Remedies and proactive measures you can use to take care of your body and lessen the chances of those pesky sores…
Cold sores: the bane of your fall and winter existence. Painful, itchy, generally unpleasant but often unavoidable. That said, there’s more you can do to deal with one (or several) than just break out the cover-up.
What is a cold sore?
First, a quick recap of what exactly a cold sore is. Despite the name, cold sores don’t pop up when you have a cold. Rather, you can likely thank the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) you unknowingly got from an innocent kiss or a shared cup. (No need to be embarrassed: there are over 3 million cases every year in the United States, and 40 percent of adults deal with chronic, recurring cold sores.) The virus hides inside your cells and when it decides to rear its ugly head, it damages your skin as it reproduces, leaving behind those pesky sores.
Triggers? Sunlight, stress, hormones, and changes to the immune system are the most common. Basically, any time the nerve cells in which the virus hibernates are disturbed, it makes sure you remember it’s there by popping up on and around your mouth. And while you can’t really prevent cold sores, there are definitely ways to take care of your body to lessen the chance those nerves will get annoyed and wreak havoc.
The best place to start is to think back to recent outbreaks and remember what was going on in your life to pinpoint triggers. Do you find that they spring up when you’ve spent a lot of time in the sun? Or monthly when you’re ovulating? Or right before important events that may be stressing you out? In other other words, find the pattern, find the trigger.
All right, so you know your triggers… or you just want to be proactive and do your darndest to keep those suckers at bay. Based on the most common triggers mentioned above, here are some preventive measures you can take.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you know sun is a trigger for your cold sores, stay out of it! If it’s unavoidable (and even then), don’t be shy about slathering on high SPF sunscreen and lip products that contain zinc oxide to physically block the sun. (For a refresher on sunscreen, read this.) Your best bet is a nontoxic option — when your skin is freaking out, the last thing it needs is a deluge of chemicals.
Another skin-related tweak you can make is to incorporate lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) into your routine. This mint family member has the ability to inhibit the virus from penetrating your cells, which means it can’t hide like it normally does, making it vulnerable to the antiviral properties of the lemon balm. If you’re not sure about adding a new ingredient to a sensitive skin situation, you can try easing in with cleanser or serum that contains just enough of the stuff to make a difference over time.
In a surprise to no one, stress compromises your immune system. Even more so when that stress is chronic. And since a compromised immune system can lead to cold sores, you’ll want to find a way to keep that stress in check. Find a practice that works for you — yoga, breath work, long walks on the beach — and make it consistent. You can also try a calming bath in the evening, an energy-altering candle, a mood-enhancing room spray, a relaxing post-shower body oil or a cup of soothing reishi mushroom hot chocolate…whatever floats your de-stressing boat.
And of course, sleep. Your body does most of its healing and repairing while you’re sleeping, so make sure you’re giving it ample time to do so. Not only that, but running on an empty tank will likely lead to inflammation and lowered immunity — when you have no energy, how can your body fight off baddies?
This is a biggie, and it’s something you have a lot of control over simply by paying attention to what you put into your body.
Load up on antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Stay away from stuff that causes inflammation, which in turn compromises your immune system. Eat your greens in whatever way is easiest for you. Add a scoop of antiviral coconut oil to your morning smoothie. Sip on herbal tea (bonus points if it contains skullcap, a virus fighter). Focus on getting the right amino acids — like anti-viral L-lysine — from wild-caught fish and organic poultry, and avoiding the wrong ones — like L-arginine (which you can find in chocolate, grains and cola) since it’s needed for the replication of the virus. Stay away from processed sugars that will hinder your immune system and lead to inflammation. Increase your vitamin C intake — the powerful antioxidant is also a serious immunity-booster and antiviral. Get on the astragalus bandwagon to boost whole-body function.
Everything in your body is connected and, if you’re taking care of your gut and immune system, you’ll reap the benefits on your face, HSV-1 be damned!
+Want more on inner and outer beauty? Check out more from Allie White here!