cold weather, fatigue, stress, poor diet, fluctuating hormones, and illnesses such as cold and flu. So the term “cold sore” is actually pretty accurate.

Occasionally, cold sores develop on other parts of the face, such as the nose or even inside the mouth. The longer you leave them, the more likely they are to hurt, leak fluid and infect other people. So the faster you blitz a cold sore in its tracks, the better for everyone. Yes, you shall go to the ball (well, pub with your mates).

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Is it true that cold sores are dangerous for babies?

HSV-1 is transmitted by mouth-to-mouth contact, often between parents and babies (whose immune systems aren’t yet fully developed) as well as via the more obvious route of snogging. There are some seriously alarmist US websites about the dangers of kissing babies. British doctors are more tactful. ”Ask visitors politely not to kiss your newborn baby, especially if they have a cold sore,” says the National Childbirth Trust.

What ingredients should I look for in the best cold sore treatments?

There is no cure for cold sores, because the virus never leaves your body after you’ve contracted it (which usually happens before the age of 20… so you can blame school discos). But the best cold sore treatments do a fast and efficient job of limiting the activity of the virus, fighting the symptoms and stopping the spread. Here are some of the main ingredients to look out for.

Aciclovir is an antiviral medication. It can’t kill the herpes virus, but it does a brilliant job of fighting the infection (ie, cold sore) caused by the virus. It’s also used against chickenpox and shingles. Aciclovir is safe for most adults and children, and is found in cold sore treatments including Zovirax. However, it can make skin a little dry, which is obviously not ideal if you’re battling cold sores on chapped winter lips.

You can also get aciclovir tablets for treating genital herpes (for example, Aciclovir Tablets from Lloyds Pharmacy), but you’ll need an online GP assessment or prescription first.

Hydrocolloid gel is a non-antiviral wound-healing medicine that’s commonly used in wound dressings. In cold sore patches such as Compeed, hydrocolloid gel works to speed up the healing of scabs and inflammation caused by cold sores.

UV-Active, the branded ingredient in Bonjela Cold Sore Cream, is another non-antiviral ingredient designed to accelerate healing and prevent contamination.

Propolis is an all-natural resin-type healing ingredient collected from beehives and then purified. So while it might not be ideal for strict vegans, it will appeal to anyone who’d prefer a natural fix for cold sores and dry, chapped skin. Herstat Cold Sore Cream contains 3% propolis.

Whatever type of cold sore treatment you go for, always wash your hands before and after applying it, to ensure that the virus doesn’t spread.

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The best cold sore treatments to buy in 2023

1. Zovirax Cold Sore Cream: Best all-round cold sore cream

Price: £4.85 | Buy now from Chemist Direct

Zovirax (which you can also buy in a new 2g pump dispenser) is the best-known cold sore treatment to contain aciclovir, the antiviral medication that shrinks cold sores. Our local pharmacist recommended Zovirax as the best all-rounder for treating cold sores and chapped lips, and our own experience last winter confirmed her recommendation.

You can slather on the cream several times a day from that first tingle, and the 5% aciclovir cream then penetrates the skin to fight the infection. On average, it reduces the lifespan of a cold sore from two weeks to four days.

It’s not quite the perfect cold sore treatment, though. Aciclovir can be quite drying, so as well as shrinking your cold sore it may aggravate chapped lips. To minimise this, Zovirax also contains glycol and liquid paraffin to keep your lips kissably soft.

Key specs – Size: 2g; Format: Cream; Active ingredient: Aciclovir 5%

Buy now from Chemist Direct

2. Bonjela Invisible Cold Sore Cream: Best cold sore treatment to keep your lips soft

Price: £9 | Buy now from Amazon

Bonjela’s invisible cream uses non-antiviral ingredients to fight the symptoms of cold sores. Its active ingredient is branded as “UV-Active”, which creates a protective film layer and “prevents attachment of viral particles” to your lips. It also protects your damaged skin against harmful environmental stimuli, such as UV radiation and cold wind, both of which are powerful cold sore triggers. The protective layer also does a magnificent job of soothing scabby cold sores and chapped lips.

Users reckon Bonjela Cold Sore Cream is “magic for cold sores”. In a typical review, one of thousands of verified buyers writes: “Whacked this on with a clean finger and literally by the end of the first day with three tiny applications there was a huge change. Whole thing was gone in three days.”

Key specs – Size: 2g; Format: Cream; Active ingredient: UV-Active

3. Compeed Cold Sore Treatment: Best cold sore patch to stop your cold sore scabbing and spreading

Price: £7.35 | Buy now from Lloyds Pharmacy

Compeed’s discreet, translucent patches come in a pack of 15, which is more than enough for one per day during a cold sore breakout. The adhesive patch is coated with hydrocolloid gel, which helps the cold sore to heal, while the patch itself prevents contamination and stops the cold sore from scabbing over.

Users report that the patch stays in place for up to 24 hours, and has tapered edges that let it flex while you talk and eat. Patches can be tricky to apply at first (not least because you can’t reposition them once stuck on), so you now get a special applicator in the pack to help. Just don’t be tempted to use cold sore cream as well, because then the patch won’t stick at all.

Key specs – Size: 15 patches (1.5 x 1.5cm); Format: Polyurethane adhesive patch; Active ingredient: Hydrocolloid gel

Buy now from Lloyds Pharmacy

4. Cymex Cream: Best-value cold sore cream for dry, cracked lips

Price: £2.60 | Buy now from Amazon

Cymex uses a whole collection of active ingredients to blitz cold sores and reduce blisters, chapped lips and infection. This formula is designed to reduce inflammation, soothe skin and promote healing right from the start of a cold sore’s lifespan. Thousands of buyers report that it limits pain and discomfort, speeds up the healing process and keeps lips really well moisturised. And at less than £3 for a 5g tube, Cymex is one of the best-value cold sore treatments you can buy.

Key specs – Size: 5g; Format: Cream; Active ingredients: Urea BP 1%, Dimeticone 9%, Cetrimide 0.5%, Chlorocresol 0.1%

5. Herstat: Best natural cold sore treatment

Price: £9.95 | Buy now from Amazon

Herstat is based on propolis, a healing wonder ingredient that’s a by-product of honey. (The cream also contains lanolin, so it’s not suitable for vegans.) This light, gel-like cream really works, minimising pain and creating a moisture-retaining barrier on your lips that prevents the cold sore from scabbing and spreading. It’s suitable for use at any stage of your cold sore, from the initial tingle right up to the point where you’re getting ulcers. It also tastes much more pleasant than many cold sore treatments. Herstat may not be the best-known cold sore cream around, or the cheapest, but it’s certainly one of the most loved.

Key specs – Size: 2g; Format: Cream; Active ingredient: Propolis 3%

6. Chemist Direct Cold Sore Cream with Aciclovir: Best value antiviral cold sore cream

Price: £1.30 | Buy now from Chemist Direct

If you find that Zovirax is the cold sore treatment for you, but you don’t want to keep forking out for those tiny tubes, then save money by buying the generic equivalent. Boots and Lloyds Pharmacy also stock own-brand aciclovir 5% cream, but this one from Chemist Direct is by far the cheapest. It can be quite drying, because it doesn’t contain the additional soothing ingredients that Zovirax does, but as a basic antiviral medication for fighting infection, it works very well.

If you have Amazon Prime and you’d rather benefit from free delivery, the best value aciclovir from Amazon is Galpharm Cold Sore Cream (£5.25 for three 2g tubes).

Key specs – Size: 2g; Format: Cream; Active ingredient: Aciclovir 5%

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