Why Do You Have That Cold Sore on Your Mouth

Everyone from Rihanna and Paris Hilton to Justin Timberlake and Brad Pitt has been photographed with cold sores. There's no shame in that. According to the Mayo Clinic "about 90 percent of adults worldwide — even those who've never had symptoms of an infection — test positive for evidence of the virus that causes cold sores."

Why you get a flare — usually at the worst possible time — can seem mysterious, however. Well, now researchers from the University of Virginia School of Medicine have figured out exactly what goes on inside of you that triggers the appearance of that sore around your mouth or on your lip.

What Causes Cold Sores?

Chronic stress, a sugar-loaded diet, fever, even sunshine can amp up the inflammatory response in your immune system, causing a sequence of reactions that hyper-excite the nerves that harbor the sleeping virus. Those aroused nerves then send the infection out into your body to do its dirty work. In short, your immune system (that's where inflammation is produced) can become an accomplice to the outbreak when any extra poke (say, stress) that increases inflammation gets your nervous system involved.

How to Prevent Cold Sores

If you want to tamp down flares, it's smart to keep chronic inflammation under control. The best ways are to practice stress-relieving activities like aerobics, meditation, yoga or tai chi. Avoid inflammatory foods, like added sugars, red and processed meats and ultra-processed foods. And promote a healthy gut biome with a plant-based diet, a daily dose of walnuts (really) and moderate alcohol intake. That'll get you smiling — about a lot!

Will you ever feel comfortable in your own skin? That is, if you don't make an effort to protect it? Although 64% of adults do report wearing sunscreen when outside for prolonged periods of time, it turns out that only about 10% of people surveyed actually protect themselves daily, according to a recent review.

No matter what your skin tone is, unless you live in a cave with no sunlight, daily protection with either sunscreen, sunblock or protective clothing can not only protect you from developing sunburns (ouch!) but can significantly reduce your risk of developing skin cancer, particularly the deadliest type called melanoma. In addition, for those of you wanting to keep your youthful looks, daily sunscreen has been shown to reduce the development of wrinkles. A great teacher once told me that the best way to not have wrinkles is not to get them in the first place (think of how much money you can save on useless creams that claim to diminish wrinkles).

Keep Reading Show less