Is Sauna Good For Cold Sores? (+ Prevention Tips)

Cold sores are painful, ugly, and hard to remove. There are several methods to treat this disease but the ideal one includes going to a doctor and using the medications prescribed for speedy healing and to reduce recurrence.

Saunas and steam rooms are not good for cold sores because the cold-sore virus thrives in a hot environment. The heat from the sauna is likely to make the infection flare up and excessive sweating will help spread the virus around the month. Moreover, exposure to heat can delay recovery.

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Read on to learn how the sauna affects cold sores and if saunas and steam rooms can be the cause behind common skin issues like cold sores.

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How Does the Sauna Heat Affect Cold Sores?

While the heat from a sauna can have many benefits for the skin, it can cause some problems as well. Generally speaking, high temperatures are not good for cold sores, and the sauna environment can have even more negative effects besides. To understand why this happens, we first need to talk about what cold sores actually are.

Cold sores are blisters around the mouth, and they are symptoms of the virus HSV-1 (Herpes Simplex Virus 1). This virus is incredibly common, thought to affect 67% of the world’s population, but it is usually asymptomatic. Viruses like HSV-1 are known to thrive in hot environments and dry heat can be particularly problematic.

While the virus exists within your body at all times, the sores themselves only flare up on rare occasions. Cold sores are small blisters that start to swell, burst, and then eventually crust over, and they are accompanied by irritation of the mouth and lips.

A hot sauna not only creates an environment in which the virus can spread, over your skin but both dry and moist heat can cause further irritation and damage to the skin around your mouth and lips. This makes cold sores worse and can cause others to appear. Excessive sweating can also increase the spread of the virus over your skin.

man hiding cold sores with hand
Cold sores are itchy and ugly (Image source)

Can the Sauna Trigger A Cold Sore?

If you are not sure whether or not you have a cold sore on the way, then you should probably avoid most saunas. A traditional sauna (or steam sauna) contains a lot of moisture which can make cold sores appear, worsen them, and cause the HSV-1 virus to spread.

A dry sauna, on the other hand, is more likely to cause irritation and skin damage when your skin is already vulnerable. As the skin around your mouth and on your lips starts to dry out, it can crack or chap, which can also trigger a cold sore.

There are a few ways that you can tell that a cold sore might be imminent, and the progression is relatively similar in most cases:

  1. First, you might notice a burning, tingling, or itching sensation around your mouth.
  2. In the next couple of days, small blisters will appear, usually on or around your mouth.
  3. Then, the blisters will eventually burst and scab over.
  4. Over the next 10 days, they will heal completely, but they can be painful and irritating.

If you notice any of these symptoms, then you might want to avoid entering a sauna for a few more days.

Can Using The Sauna Spread Cold Sores?

Perhaps one of the most important considerations you should have when you are thinking about using the sauna with a cold sore is not so much how it could affect you, but how it could affect those around you.

HSV-1 is a contagious virus, but only when cold sores are active. From when you first notice a tingling sensation until the sores have completely healed, then you can spread the virus to other people.

This is particularly likely in an environment like a sauna, where you are going to be sweating excessively – meaning the virus will be active on a wider surface area of your skin.

Fortunately, HSV-1 can only be transmitted through direct contact with the skin or mucosa. You can’t catch it just from being in the same sauna as somebody else, but you should still be very cautious if you think the virus is currently active.

Will Infrared Sauna Help Reduce Cold Sores?

Traditional steam and dry saunas are not good for cold sores – and are actually likely to make them worse – but does that mean that infrared saunas might be more beneficial?

Infrared saunas use IR radiation to directly heat your skin without heating the air around you. The ambient temperature in the room is still relatively low, which can reduce the negative effects that hot saunas can have.

Unfortunately, they can still cause a lot of the same sorts of irritation that make cold sores worse. In particular, they are known to result in dry skin, which means your lips and mouth are likely to become cracked and chapped.

dried earth as a metaphor for dry lips
Infrared sauna can cause dry skin and chapped lips (Image source)

With that being said, there is a treatment called red light therapy that is often associated with infrared saunas, and this can help to reduce cold sores. The red light used in this therapy acts on the mitochondria of the cells in your skin, helping them to generate more energy, work more efficiently, and heal more quickly.

Red light therapy does not produce any direct heat on its own, so it doesn’t worsen the symptoms of cold sores. Instead, it can help the skin to heal faster, reduce the likelihood of scarring, and lower inflammation.

How to Prevent Cold Sores From Worsening?

It’s not just entering the sauna that can make the sores worse. In fact, there are quite a few things you should try to avoid, including:

  • Significant temperature changes of any kind – whether that’s the hot sun or cold wind
  • Colds and other illnesses
  • A weak immune system
  • High levels of stress

On the other hand, there are also things you can do to help prevent a cold sore from appearing, and to treat them when they do, such as:

  • Avoid direct skin contact with others who have an active outbreak
  • Use medically-recommended creams to ease the pain and irritation
  • Apply antiviral creams to speed up healing (particularly effective before the blister actually appears)
  • Put on a cold sore patch to protect the skin as it heals
  • Expose the sore to light or laser treatment, such as red light therapy


So, is the sauna good for cold sores? Unfortunately not. The sauna is good for a lot of different skin conditions, but it is likely to make cold sores worse. Hot temperatures are known to worsen the appearance and discomfort of the sores, dry saunas can cause increased irritation, and excessive sweating can spread the virus over more of your skin.

Red light therapy, which is associated with some saunas, can help to speed up the healing process, as can antiviral creams. You can also protect your skin with patches or soothe the pain of your sores with cream.

(Featured image by Adrian Swanca from Unsplash)

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