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Lancet. 1991 Dec 7;338(8780):1419-22.

Prevention of ultraviolet-light-induced herpes labialis by sunscreen.

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  • 1Laboratory of Oral Medicine, National Institute of Dental Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892.


Sunlight exposure is reported by some patients to precede onset of recurrent herpes labialis. Ultraviolet (UV) B light is known to be a stimulus for the reactivation of herpes simplex virus (HSV) infections. We assessed the effect of a sunblocking agent on UV-light-induced reactivation of recurrent herpes labialis in a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial. 38 patients were exposed on two separate occasions to four minimum erythema doses of UV light at an area of previous labial herpes recurrence. A solution containing sunscreen was applied to the lips before one exposure and a matched placebo before the other. After placebo and UV exposure, herpes labialis developed in 27 (71%) of the 38 patients, with a mean time to recurrence of 2.9 (SEM 0.2) days. In contrast, when sunscreen was applied before UV exposure, no lesions developed, but 1 of the 35 patients shed virus at the exposure site. We conclude that UV light is a potent stimulus for inducing reactivation of herpes labialis, and that application of sunscreen may be effective in the prevention of sunlight-induced recurrent infection.

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