Topical n-docosanol for management of recurrent herpes labialis

Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2010 Apr;11(5):853-60. doi: 10.1517/14656561003691847.


Importance of the field: Recurrent herpes labialis (RHL) is a significant disorder with social and health consequences that affects upwards of 20 - 40% of the adult population. Docosanol is the only FDA-approved topical agent that is available over the counter for management of RHL. Its mechanism of action is unique compared with other available antiviral agents.

Areas covered in this review: The authors conducted a comprehensive search of the published preclinical and clinical literature on topical docosanol for RHL. All of the published literature relating to docosanol and its use for the management of recurrent herpes labialis was reviewed, from the first report of docosanol to 31 January 2010.

What the reader will gain: The objective of this review was to summarize and critically evaluate the available literature with respect to topical docosanol's mechanism, safety and efficacy in the management of RHL.

Take home message: Ten percent docosanol cream is a safe and effective topical treatment for the management of RHL in immunocompetent adults, with essentially equivalent efficacy compared with other available prescription topical antiviral agents. Owing to its unique mechanism of action, there is little to no risk of developing resistance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Antiviral Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Approval
  • Fatty Alcohols / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Alcohols / pharmacology
  • Fatty Alcohols / therapeutic use*
  • Herpes Labialis / drug therapy*
  • Herpes Labialis / virology
  • Humans
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Recurrence
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Fatty Alcohols
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • docosanol