Just like all medical conditions, there are MANY myths about cold sores online that people assume are accurate. Word spreads quickly on opinion-based websites and forums, so false information is immediately accepted as the truth.

Avoiding these misconceptions enables you to avoid spreading the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) to other areas of the face and body, and to others. It will also allow you to use the right OTC medicine to heal your fever blisters faster.

Unfortunately, finding out the facts about cold sores isn’t always easy. We’ve answered many common queries in this question and answer session(FAQ), but you can also find out more falsehoods in this in-depth guide.

Debunking Cold Sores Myths

We will attempt to debunk ten of the most common cold sore myths while also offering you some valuable advice.

1) Cold Sores are Hereditary

While a 2013 study conducted by the University of Edinburgh does suggest those who have cold sores suffer from a gene mutation, fever blisters are not hereditary. Research has concluded that only that those with the problematic gene are more susceptible to HSV-1 transfer.[1]

In respect to the myth that individuals can pass down blisters, that is not the case. Even in the scenario of the questionable gene, the HSV-1 transfer still must take place. The notion that you have cold sores because your father does, for example, is factually and medically incorrect.

To summarize…

  • While research has linked cold sore development to a gene mutation, fever blisters are not hereditary. Individuals with the problematic gene are more susceptible to viral transfer.
  • To have a cold sore outbreak, you must be infected with the herpes simplex virus. Without viral transfer, you will never get a blister.

2) Cold Sores are a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)

While genital herpes is classified as an STD, cold sores (blisters that develop on the mouth and lips) are not.

The wording “sexually transmitted disease” is critical to understand. Unless your HSV transfer took place during oral sex, your blister is not an STD. A majority of cold sores occur from non-sexual behavior.

If you have HSV-1, you are susceptible to cold sore outbreaks. Worrying about labels and public stigma can only lead to unwanted stress.

To recap…

3) All Lip Blisters are Cold Sores

Cold sores are born from a virus, and the blisters themselves have distinct traits and development stages. While cold sores do form blisters, just any “run of the mill” blister is not a cold sore.

Our lips, generally speaking, often feel the brunt of our behavior. It is common for most people to deal with minor shaving cuts, abrasions, bumps, and even blisters on a somewhat routine basis.

Understanding the basics of what a fever blister is and how/why it forms can help you better identify your lip blister.

To summarize…

  • Lip abrasions and general lip damage are not cold sores.
  • Our lips are naturally sensitive and are often the subject of abuse. You can take comfort in knowing that the majority of lip concerns have nothing to do with the HSV-1 transfer, but chapping and injury can provide an entrance point for the virus to enter the body.

4) Cold Sores are Only Contagious when a Blister is Visible

While it would be much easier to avoid a potential HSV-1 transfer if this was correct, but unfortunately it is not. Cold sores are contagious from the initial tingle stage (prodromal), which is the first sign of lip discomfort, through to the final healing stage.

It is because of this fact that many people are exposed to HSV-1. Without visual cues, it is impossible to recognize a problem. In fact, many HSV-1 carriers are often blind to their initial symptoms. This is especially true for those experiencing their first outbreak.

To recap…

  • Cold sores are contagious from the initial lip discomfort sensation (tingle or burning) until the completion of the healing process.
  • The lack of a visual blister is often why people (outsiders) become infected. Logic suggests that everyone would avoid mouth-to-mouth contact with someone who is sporting a huge blister. However, that logic is void when an HSV-1 carrier can become contagious long before a visual symptom is present.[2]

5) It is Rare to Contract the Cold Sore Virus

Per Johns Hopkins Medicine, an estimated 50-80% of all adults in the United States have oral herpes. More alarming, the National Institutes of Health estimates that 90% of all adults will be exposed to HSV-1 by the time they turn 50.

So, not only is contracting the herpes virus not rare, you are lucky if you do not have the virus. This is all the more reason why it is so important to understand the basics of HSV-1 and how you can protect yourself.

To summarize…

  • Contracting HSV-1 (the cold sore virus) is quite common. Per research, more people are carrying the virus than those who are not.[3]

6) Kissing is the Only Way to Get a Cold Sore

Although kissing spreads HSV-1, it is not the only way to pass on the virus to others.

Direct saliva-to-saliva contact and saliva to broken skin contact is how HSV-1 is transferred. Infected saliva, from the carrier, will enter the membranes of your lips and mouth.[4] Just the slightest abrasion on your lip can be manipulated by infected saliva.

Listed below are just a few ways, other than kissing, that HSV-1 can be transferred. All of these examples involve saliva to object or saliva-to-skin transfer.

  • Sharing of drinks
  • Using the same utensils for your meals
  • Sharing of a toothbrush or lipstick
  • Infected mouth to genitals (Oral sex – Of note, HSV-1 transfer in this fashion would be considered an STD)

debunking ten common cold sore myths

7) The Healing Time of a Cold Sore Can’t Be Shortened

While cold sores must follow a life cycle of several defined steps, that cycle can be sped up by OTC treatments. The notion that the healing time of a cold sore can never be advanced is a falsehood.

Several FDA approved fever blister remedies can eliminate sores within 72 hours or less. Products such as Abreva, Orajel, and the HERP-B-GONE can heal blisters fast.

To recap…

  • The healing time of a cold sore can be shortened. While a fever blister must pass through a life cycle, it can be sped up with a treatment.

8) Cold Sores Only Affect the Lips and Near the Mouth

Cold sores can appear on various parts of the body. While lip/mouth infections are common due to mouth-to-mouth contact, fever blisters can develop elsewhere.

Cold sores can appear on the genitals as a result of partaking in oral sex with an HSV-1 carrier. Fever blisters can also appear on the fingers, cheeks, chin, and around the eyes.[5] This can be the product of mouth to skin contact.

It is not uncommon for well-meaning parents to infect their infants in this fashion. Loving kisses can result in a viral transfer.

The unfortunate occurrence of viral spreading is also a potential issue. This occurs when you have an active blister on your lip, touch the cold sore, and then rub your eyes, face, etc. The result is contaminated skin away from the initial transmission location.

To summarize…

  • Unfortunately, cold sores can appear on certain parts of the body. While the lips/mouth are the most common viral transfer points, skin-to-skin contact and viral spreading can replicate the virus.

9) Cold Sores and Canker Sores Are the Same Thing

Cold sores are due to a virus. Canker sores are painful nodules that form on the inside of the mouth.[6] The two are not related and have nothing directly in common.

While the exact cause of canker sores is unknown, they are usually the byproduct of stress, minor tissue injury, or the consumption of spicy and acidic foods and beverages. Frequent gum chewers often develop canker sores because oral cavity tissue has been disturbed. Individuals who have undergone extensive dental work (braces) can also fall victim to cankers sores.

While it should be noted that some canker sore development can be related to a serious underlying condition, this is quite rare. The vast majority of canker sores are just a mere inconvenience and a source of annoying minor discomfort.

To recap…

  • Cold sores and canker sores are not the same and have no direct connection. Cold sores are born from the herpes simplex virus while the primary cause of canker sores is unknown.
  • You can only get canker sores inside of the mouth. It is not possible to have a canker sore on your lip.

10) Cold Sores Can Be Cured

Herpes simplex one, the virus responsible for cold sores, has no cure. Once you become infected, you will have it for the rest of your life.

Although the virus will likely remain dormant far more often that it is active, there is no cure for the virus itself. While it is common for infected individuals to have a harshly symptomatic first outbreak, painful side effects typically subside with future recurrences.

For the vast majority of sufferers, especially recurring sufferers, the blisters are the only symptom. This is why selecting a proven treatment is so important. You can heal cold sores fast if you are armed with the right OTC medication.[7]

To summarize…

  • Cold sore outbreaks can be cured, but the virus responsible will live with you forever in the nerve ganglia. Once you are infected with the herpes virus, you will remain infected. Fever blisters are the visual manifestation of this virus becoming active.

Whether you are in the midst of your first cold sore outbreak, a recurrence, or if you have never dealt with a fever blister, so much can be gained through education. Numerous myths can be easily debunked by reading about the herpes virus and how cold sores are born.

The topic of fever blisters often comes with a touch of fear. This is due in no small measure to lack of education on the subject and a bounty of misinformation. Although cold sores can become problematic, much of the unease is based on myths being passed down as facts.


  1. Lang Kuhs KA, Kuniholm MH, Pfeiffer RM, et al. Interferon Lambda 4 Genotype Is Not Associated with Recurrence of Oral or Genital Herpes. Ashkar AA, ed. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(10):e0138827. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0138827.
  2. Everett RD. HSV-1 biology and life cycle. Methods Mol Biol. 2014;1144:1-17. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-0428-0_1.
  3. Looker KJ, Magaret AS, May MT, et al. Global and Regional Estimates of Prevalent and Incident Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 Infections in 2012. DeLuca NA, ed. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(10):e0140765. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0140765.
  4. Ramchandani M, Kong M, Tronstein E, et al. Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 Shedding in Tears, and Nasal and Oral Mucosa of Healthy Adults. Sexually transmitted diseases. 2016;43(12):756-760. doi:10.1097/OLQ.0000000000000522.
  5. Browning WD, McCarthy JP. A Case Series: Herpes Simplex Virus as an Occupational Hazard. Journal of Esthetic and Restorative Dentistry. 2012;24(1):61-66. doi:10.1111/j.1708-8240.2011.00469.x.
  6. Akintoye SO, Greenberg MS. Recurrent Aphthous Stomatitis. Dental clinics of North America. 2014;58(2):281-297. doi:10.1016/j.cden.2013.12.002.
  7. Cunningham A, Griffiths P, Leone P, et al. Current management and recommendations for access to antiviral therapy of herpes labialis. Journal of clinical virology : the official publication of the Pan American Society for Clinical Virology. 2012;53(1):6-11. doi:10.1016/j.jcv.2011.08.003.