Cold sore creams and gels and cold sore medications are an excellent solution for treating cold sores —there’s no doubt about that. But what if there was a solution that you could use again, again and again… Without having to ask for a repeat prescription? Welcome to the world of cold sore devices.
Cold sore devices are handheld, electronic, rechargeable and re-usable. There are two main kinds: light devices and heat devices. Since they’re a relatively new innovation, there aren’t many on the market yet, but they’re earning rave reviews. Take a look at our brief guide below on what they are, how they work and whether they’re worth buying.
Cold sore light devices emit infrared light of a very specific wavelength: 1072-nm precisely. This light isn’t visible to the human eye, so you won’t be able to see it in action. However, you will be able to feel it. After one or two minutes, you should feel a slight tingling in the patch of skin where you used the device. The manufacturers of these devices claim that they can cut recovery time in half, which they say is because an enhanced local immune response.
Initial testing of cold sore light machines shows that they do seem to be effective. According to a meta-analysis—a review of as many past studies as a researcher could find—almost every single published article on cold sore light devices says that they are effective.
One particular study in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology compared a particular cold sore device (the Virulite) against a fake placebo device that did nothing. The Virulite reduced healing time from 9.4 days with the placebo, to an average of 6.3 days. It also reduced the time it took for the cold sore to form a crust and naturally drop off. The researchers didn’t see any specific side effects, which is a great advantage over cold sore creams and tablets, which can have mild to moderate effects.
While studies into the Virulite and other cold sore machines do prove them to be effective, it’s still unclear why exactly they work. When scientists study how pharmaceutical drugs work, it’s possible to see and measure how they interact with cold sores (or any other part of the body). However, there’s no obvious reason why light treatments work; they just do!
Like we said above, one of the main advantages of light treatment is that you can re-use the device. And, since it doesn’t need to come into direct contact with the cold sore, keeping it sterilized isn’t too much of a problem. This is an excellent advantage, since a device that needs constant sterilizing may pose a risk by helping the virus to spread.
Another advantage of cold sore light devices is that they’re relatively cheap. For a larger initial price, you can re-use the device for a year or more, depending on the brand. This means that if you have frequent or large outbreaks, you will save a lot of money compared to using creams. The main disadvantage of buying a light device is that there are only a couple on the market, so you don’t have much choice. And while they save you money in the long run, they cost a lot more than buying one or two tubs of cream for immediate use.
Heat treatment for cold sores is similar to light treatment. A small, handheld device delivers a powerful and accurate dose (in this case, of heat) to the cold sore. Devices like the Herpotherm pack a punch of roughly 125 degrees Fahrenheit, which prevents herpes simplex from reproducing. Scientists believe that this may be due to the release of particular proteins, including those that regulate the immune response. However, they’re not entirely sure as of yet how heat treatment works.
There have been a number of studies into the efficacy of heat treatment for cold sores. They indicate that Herpotherm is best used at the beginning of an outbreak: before ulcers begin to push out from the skin, when the only symptom is a slight tingle underneath the skin. It is less effective and only shortens duration by a day or so when applied after ulcers break out.
A study in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology discussed how Herpotherm can reduce recurrence of lip herpes, and reduce symptoms like tingling, burning, itching, tightness and pain. When applied before a breakout occurred, heat treatment reduced overall disease duration from 9-9.7 days to just 1.85 days. This is far better than any brand of cream on the market. Most creams can only speed up recovery by, at most, two or three days.
Like light devices, heat devices can be reused. This means that over time, they are much cheaper than cream. However, heat devices are even cheaper than light devices, which means that they’re a great budget option. They cost little more than some higher-end cold sore creams, which is exceptional considering how long you can use them for.
The main drawback to picking cold sore heat treatment is that there’s only one on the market: Herpotherm (formerly known as Hot Kiss). While Herpotherm does have decent reviews on most sites, it would be nice to have more choice in the market. Herpotherm does have some excellent benefits, though: it takes common batteries (CR2 3v) which can be found almost anywhere.
Cold sore devices are exceptionally easy to use, and don’t leave any mess after you use them. The guidelines for each product suggest at least two treatments while the outbreak is yet to form, but you can feel it coming. The application takes about five minutes of pointing the device directly at the affected area. You can use cold sore devices either with or without an additional medication like cold sore creams and gels. If you use them without creams, there is no residue left over after use. It really is that simple.
They’re also entirely painless. If you use a light device, you’ll feel a slight tingling sensation after a minute of use. This feeling is entirely normal but isn’t dissimilar to pins and needles. So, it’s not painful, although it can feel a little unusual. Heat devices, contrary to what you might expect, aren’t exceptionally hot. They heat up to around 125 degrees Fahrenheit. This is nowhere near enough to burn the skin, although it will definitely feel warm.
So not only are they easy to use, they aren’t a painful chore, either.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much choice when it comes to heat and light devices for cold sores. There are four well-known brands that you can buy in the United States, including:
We’ve tested each of these devices, so check out our reviews if you’d like to know more about them. Virulite and LipZor are easily the best known, each of which is a light device. Both have good reviews. Herpotherm is the only heat device available today, although fortunately, that has good reviews too. VyGone is less known and isn’t rated quite as highly as the others.
So, it’s clear from clinical studies that both kinds of cold sore device genuinely work. This is excellent news since there are so many ‘home remedies’ that do little to actually get rid of cold sores. But should you buy one? Are they worth the money? Consider the following:
The only downside is that neither kind of device is exceptionally effective when you use it after an outbreak occurs. They’re much more useful if you can use them as soon as you notice symptoms start to appear. If you’d prefer a treatment for existing breakouts, you might prefer creams or tablets.
There are plenty of different cold sore treatments available. You can buy devices, creams, tablets, and ointments. They’re also available OTC or through prescription. So why might you want to buy creams or tablets instead of a cold sore device? Let’s take a look.
That being said, your best option is to use a range of methods to treat cold sores. That way, you’re covering all the bases. If you’d like to know more about light devices, take a look at some of our reviews below. Alternatively, you can search for creams or tablets through the menu at the top of the page.
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