Do your lips have sex appeal? Not only are lips important for how people perceive you, they also play a critical role in how you feel.

Men as well as women find it hard to be self-confident if they have a prominent cold sore on their lip. Such lesions usually are caused by a virus called herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1). When people are tested, nearly two-thirds of adults have antibodies to this common virus.

Not surprisingly, when someone has a lesion on his or her lip, others are less interested in close physical contact or even handshakes. There is a fear of catching the virus from a kiss or even sharing a glass.

One woman wrote: “I have suffered from cold sores my whole life (59 years). I get them when I’m sick, when I’m about to be sick, when I’m out in the cold, wind or sun, and when a big, important event is on the horizon. They crack and bleed and have been a nightmare for me my whole life.”

So, what’s a cold-sore sufferer to do? Antiviral medications such as acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), penciclovir (Denavir) and valacyclovir (Valtrex) can be used to speed healing of cold sores by a few days. These prescription medicines also can be taken daily to prevent outbreaks in people who get them frequently.

Others have found home remedies that work for them. Here is one reader’s story: “More than 25 years ago, while in college, I continually developed cold sores on my lips due to stress. This was devastating for my dating life.

“Then I read about a natural remedy. Taking acidophilus pills at the first tingle of a soon-to-be-visible cold-sore bubble on my lip prevented an ugly two-week-long outbreak. I take tablets several times a day, and also make a paste of the tablets and apply it to the cold sore. Used early enough, this keeps the bubble from bursting and forming a scab.

“Since graduation from college, I have had no cold sores until recently. Instead of using my old remedy, I spent $15 at the drugstore on a tube of ointment. It promised quick relief, but it still took seven days for the sores to heal.

“Yesterday, I felt the familiar tingling and found several cold-sore bubbles forming. I immediately went to the vitamin store and bought acidophilus. I followed my previous regimen, and I am glad to report the itching is gone and the bubbles have largely disappeared.”

Many readers have used a different dietary supplement to ward off cold sores. L-lysine is a perennial favorite: “I have an answer for cold sores. I used to get several a month, to the point where I have a scar on my bottom lip. I finally asked the pharmacist what I could do and was told to use L-lysine. I have not had a cold sore in five years!”

Another reader added this advice: “I have been taking L-lysine for HSV-1 for more than 20 years, and it has kept me virtually outbreak-free. It is also important to avoid nut products and chocolate. Together those two things have worked better for me than Zovirax, which I took for a year as part of a study at the University of Rochester.”

Other approaches include buttermilk and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis).

Whether a person chooses a prescription antiviral drug or a home remedy, the sooner the treatment is used, the better it will work.