Drops of glycerin with beige background

How Glycerin Helps Cold Sores and Cracked Lips

A cold sore can be a real pain to deal with, especially if they’re recurring. That tingling, burning feeling on your lips, plus seeing a big, red, blistering sore every time you look in the mirror, is certainly no fun: when you feel a cold sore coming on, you’ll want to try anything to help it heal. Using antiviral creams with active ingredients like glycerin is a good step toward minimizing the pain and appearance of a cold sore. Learn more about glycerin and how it can help with cold sores and cracked lips.

What Is Glycerin?

Glycerin, or glycerol, is a naturally occurring alcohol compound that is found in every animal and plant tissue.1 It is a highly versatile ingredient that is found in cosmetics, pharmaceutical products and even foods.1 Many soaps, moisturizers, makeup products, hair treatments, toothpastes and lip balms contain glycerin.2 In the food industry, glycerin is used as a sweetener and helps preserve foods and keep them moist.1 When paired with witch hazel, glycerin can be used to relieve hemorrhoid symptoms.3 Health care providers may also give glycerin to patients by IV to reduce pressure inside the brain after a stroke.1

Is Glycerin Safe to Use?

Glycerin, the third most frequently used ingredient in cosmetics,1 is known to be a safe ingredient and is not suspected to be toxic to both people and the environment.2 Glycerin is safe for consumption as well but eating too much of it can lead to symptoms of gastrointestinal discomfort including gas and bloating.4 Because glycerin is well-tolerated, food products that use it as an ingredient do not require warning labels.4

How is Glycerin Used in Skin Care?

Glycerin is commonly used as a humectant, or an ingredient that helps to draw in and retain moisture.5 It is commonly used to keep skin care products from drying out so they can have a longer shelf life.1 Glycerin is a good emulsifier and provides lubrication to make it easier to apply topical products onto the skin.6 Because of its hydrating properties, glycerin can be used to enhance the physical texture of the skin.6

How Glycerin Can Help Treat Cold Sores

When you have a cold sore, it helps to keep the area around a cold sore moisturized to keep the sore from drying out.7 Since glycerin is a good for keeping the skin moisturized, it can help minimize dryness in cold sores.6,7 In addition to being moisturizing, glycerin can also be used to promote wound healing.6 Applying glycerin to your skin can help induce the production of keratinocytes, a type of skin cell that make up the structural component of the epidermis.8

Glycerin is found in many skin care products, and not all of these products are ideal for treating cold sores. Look for products that are designed to treat cold sores like Abreva Cold Sore Rapid Pain Relief Gel, which contains glycerin to hydrate the skin and maximum-strength lidocaine to help reduce pain.

How Using Glycerin on Cracked Lips Can Help with Cold Sore Treatment

When you have a cold sore on your lips, it’s important to keep them moisturized to prevent them from drying out. Using a lip balm or ointment with glycerin will help treat chapped or cracked lips.9 However, if you are applying a lip balm directly onto an active cold sore, the tube should be considered contaminated.7 Avoid sharing your lip balm with others after using and throw it away once your sore has healed to prevent future infections.7

What Are Some Other Alternatives to Treating Cold Sores?

Cold sores typically go away within 10 to 14 days, but it helps to find solutions to shorten their stay. The most effective way to treat a cold sore is to get a prescription for an oral antiviral medication from a doctor.7 Antiviral creams like Abreva Cold Sore Cream can also effectively knock out a cold sore when taken at the first sign.7 Abreva Cold Sore Cream is made with the only non-prescription ingredient approved by the FDA to treat cold sores. To manage the pain of a cold sore naturally, press ice cubes or cold, wet rags against the sore.7

Don’t let cold sores take over your day. Learn more ways to manage lip health and identifying the signs of cold sores with Abreva.

Source Citations:

  1. Glycerin. Cosmetics Info. https://www.cosmeticsinfo.org/ingredients/glycerin/ Accessed 5/10/2023.
  2. What is GLYCERIN. Environmental Working Group. https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/702620-GLYCERIN/ Accessed 5/10/2023.
  3. Glycerin and witch hazel topical. PeaceHealth. https://www.peacehealth.org/medical-topics/id/fdbm20781-1314 Accessed 5/10/2023.
  4. What Is Glycerin? Food Insight. https://foodinsight.org/what-is-glycerin/ Accessed 5/10/2023.
  5. Cosmetics – Exploring humectants. Michigan State University Center for Research on Ingredient Safety. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/cosmetics-exploring-humectants Accessed 5/10/2023.
  6. Glycerol in Food, Cosmetics and Pharmaceutical Industries: Basics And New Applications. International Journal of Scientific & Technology Research. http://www.ijstr.org/final-print/dec2019/Glycerol-In-Food-Cosmetics-And-Pharmaceutical-Industries-Basics-And-New-Applications.pdf Accessed 5/10/2023.
  7. Here’s How You Can Get Rid of a Cold Sore (Fast!). Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/heres-how-you-can-get-rid-of-a-cold-sore-fast/ Accessed 5/10/2023.
  8. Keratinocytes. American Type Culture Collection. https://www.atcc.org/cell-products/primary-cells/keratinocytes Accessed 5/10/2023.
  9. Chapped Lips. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22005-chapped-lips Accessed 5/10/2023.