As an NYC cosmetic dentist, I get asked all manner of questions from patients sitting in my dentist's chair. Many of them become blog posts, in fact. I figure if someone visiting me in person has a question, there are likely thousands of others out there with the same question.
And yes, today's topic comes right from my chair. A young lady asked me last week if sharing lipstick with a friend could transmit herpes. She was worried, because her friend had a cold sore, and while they were out clubbing they ended up sharing lipstick in the bathroom.
Well, I wish I had better news for my patient, but if what her friend had was indeed a cold sore/herpes then yes, it could be transmitted by sharing lipstick.
When discussing herpes in these types of instances, it's important to point out that we are generally talking about herpes type 1 (aka oral herpes), and not herpes type 2 (genital herpes). Both types are spread via contact -- however, in general terms, genital herpes is spread through sexual contact with the infected areas. (1) Oral herpes is also spread via contact with secretions, but since we're talking about the mouth, that takes on a myriad of forms.
It's very safe to say that sharing any or all of the following with a person who has oral herpes increases your risks of getting the same:
- Lip Balms (chapstick, etc.)
- Eating Utensils
- Smoking devices (pipes, etc.)
There's no getting around it -- almost anything that comes in contact with the mouth is going to transmit herpes type 1.
Now, this may not be as bad as it sounds. To start, there are some interesting facts about herpes. The biggest one that I came across is what I always suspected -- most of us already have it. It's estimated that 70 percent of the population has HSV-1 (herpes type 1, or oral herpes). (2) Ever have a cold sore? Then it's overwhelmingly likely you have the virus. It's pretty easy to spread because, as you already likely know, there is no cure. Plus, it does not have to be active (as in, noticeable) to be spread. So something as innocent as a grandparent kissing a child can spread HSV-1.
One thing I found while looking around the web is the prevalence of talk regarding "good herpes" or "bad herpes" (well, not that any herpes is "good," mind you). But there's this perception that HSV-1 is not that big a deal, and HSV-2 is something that carries a stigma. (3) I'm here to say that's really not true -- in general terms, the viruses are essentially the same, save for where they occur. HSV-1 is far more common and can be spread by sharing a fork (hence it gets the "good" label), whereas HSV-2 happens around our genitals and is spread when those genitals come into contact with somebody else's -- hence, the "bad" label. But in my personal opinion, I'll tell you that HSV-1 is no better or worse and even say that HSV-1 can be tougher to live with, because hey, it's right out there for all to see. But then again, since 70 percent of us have it, so what. Herpes is really just another name for cold sores, so is it really that big of a deal? This dentist says, "No, it is not. Refrain from kissing or sharing lipstick, but otherwise, go and live your life."
Ok, let's move on from herpes and just talk a little common sense in regard to sharing lipstick, forks or anything else. Not only can you transmit herpes but almost any other sickness that can be transferred via secretions or saliva. This includes mononucleosis (sometimes called "the kissing disease"), colds, flus, and even hepatitis (4). So basically, I would not be sharing a fork, cigarette, lipstick, toothbrush or any other "mouth related" item with anyone, unless they were someone I was actively kissing (hey, who hasn't sampled something from a spouse's fork?). So that should be the rule: "If you wouldn't kiss this person on the lips, then don't share a fork."
One more thing I want to touch on before we go is HIV. I have been asked "Can I get HIV from sharing a toothbrush or similar?" While I just spent an entire post pointing out things that can be transmitted that way, everything I have found on HIV suggests it is NOT transferred via saliva (5). So rest easy, friends -- while you may get herpes from sharing that lipstick, unless blood was involved, it's not likely you will get HIV from sharing such. Although, in the case of chapped, bleeding lips, I'd say caution is warranted if that situation is present. Hopefully, both parties involved already know that.
So to sum it all up, I like my kissing rule (heck, I like kissing in general!). Until next time, keep smiling!
Follow Thomas P. Connelly, D.D.S. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dr_connelly