New data reveals the emotional impact of cold sores and underlines the continued stigma associated with outbreaks.
According to a recent study by the University of Cambridge, the spread of cold sores could be linked to the popularity of kissing during the Bronze Age1. 5,000 years later, 3.7 billion people – two-thirds of the world’s population – now carry the virus (HSV-1) that causes them2.
Uncomfortable but ubiquitous. Unsightly but everywhere. You’d assume by now that humanity had learned to accept cold sores as one of those things. Unfortunately, that’s far from the case.
According to new data from COMPEED®, 90% of those who experience cold sores believe there’s a stigma associated with them. Moreover, they report outbreaks to take a very real toll on their mental health, particularly affecting conﬁdence.
- 80% of respondents said they worry about what others think about them when they have a cold sore.
- 70% said a cold sore affects their conﬁdence, with 27% revealing it does so on a signiﬁcant or extreme level.
- 70% said they feel less attractive during an outbreak.
Of the 1,761 respondents (82% of the total polled) who conﬁrmed experiencing cold sores, 68% reported two incidences or more in the past 12 months, with 91% saying each lasted at least three days.
Since 1 in 5 people in the UK has recurring cold sores3, millions regularly face prolonged spells, anxiously waiting to get back to their best.
The data also highlights that women have a far harder time of it during outbreaks. Compared to men, they feel less conﬁdent (69% vs 52%), less attractive (75% vs 63%), more ashamed (17% vs 11%) and more embarrassed (48% vs 36%).
For many, a cold sore means putting everyday life on hold. 28% revealed they had deliberately stayed at home during an outbreak, 30% conﬁrmed they had stayed away from friends, 11% avoided family, and 7% even stopped going to work.
Unsurprisingly, romantic relationships are also affected. 32% said they had rescheduled a date due to a cold sore. To avoid transmitting the virus when they have a cold sore, 87% avoid kissing, and 22% abstain from sex.
Reﬂecting on the results, Andrew Wormald, senior brand manager for COMPEED®, said: “Given the momentum gained by the body positivity movement in recent years, it’s both shocking and sad that those living with the cold sore virus continue to feel so stigmatized.
“It’s particularly regretful that outbreaks take such a toll on the conﬁdence of so many and that some people are so crippled with embarrassment that they won’t even leave the house.
“In the absence of a cure, COMPEED® offers support to those who experience cold sores by helping to conceal and heal them. Designed to be inconspicuous and even compatible with makeup, they can also help users avoid social embarrassment when they feel ﬁrst tingle.”
Marian Nicholson, director of the Cold Sore Advice Line, adds: “It is time that we realized how normal it is to have cold sores by telling people just how common they are. By age 25, around six in ten people carry the virus. So, millions up and down the country are in the same boat, and self-shaming is not the answer.”
About cold sores
Cold sores, also called herpes or fever blisters, are groups of small, ﬂuid-ﬁlled blisters that most commonly occur around the lips, in the mouth and occasionally on the nose, chin or cheeks.
Caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), they typically begin as a tingling sensation or stinging pain that gives way to blisters that burst, ooze and crust over. It usually takes 7-10 days for cold sores to heal, although they can remain for up to two weeks.
There is no cure for cold sores yet. HSV-1 lies dormant inside cells and can be triggered at any time by various factors, including, but not limited to, stress, fatigue, a lack of sleep, a weakened immune system, hormonal changes, and exposure to the elements, including sun and wind.
Cold sores can be a nuisance for some people, so knowing and recognizing what triggers recurrences is helpful. If you have frequent cold sores, you might want to keep a diary or a log to note things, such as activities, illnesses, and life events, to determine what has preceded the symptoms. This can help you to narrow down what triggers your symptoms.
1. Ancient herpes simplex 1 genomes reveal recent viral structure in Eurasia, M. Guellil, July 2022, https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abo4435
2. Herpes simplex virus, World Health Organization, March 2022, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/herpes-simplex-virus
3. Cold Sores – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment , Dr Toni Hazell, May 2022, https://patient.info/childrens-health/viral-skin-infections-leaﬂet/cold-sores