I'm Taylore Glynn, and I get cold sores…really freaking bad. But I'm not ashamed of it, and you shouldn't be either. Up to 80 percent of the population has been exposed to the Herpes Simplex I virus, and you can get this shit anywhere: Shoddily-washed utensils, shared lipstick, and of course, from kissing. (Shout out to my high school boyfriend! No hard feelings. Okay, some hard feelings.) And because life isn't fair, there's no getting rid of it once you've caught it.
If you're like me, these bad boys rear their ugly, painful heads when the body is under duress, such as times of extreme stress, during PMS, or while battling an infection or cold. I've become the master of keeping them at bay—with prescription pills, cold compresses, Abreva (love you, mean it), and being seriously diligent about what products come in contact with my lips. Because here's the thing—even popular beauty ingredients can contribute to an outbreak.
Here, find a quick and dirty guide to what to watch out for.
1. Vitamin C.
The mother of all irritants, Vitamin C can spark open season for HS1. "It's highly acidic and can compromise the skin barrier when applied topically, causing inflammation and irritation on the lips and the skin around them," says Dr. Elizabeth Hale, dermatologist at Complete Skin MD and Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology at the NYU Langone Medical Center. Word to the wise? Check the ingredient list on brightening serums and moisturizers, which often boast high levels of the stuff.
2. Essential Oils. If you've got sensitive skin, you might already know that that these natural cure-alls can be a little abrasive. Beware the more acidic varieties, like celery root, to avoid a Vitamin-C-like effect.
3. Lip Fillers. Since the virus lives in the jaw's nerve root indefinitely, provoking the area can come at a price. "Any time I perform lip injections, the patient gets a prescription for Valtrex with them," explains Dr. Hale. "In-office procedures and lasers can induce outbreaks, but the Clarisonic in your bathroom can also have the same effect if you're predisposed."
4. Retinol/Prescription Retinae. Despite their anti-aging benefits, the chemical exfoliation these two provide can be too much for those prone to outbreaks, as it causes a breach in the skin barrier. If you must use them, avoid the mouth and chin area.
5. Certain Lip Balms. "Avoid options with menthol, which will further irritate the sore," says Hale. You should also keep a separate lip balm for breakouts so that you don't contaminate yourself again and again.
If you do end up angering the HS1 gods, there is (some) hope.
See your doctor and start a round of anti-virals ASAP, which are more effective than topical treatments like Abreva (though those won't hurt). If you have a work or social event and look like you got sucker punched, dab cortisone cream on the area and pop an anti-inflammatory. If you get more than six cold sores a year, Hale suggests talking to your doctor about taking a drug like Valtrex year-round.
And for the love of God, STOP sharing your lip kits. Seriously.