When selecting the best over-the-counter cold sore treatment, it is important to know that there is only one medicine that has received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Docosanol 10% is said to be the only cream that can reduce the healing time of a cold sore if it is applied at first wind of an outbreak. If an outbreak is full blown, finding an over-the-counter (OTC) medication that reduces pain, itching, and that nagging tingling sensation should be the first order. Stopping a cold sore from maturing should be the next consideration. Cold sores can be brought on due to sun exposure, so keeping the lips covered by a sunscreen could help limit the number of cold sore incidents.
The pain and itching associated with cold sores can be alleviated through the use of products containing benzocaine. Camphor, known for its cooling effect, is a favorite to minimize the pain associated with cold sores. Menthol helps reduce the tingling and itching of cold sores. Products containing benzyl alcohol are also used to soothe the itching of cold sores. Although technically not over-the-counter cold sore medications, all can be used to help treat the symptoms.
As an inhibitor to the swelling and growth of an existing cold sore, there are a number of ingredients that are effective. Products containing tannic acid are said to reduce the swelling of the cold sore. Tannic acid also helps stop a cold sore from developing if used at the onset. Products containing docosanol are proven to reduce cold sore duration, when used as directed. It also protects nearby skin cells from infection.
Keeping lips both moist and protected with an OTC sunscreen could help prevent the number of cold sore occurrences. It is important to select the appropriate lip balm, however. A good lip balm should contain zinc oxide because it is non-toxic, holds up well in moist environments, and protects against damaging ultraviolet rays.
Many sunscreens contain an ingredient called para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA). While PABA protects against UV rays, it is also believed to increase the risk for skin cancer. Therefore, lip balm containing PABA should be avoided.
When shopping for an over-the-counter cold sore medicine, be sure to read the list of ingredients carefully. Those items found at the beginning of the list have a stronger concentration than those found at the end. After the appearance of a cold sore, using lip balms containing botanical extracts which promote healing, and/or salicylic acid which promotes exfoliation, can aid in cold sore relief.