a manager scolded me for having a cold sore on my face

A reader writes:

Is it unprofessional to go to work with active cold sores on your face? I occasionally get them and have never considered it to be a big deal until recently when someone at work commented on it.

Last week I had a cold sore in the middle of my lower lip. It wasn’t very big — I’ve had worse ones and gone to work and nobody ever said anything. But this time an older lady who works on my floor pulled me aside and told me off for coming to work “in such an unprofessional state.” She had the most disgusted look on her face and it made me feel terrible. This woman is new to our workplace and not someone I work closely with. And even though she is a manager, she isn’t my manager and therefore has no real authority over me. But there is an expectation where I work that junior staff (like me) will show respect to more senior staff (like her) and “follow any reasonable requests or instructions.”

At the time I was so shocked by her comment that I didn’t know how to respond, so I just kind of mumbled a half-hearted apology and rushed off to the bathroom where I cried a little bit, mostly because she caught me so off-guard and her attitude made me feel so dirty and ashamed.

Later that week, at my regular catch-up with my manager, I mentioned the incident to her. She replied that the other manager had spoken to her about my unprofessional behavior but hadn’t given her any details. My manager was kind about it and said that I’m generally super professional and a hard worker, but didn’t really give me a straight answer about whether I did anything wrong.

My best friend at work thinks this woman is just a busy body and I should ignore her. But my dad, whose opinion I respect, kind of agreed with this woman’s opinion. He said I should have done more to cover up the cold sore in case a customer, etc. saw it and was offended (note I work in an office and my “customers” are all internal staff). Did I do something wrong?

No.

Someone did something wrong here, but that person isn’t you.

Was your coworker really suggesting that you should stay home from work when you have a cold sore? Is your employer cool with you using sick time for that — or would you have to use vacation days? And how long might it be for? In theory you could end up using all your annual vacation time on a cold sore. Is your boss on-board with you missing, say, a week of work with little warning because someone thinks your face is unfit to be seen in public?

What about other cuts and sores? If you have a scrape on your hand, should you take sick leave? What about a massive pimple? A bruise?

I suspect your coworker associates cold sores with herpes and thinks that makes them shameful or dirty in some way — like it’s akin to leaving condoms scattered on your desk or showing up to work covered in hickeys.

Not only is she wrong (for what it’s worth, nearly half the U.S. population has the virus that can cause oral cold sores, but that’s a crappy way of thinking anyway), it’s none of her business. She’s not your manager. She had zero standing to pull you aside and scold you. What she did was rude, overstepping, mean-spirited. But she was off-base, too.

And you know, it’s one to thing to catch a glimpse of a colleague and think, “Oooh, I’d cover that with makeup if that were me.” A little judgy, but whatever. But what happened in her head that made her think it was something she could upbraid you about? The mental process that took her from “oh look, a cold sore” to “I should approach someone barely know and scold her for it” is mysterious indeed. (And I’m getting very bad vibes about how she must relate to people she does know, particularly if she has any kind of power over them.)

But also, what’s up with your manager? This random colleague approached her to complain about your “unprofessional” behavior but wouldn’t give any details and your boss … accepted that? Didn’t push back or tell her she was off-base? Or maybe she did — but then why isn’t she giving you a straight answer when you asked if you’d done anything wrong? I suppose it’s possible that she knows you didn’t, but feels like she can’t openly criticize the other manager to you.

You didn’t do anything wrong. But I’d be awfully tempted to consult with someone who does special effects makeup and learn how to give yourself an ever-changing procession of open sores and wounds all over any exposed area of your body from now on.

{ 389 comments… read them below }

  1. I'm A Little Teapot*

    OP, you were dressed professionally, your behavior was fine, you were groomed appropriately and the ONLY problem was a cold sore. Which you have no control over. Both these managers messed up. The first one because her behavior was unprofessional and rude. The 2nd one because they didn’t shut down the first one.

    1. nona*

      +1 – Body’s do not exist on the professional/unprofessional spectrum. Bodies just are. There are sometimes when bodies may benefit from staying home, but that is related to just being a human and outside of the realm of professionalism.

      Like, even if you had been sick (and not just a cold sore) and should have stayed home with a sick day, deciding to do that or not is not a question of professionalism. It’s just…not part of that equation. How you communicate your decision to stay home, or how you conduct yourself while in the office but under the weather, are issues of professionalism, but the fact of being sick is not.

        1. Shut It Down*

          Yes, but it’s not “unprofessional” to be contagious. Presumably OP isn’t kissing anyone in her office, and knows to be careful about touching her face and other surfaces. Having a cold sore is not professional or unprofessional; it’s just a biological fact, and it’s certainly not something OP should be scolded and humiliated over.

        2. Jam Today*

          Unless she’s making out with her coworkers, she’s not contagious in the office.

          1. Yipsie*

            TootsNYC was not responding to the original letter, she was responding to the “Like, even if you had been sick (and not just a cold sore)…” part of the other person’s response.

      1. AnonRonRon*

        This. LW, I hope you can go back to your manager (or HR) and express how upsetting and wrong this was. Your manager should have asked for more details on your “unprofessional behavior” and then stood up for you! What kind of a toxic workplace is this where junior staff are expected to submit to the almighty managers, to the point that a brand-new manager who doesn’t supervise you feels emboldened to humiliate you over your appearance and then make baseless complaints to your boss without any pushback? Centering your complaint on the inappropriateness of this new manager scrutinizing your body is a good tack, as it really shows just how much she overstepped, and how badly your manager failed you, as well. Sorry you had to go through all this.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      LW, I’m sorry but you can no longer trust your father for work related advice.

      People go to work with minor blemishes on their face all the time. This is that.

      I’m also sorry your manager was so bad about this.
      #1 – If a fellow manager reports their employee as unprofessional, he needs to press for more details. What’s up with just accepting such a vague complaint with no follow up?
      #2 – When your manager found out the reason, he should have told the busy body manager that she was wrong and not bothered you about it. If he heard the reason from you 9as happened here) he should have been apologetic that it happened to you and assured you that you are right to come to work with a cold sore and that he would explain that to the busy body.

      If it comes up again in the future, just give the busy body a shocked, weird look and say “what an odd thing to say” or something similar.

      1. Boadicea*

        Why on earth would anyone be “offended” by a cold sore? I’m lost. Even if you did contract it by [redacted graphic sex act] with someone with a raging genital herpes infection….. if anyone’s mind even goes there they have a very serious problem.
        I got cold sores sometimes as a kid. Still had to go to school.

      2. anonymouse*

        That’s the part that got me manager said “I’m a generally good worker.” Um, so overall you are not, because you were in bright summer sun and blister broke out? Oh the shame of you showing your face in daylight.
        Good information to have about your manager. S/he does not have your back.
        Didn’t even ask in what way you were “unprofessional”? Just nodded and said s/he’d pass it on?
        Your boss is weak and a jerk.

      3. forgot my password*

        I’d also consider taking the willful misunderstanding approach. “I’m sorry, I don’t follow — what’s unprofessional about my appearance? Is something wrong with my clothing?” If she’s vague, like a “you know what” kind of response, I’d keep at it: “I’m so sorry, I must be missing something, I’m new here and I just don’t understand what’s unprofessional about my appearance.” If she names the problem as the coldsore: “I’m sorry, I don’t follow – this is just a common skin condition. Why is it unprofessional?” You don’t have to sound confrontational — you could come across as super deferential — but it forces her to say the unspoken thing out loud.

    3. Pat McGill*

      Go back to your manager and demand a meeting with the offending woman.
      You are owed an apology.

      1. Bilateralrope*

        Agreed. Maybe phrase it as wanting an apology for being verbally attacked for having a medical condition that is no threat to anyone and has no impact on performance.

        Because I get the feeling that the lack of specifics in the message between the manages means that at least one of them agrees with the older coworker, but doesn’t want the legal liability that comes with saying it openly.

        1. Carol the happy elf*

          But your cold sores are painful. I can’t fix the boil-on-your-buttinski- manager-once-removed, but can tell you how to manage/minimize their appearance.
          First, get Abreva. It’s OTC, and pricey, but worth every cent. (Generic is cheaper, it’s name is Docosanol, but not widely available in generic yet. It’s available on the internet, and Walgreens and CVS have it, somewhat cheaper than the brand name.) The Biggest Of Big Boxes has it online at the cheapest price; get a 2-pack and keep one in your desk. If you get a spritzer bottle, keep it in your purse, or a tube can fit easily in an unlabeled prescription bottle so it doesn’t ooze all over.
          Now.>>>>>>>>>>>
          At the very first sign of the “Shingle Tingle”, when you’re just starting to notice it and still have hope you’re imagining it, treat it. Wash off every molecule of lip treatment or cosmetic, and give your lips a light scrub to remove the dead layer of cells. Apply the cream liberally to the area. Repeat every 2 hours or so. If you get up in the middle of the night, reapply. Don’t put anything else over it. Rub it in carefully. The way it works is: the virus is alive in your body already and travels down the nerves, infecting the same spots over again. Docosanol blocks the virus from damaging healthy cells. It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t cure herpes. But the difference is amazing.

          Next is the holistic treatment. Buy a large bottle of L-Lysine, and each day, take a 1,000 mg (Horse Pill Alert!) on an empty stomach. L-Lysine is just an amino acid that’s in chicken and soybeans especially. (Remember Jurassic Park? Lack of this was supposed to kill off the dinosaurs, but they found it in other foods.)
          I really hope this approach can help you.

          1. I know a few things*

            L-Lysine is what I use and my cold sores have gotten fewer and farther between since I’ve been doing so.

  2. ChemistryChick*

    Ugh, wtf.

    OP, I’m so sorry you had to deal with that. You definitely didn’t do anything wrong.

    Also, YouTube has tonnnnsss of SFX makeup tutorials if you’re inclined to take the last paragraph to heart. Which I think would be hilarious.

    1. Wine Not Whine*

      Yanno, I was starting to get my back up just a wee bit at that last paragraph…until I re-read it (because what I read originally is NOT Alison’s usual vibe). At which point I laughed until I almost dropped my phone.
      OP, I get cold sores any time I get overheated, overtired, or any other time my immune system is stressed. I’ve received occasional expressions of concern (when multiples made it look as though I’d fallen or been hit), but NEVER have been told I looked unprofessional.
      Both managers here are way off base, and yours in particular owes you an apology.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        I’d be having fun with this, as I didn’t have a single cold sore from March of 2020 through May of 2021 (save actually having Covid). My body gets stressed, I get cold sores.

        Since they’ve allowed us unmasked in the office if vaccinated, and then unmasked period with a suggestion that those unvaccinated need to wear one, I’ve had at least one cold sore for the duration, typically more. Its been an awesome 10 weeks, not that I’m counting or anything /s.

      2. Anax*

        Not to mention… how easy IS it to recognize a cold sore, versus all the other reasons you might have a sore or cut on your mouth, especially from across the room?!

        I’ve never had a cold sore, but I’ve definitely been asked if I had one when my chapped lips have cracked at the corners, or even a really weird razor nick.

    2. Properlike*

      That last paragraph was the snark I needed. Thank you, Alison!

      I don’t remember who originally posted on AAM the term “malicious compliance” but I would be tempted to go in that route, too. Ask for a meeting to say, “Exactly how should I professionally take care of my *medical condition*? Does it extend to bad acne? Dark circles under my eyes? If I get a mastectomy, am I required to wear prosthetics to be professional? (Thinking of another poster’s situation.)” Make them the ones who have to embrace the ridiculous.

      But SFX make-up for sores is not too hard (liquid latex) and I doubt that awful manager would get close enough to notice fine details.

      1. Shad*

        I have a peeling sunburn right now (luckily, mostly in areas that are covered at work), and it would be insanely easy to replicate a really nasty one with latex! Even a full or partial thickness burn with some sections getting graphic and others just peeling wouldn’t be too hard, and burning would explain away any color inconsistencies from the latex quite well.

      2. KK*

        +1
        Also, does this mean that if OP or another coworker takes up a semi dangerous hobby like roller derby or mountain biking, they can’t come in to work if they have mild injuries related to that? My coworker’s dad hurt himself while mountain biking Saturday, so he went into work today with 8 stitches in his face. I wonder what rude manager would have to say about him!

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          It may not be very charitable of me, but I don’t think this manager’s reaction happened because the LW had a visible injury on her face. I think it happened because the LW’s facial injury was caused by an illness that some people associate with an STI. This manager probably isn’t going to be this angry at a person who fell down the stairs or had a cycling accident, because she doesn’t think there’s anything morally wrong with climbing stairs or riding a bicycle. She’s mad because she thinks that seeing the LW’s medical symptoms gives her some sort of insight about LW’s moral behavior, and she believes that gives her the right to make comments about it. She is very, very wrong, about just about all the things.

      3. Tiny Soprano*

        Dark circles are probably off limits, because what if they were got by staying up late?? /s

        It’s making me think of the puritanical aunt and uncle from that episode of Blackadder II… “relatives are evidence of sssssssssex!”
        Not that coldsores are evidence of sex, of course, or unprofessional. If one pops up halfway through the afternoon what exactly is OP meant to do? Go home? Put a bag over their head? Goodness me!

  3. Construction Safety*

    Well, that manager would have been positively apoplectic if she saw the open boil on our Op. Mgr’s leg.
    Oh, and that one was totally unprofessional & unsanitary.

    1. NotJane*

      First off… Ew!

      Secondly, I’m not sure if it was so much that OP had a sore on her lip as it was the fact that it was a cold sore, which obviously equals herpes, which obviously equals OP being a sex-having harlot. In the mind of the pearl clutching manager, that is.

      I could be wrong, of course, but there are still a lot of people out there who think this way.

      1. quill*

        You would think the last year would have taught people that virtue is not a vaccine against viruses… and yet…

      2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        I made a similar comment below, but what I don’t quite get with this is that oral HSV-I prevalence used to be higher in children than it is now, and is higher in some parts of the world than it is in North America. It wasn’t that long ago that most people were assumed to have been exposed to HSV-I through casual contact as children. Yes, we know that cold sores are herpes, but it seems a bit implausible that someone who’s now an adult wouldn’t have at least some lived experience with people who’ve had cold sores that were very likely not contracted sexually? Did this person get through childhood without ever seeing a cold sore on a peer?

        1. alienor*

          I’m a mid-GenX-er and definitely remember seeing kids at school with cold sores. I don’t think I even knew they were herpes or that you could get them from sex/kissing/etc until my early teens, they were just something that some people got. I’ve never had one myself, but I wouldn’t be freaked out by someone who did.

        2. P*

          It’s my suspicion, not proven fact, that the chickenpox virus that came out in the 90s is correlated with the decline in childhood herpes.

      3. SophieSassypants*

        Yeah, I suspect uppity manager’s approach is rooted in some good old fashioned judginess, with a side of misinformation.

        Like, when I see a cold sore on someone’s face, sexual activity does not pop into my head. I can’t speak fully to whether it’s a “generational” thing, or if I’ve just absorbed enough sexual education over the years, but I assume it’s a cold sore (and even if it wasn’t, it’s none of my damn business.)

      4. Amaranth*

        There are also a lot of people who don’t think they should have to look at anything unappealing to them, and somehow it isn’t their responsibility to avert their sensitive eyes.

      5. Loredena Frisealach*

        Which is so weird. I used to get cold sores all the time as a teenager, probably due to having had chicken pox. As a much older adult it’s extremely rare that I get one!

  4. CM*

    I agree with everything Alison said, you did absolutely nothing wrong here. But it makes me uneasy that your manager wouldn’t acknowledge that. So just throwing this out there, you could consider wearing a mask on days when you have a cold sore if people at your office are going to give you a hard time about it. I am also prone to cold sores and I’m planning to do this once I return to the office.

    1. Threeve*

      There’s nothing wrong with having a less-than-flawless appearance. There’s something deeply wrong with making someone feel like there is, and people like that definitely don’t need to be accommodated.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        I have psoriasis and when I have an outbreak it looks like a bad case of poison ivy. I would love to run into this manager and have her comment on my arms when I wear short sleeves. I can lift my shirt and show her the torso from her worst nightmares.

    2. workworkwork*

      I can’t imagine wearing a mask over it. Mine are sooo sensitive, and prone to spread if I touch them. I imagine wearing a mask over them turning them into a huge painful mess. I would totally take time off for a cold sore (which I’m lucky enough only happen every 2-3 years for me now, unlike when I was a kid and got them a few times a year.)

      1. Not Today Satan*

        I am reliving my pain too. In my 20s I used to get a cold sore every 3 months. They were big, sore, and ugly. If I had to take a week of every time I had a cold sore I’d rarely be at work. I shudder at wearing a mask over it.
        Some of us have the Herpes virus in our systems. I’ve had chicken pox, my regular appearance of cold sores, and shingles–twice. It is something that is part of my life.

      2. Arts Akimbo*

        The KN-95 masks are shaped in such a way that they don’t touch your mouth, or at least my mouth! I do NOT think someone should feel the have to wear a mask over a cold sore, but if they wanted to, this is the mask I’d personally choose.

      3. tangerineRose*

        I had one recently (have had them occasionally since I was a kid), and the mask wasn’t a problem for me, but it might be for some people. Also, since I work from home, I only wore the mask for shorter periods of time (grocery runs, etc.), and I might not have put on the mask until it had had a couple of days to heal.

      4. Jackalope*

        On the other hand, I remember someone from the blog comments mentioning a few months ago that wearing a mask (I assume one that wasn’t touching her mouth directly) helped because it made her not touch it at all and it went away faster. I think the idea of covering it up so other people don’t have to look at it is a bad idea (and impractical), but IF the OP wants to try the mask for her own sake to see if this helps, it’s worth a try.

    3. Jean*

      I have a coworker who had such a severe outbreak of facial cold sores a couple of years ago that she wore a mask for a week (this was pre-pandemic, when it was unusual to see people in masks around here). It was for her own comfort and was certainly not requested or required by management. But it’s an option, especially now when masks in the workplace are common and unremarkable. I hope it feels better soon OP! And I’m sorry your coworker and manager were such jerks about it. Cold sores are so Not A Big Deal, it’s shocking to me that anyone would even notice a small single one, much less comment.

      1. KathrynPryde*

        I just had a cold sore on Friday. I wore a mask when I was out in public getting groceries. The level of comfort that has been given back to me by wearing that mask has made me feel much better about the situation. Seeing all the comments about people being so understanding, and so kind about people having cold sores has also been a comfort.

    4. LilyP*

      I wouldn’t preemptively do anything different, but I would go back to your manager and ask her to explain exactly what she expects you to do next time you have a cold sore. You don’t want to be caught by surprise if they’re going to double down on expecting a mask or makeup or something else.

      1. foolofgrace*

        The next time I get one, I would look forward to this other manager criticizing me. I wouldn’t be caught off-guard this time and I could say something. Not sure what I’d say, though. “Would you prefer I take sick time every time I get one? Because that’s not going to happen.” “Thank you for your kind concern.” “Maybe you shouldn’t get so close to my cold sore, it might be contagious.” I’m sure there are much better things to say.

        1. Caliente*

          How about Why are you always up in my grill, MA’AM?
          Or The fact that you’re always staring at me and commenting on my appearance makes me extremely uncomfortable and is very unprofessional. Stand down.

        2. Lauren*

          I would request more PTO officially through HR based on both managers attitude. Invite everyone to the meeting without context. Approach it as – ok manager X said I have to avoid coming to the office due to my medical condition and my manager Y wasn’t clear on expectations of me – let’s get clear now so that I am no longer unprofessional. How many more PTO days will you be offering in order to comply with this requirement that I not be in the office?

          1. Lauren*

            And if not PTO, what paperwork needs to happen for short term disability. Have a note from your doctor that states you have a medical condition too. MALICIOUS COMPLIANCE!

          2. Rose*

            Oh god, don’t do this. OPs manager handlers this poorly but they would still be annoying their manager and HR with their passive aggression and time wasting. It’s not going to help anything. People don’t get additional PTO based on other chronic health conditions; there’s no reason to expect cold sores would be different.

            1. Lauren*

              except crazy manager lady is saying its a requirement of her job, this conversation would force HR to tell her to back off. Otherwise she will continue to tell people that OP is unprofessional with no context at all. Would you want years of your career dismissed as unprofessional with no way to challenge it? OP is going to end up with a bad rep based on literally nothing. This woman has proven she will say stuff to others about her and then not even give details. What happens if that info is used as a feeling – at raise time, promotions? how about layoffs? This needs to be nipped in the bud now.

        3. Rose*

          Why threaten that you might be contagious? There’s a good chance that’s why she was being so rude in the first place; a lot of people don’t fully understand how cold sores spread.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        The manager is likely to say “cover it with makeup” which I don’t think is possible with a cold sore.

        1. Ruth*

          No it is not, at least in my experience. I even tried these cold sore patches that theoretically you can cover up with makeup, and it just looked like I had some plastic on my lip that I’d smeared some foundation on top of. It drew more attention to the area than just a cold sore!

          1. Tiny Soprano*

            And if you don’t use a sticky you pretty much have to throw out the brushes or sponges you used. A friend from back in the performing days used to get them, and you’re absolutely right that they’re less noticeable when they’re not covered in a thick layer of crusty stage foundation.

        2. MassMatt*

          I was going to say this. I assume this is on the lip; and affects both the texture as well as color of the lip, I don’t see how any amount of lipstick or lip gloss would cover it, and wouldn’t applying makeup simply aggravate the symptoms?

          Perhaps the random manager just prefers not to see cold sores, but how does she expect that to happen? This could mean a LOT of sick time used when the employee is perfectly capable of working.

          Major side-eye to both managers in the story; LW’s manager in particular seems like an untrustworthy weasel for a)accepting and passing on such an unspecified complaint (since when is having a cold sore “behavior”, anyway?) and b)not giving LW a clear answer if she did something wrong. I’d be wary of the manager passing the buck and throwing me under the bus in future.

        3. Keymaster of Gozer*

          It’s not. Herpes virus flare ups (colds sores, mono, chicken pox etc are all herpes viruses) really can’t be smothered in makeup without making a bad situation worse.

          (I used to research herpesviruses as my career)

          Cold sores on the face are extremely prone to ‘weeping’ and often the skin cracks and bleeding results. I’ve had so many cold sores this last year! Putting makeup, concealer et al on them increases the risk of a secondary infection and also will likely look dreadful as the cold sore weeps on the makeup starts to stream down with it.

          The best thing to do with them (once they’ve appeared there’s not really much an antiviral agent can do) is keep them as clean as possible and don’t pick at them.

    5. Bee*

      I’m prone to the occasional massive cystic zit on my chin, and I hate them so much and have loved being able to cover them with masks – which, bonus, also keeps me from touching/picking at them!

    6. Ann Onymous*

      There’s a lot of discussion here about how to cover up a cold sore, but it kinda misses the point. The OP shouldn’t have to cover a cold sore unless it makes them more comfortable to do so, and both managers were out of line in making OP feel they did anything wrong.

    7. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I think that really risks aggravating the cold sore and spreading it. Also, makeup can really aggravate it too.

  5. AGD*

    Yikes! This is middle-school-level behavior from your coworker. Let’s be contemptuous about other people’s bodies and twist the knife about visible things we think are icky! Won’t that be fun?

    1. Threeve*

      “So funny! I was actually going to say something similar about how bad your pit stains were yesterday, but I thought it might be rude.”

  6. Mental Lentil*

    I’m sorry you experienced this, OP. This woman is beyond ridiculous. If it were me, I’d just add her to my “WTF?” file and move on.

  7. Amber Rose*

    “But I’d be awfully tempted to consult with someone who does special effects makeup and learn how to give yourself an ever-changing procession of open sores and wounds all over any exposed area of your body from now on.”

    OMG yes please! Just show up casually with like, the most gruesome, “I just got half my face melted off yesterday” kind of look. I would pay money to see it.

    I suffered from cold sores through most of my childhood and get them infrequently as an adult. They’re awkward and sort of painful but much like zits or periods or bruises etc, they aren’t unprofessional, they are the consequences of being a human being in a human body that is occasionally prone to damage.

    Kinda begs the question what species that manager thinks they are.

    1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      I once got paid as a medical student to be a fake trauma patient for a trauma course. They hired professional makeup artists to give us gruesome wounds including on our faces. I walked home 2 miles (in Philly, so between West Philly and Center City) still wearing the makeup afterwards. No one said anything to me or even gave me a second glance that I noticed. City blinders I guess.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        When I was in college (Chicago) I got a role in a student film where I played someone who was hit by a car, and was given a similar make-up treatment. I took the L home after shooting and had a guy come up to me and ask if someone was hurting me. I explained it was just make up, but I really appreciated a stranger caring so much.

    2. Old Cynic*

      I would totally do the special effects thing.
      (and this suggestion is one of the many, many reasons that Alison rocks!)

  8. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

    As someone who also gets the occasional cold sore, IS there a good way to cover them up? I honestly haven’t figured out anything that doesn’t make them stand-out more (concealer, for example, seems to highlight them).

    That said, a light application of Vaseline when one starts up has done wonders for keeping them small and less painful.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      Blistex works great for cold sores in my opinion. But I don’t think anything really works to cover it up. And I know you have to be careful with chapstick and lipsticks because you shouldn’t touch the tube to your lip because it can infect the tube and you can keep spreading the sores.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        In case anyone hasn’t heard of it (I didn’t know about it until pretty recently), what really works is a prescription for a large dose of antiviral medication – I think I have the generic of Valtrex? – that you take for a day or two when you feel the cold sore developing. Total game-changer.

        My doc is happy to prescribe enough for 2-3 instances and I just keep one on hand so I don’t need to scramble to refill a prescription at the time, since taking it as early as possible in the outbreak increases effectiveness.

        1. Jamie Starr*

          Yes, this is a game changer. I don’t get cold sores, but fever blisters when I’m worn down or very stressed. I used to suffer and use campho-phenique. One day I was at my dermatologists and she saw I had one. She wrote me a Rx for Valtrex and it was amazing! I carry one with me at all times and when I feel the telltale itch/tingle I take it. Most of the time the blister never even forms — maybe I’ll have a small bump or cluster of bumps for a day or two. I use that in combination with Abreeva and it’s never failed.

          1. anonymous seal*

            FYI – cold sores, fever blisters, oral herpes – hsv1 – they’re all the same thing! We just have a bunch of names for them with varying degrees of stigma attached.

            For what it’s worth, I’ve found taking l-lysine supplements daily has made it so I rarely get one.

            1. Jamie Starr*

              I think of cold sores as having crusty scabs whereas fever blisters are blisters. My fever blisters have never been crusty open sores even at their worst. Even if they’re the same virus, the result is not the same hence why I refer to mine as fever blisters. It’s a more accurate description for what mine look like.

            2. anonymous for this*

              thanks for posting this! was coming to say the same thing. my partner has hsv2 so i’ve done a ton of research. you can even get hsv2 in the oral region and hsv1 in the genital region (although those kinds of cases happen less frequently). i’m sure the offending manager’s reaction was due to the stigma associated with oral herpes.

            3. DollarStoreParty*

              as soon as I feel one coming on I immediately start taking Valtrex, which my dentist prescribed after I had implants and developed 3 from my mouth being open for so long. It defeats them so they never really emerge.

            4. Formerly in HR*

              Thee’s also an l-lysine gel/ointment that, when applied at first signs, helps with healing being faster and symptoms being massively reduced.

        2. Bob's Your Uncle*

          Yes, this one works wonders for me. Obviously check with your doctor first, but I have both pills and cream, and I take them as soon as I feel the cold sores coming. Now they don’t even form anymore.

        3. Dream Jobbed*

          I am very reluctant to use antibiotics for anything but the most severe things my body can’t fight off. I know a cold sore doesn’t look nice, but my body will heal it in time. I’ll save the antibiotics for when not being antibiotic resistant will save my life or limb. Just be aware there can be health consequences for taking a lot of antibiotics.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            It’s not an antibiotic, it’s an antiviral. I don’t know much about the biology and whether more widespread use of antivirals could cause issues, but it’s not contributing to antibiotic resistance.

            1. Fieldpoppy*

              what guacamole bob said. valtrex is s life-changer. cold sores are systemic — it’s a recurrence of the herpes virus in your entire system, not just on your lip. It shuts down the whole 10 day cycle. And it has nothing to do with antibiotics or AB resistance.

            2. Keymaster of Gozer*

              Large use of antivirals cannot cause viral resistance the way bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. The mechanisms by which they reproduce are so dissimilar.

              (This is also why vaccines don’t cause vaccine resistant strains of viruses)

            3. Dream Jobbed*

              Thanks for all the info. Good stuff to know that I didn’t. Part of avoiding drugs is not knowing much about them. :) Sorry for the false analogy!

          2. ElizabethJane*

            On top of that there are very real consequences to leaving a cold sore. Your immune system is essentially distracted during an outbreak, leaving you more susceptible to other infections. For most people most of the time it’s fine, but why not treat it if you can.

          3. Storm in a teacup*

            As Guac Bob has said it’s not an antibiotic it’s an antiviral. Valtrex contains valaciclovir which is a prodrug of aciclovir (basically once it’s absorbed your body converts val to aciclovir).
            Aciclovir is the ingredient you get in a lot of cold sore creams. Both extremely useful
            NB Americans do you still spell these names with a y instead of an i?
            Also OP – it sounds like your boss wasn’t going to mention it until you bought it up which suggests she didn’t put any store by the complaint. If next time you have a sore it happens again then speak to your manager at the time and ask her to address it. It sounds like she has your back and is probably trying not to criticise a colleague in front of you

          4. NotJane*

            Valtrex isn’t an antibiotic, it’s an antiviral medication, because herpes is a viral, not a bacterial, infection, and antibiotics don’t work on viruses (see: Covid-19). And as Guacamole Bob said above, you only have to take it for a few days when you feel an outbreak coming on. So we’re not talking long term, chronic usage, regardless of the type of medication.

            Also, it’s not you, as a person, who will become resistant to antibiotics due to overuse/over-prescribing; it’s the bacteria that becomes resistant (e.g., MRSA).

          5. quill*

            Fun fact, antibiotics aren’t in the question: herpes is a viral infection and prescriptions against cold sores are antivirals, not antibiotics!

            Antibiotics create resistance because they are, essentially, germ poison, and some germs are slightly less susceptible. But any germ which has built up a tiny resistance to iocane powder, and is therefore only mostly dead is suddenly the most competitive germ in your ecosystem when you use an antibiotic and all its friends die, so after a lot of exposures you get a whole population of antibiotic resistant dread pirate roberts germs.

            The reason Antivirals don’t create the same problem is that instead of feeding a bacteria a poison in a cup, they are actually focused on keeping the cells a virus would otherwise hijack from being invaded. Sort of like a suit of armor for your cells.

            I hope this helps!

            1. Student Affairs Sally*

              Using The Princess Bride to explain antibiotic resistance . . . I think I’m in twoo wuv!

            2. Kat in VA*

              I’m reading this a day later and laughing like crazy. Thank you so much, fellow person who uses movie plots as analogies to explain things.

          6. Student*

            You, the human, do not become antibiotic-resistant. Bacteria become antibiotic-resistant.

            This happens when bacteria strains are exposed to some antibiotics, but not enough to kill them (for example, when you don’t finish the full course of antibiotics by stopping taking the pills early as soon as you feel good). Then the bacteria get enough exposure to potentially develop a counter-measure (through luck in their evolution).

            The other way it happens is when normal bacteria meet up with bacteria that are already antibiotic-resistant. Bacteria can, to a limited degree, trade counter-measures to each other, essentially “teaching” each other. So, you go to a hospital, get exposed to a superbug that is already antibiotic-resistant, and it might teach some other bacteria you’ve got how to be antibiotic-resistant, too.

            It’s good to not take antibiotics when it’s unnecessary, so that you don’t create more antibiotic-resistant strains. It’s more important to always take your full course of antibiotics when you are on them. And it’s most important to avoid hospital stays unnecessarily (where most human antibiotic-resistant superbugs are found, sadly). I’m also told that antibiotic over-use in farm animals is a huge contributor to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but I’m less familiar with that area of research.

          7. Lexie*

            Antibiotics are for bacterial infections, they do nothing for viral infections. Cold sores are viral so the treatment would be an antiviral medication.

          8. AnonNurse*

            That is 100% the best way to approach antibiotics. I know others have said it but I also wanted to include that antivirals are not the same thing and do not develop resistance in the way antibiotics do and also don’t have the potential for gastrointestinal side effects and things of that nature like antibiotic do. I also take Valtrex for my cold sores/fever blisters/oral herpes (whatever anyone wants to call it) outbreaks and it has changed what can be huge, 2 week ordeals, in to them being prevented or gone in 1-2 days. I’m not giving medical advice by any means, just clarifying about antivirals and how much of a life’s changer they can be for those who choose to take them.

        4. Astor*

          I typed this up for a reply directly to I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings, but I’m moving it up here:

          I don’t have a recommendation for how to cover them up, but my health insurance covers related prescriptions and it made a HUGE difference for me. They’re not just way less painful; they’re so much smaller that they’re essentially invisible. Now mine never get bigger than the slightly inflamed tingly area that’s common before they erupt. You have to use them within the first day of symptoms for them to be effective, and I keep my prescriptions filled because earlier is even better.

          I have two prescriptions:
          * Valaciclovir pills. My Rx is to take 4 immediately when I notice the tingling, and then 4 more pills 12 hours later. My understanding is that others might take less pills at a time but continue taking it for longer.
          * Aciclovir cream. I use it immediately when I notice the tingling, and my Rx is for 5x a day until the symptoms are entirely gone. I keep the tube in a travel size q-tips case with q-tips to make application easiest and safest.

          I’m in Canada so I know prescriptions and costs can vary from the US. My doctor said that the Abreva cream is the best over the counter option, but that the prescriptions are significantly more effective and he recommends them to anyone who can afford them. I really wish I had known about these prescriptions before I saw this doctor. I usually go years and years between outbreaks, but occasionally I get a few a year and the prescription has made them significantly easier to handle.

          1. Astor*

            Oh, and the sun! Lip-specific sunscreen is important, and a regular sunscreen won’t stay put as well. I can’t find any great options in Canada so I started to get the Vanicream Lip Protectant from the US. It doesn’t have any flavour (fragrance) in it, which is a huge disruption for healthy healing, plus it also uses mineral sunscreens which are better for lots of people with sensitive skin than the other active ingredients available in the US/Canada (Europe and Asia have access to more variety of active sunscreen ingredients.)

            Any lip-specific sunscreen that doesn’t have flavour is probably good, but if you aren’t sure which one to buy then the vanicream one is the best! It does have a bit of a cast to it, so people with darker lips than me might want to apply something with a colour afterward.

          2. NotRealAnonForThis*

            **waves hand** USA here – I have a similar Rx, including the crazy high dosages 12 hours apart and then done. My pharmacist continually flags it as “you don’t dare take it like this”. So I always double check with my prescribing Dr. who says “for more than one day, that’s correct, you don’t. But that’s not what I’m telling you to do!”

            My generic meds are very cost effective. < $20 USD a fill. I might go through a fill in a year.

          3. just passing through*

            Does anyone know if there’s a similar way of dealing with shingles? I have the chicken pox virus in my system, had a small but EXCRUCIATING case of shingles when I was 16, and live in terror of getting it again. OUCH.

            1. TS*

              Shingles outbreaks occur when your immune system is suppressed, so they tend to happen when we’re highly stressed and not getting enough sleep. Our immune system also tends to become less effective as we age. Fortunately there is a vaccine. In Canada it’s recommended for everyone 50 years old and older. I’m not a medical professional, so defiantly talk to your doctor about it.

        5. It all started with a goat*

          Oh man, that is useful information! I had a herpes outbreak in my eye 10 years ago and it was the most excruciating thing. I will definitely ask for this if I have a re-occurrence.

          1. WS*

            If you suspect it’s happening again, get to a doctor ASAP – the earlier you get onto the antiviral medication, the better. And when you’re old enough (over 60 for most people) you can get a vaccine!

      2. Worldwalker*

        I always get them at the worst possible times — not coincidentally, also the times I’m most stressed. Also the times I’ve had the least sleep, which is something I need to focus on.

        I’m going to be part of a game design workshop at DragonCon this year (talk about impostor syndrome!) and I’m pretty sure I’m going to show up wearing a black shirt, a company hat, and a cold sore front and center. And I will spend two days standing in front of bunch of people trying not to poke at my cold sore.

        I’ve found Abreva works, though not quickly enough. But I’ve never found anything I can cover it up with that doesn’t make me want to poke at that stuff, too, and make everything worse.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          For me, it’s stress and sun that are triggers. When I got married, we did our honeymoon first at Disneyworld, then flew out of Orlando airport about 45 minutes before Hurricane Irma shut the whole place down to go meet our friends and family in Vegas for the actual wedding, so of course the cold sore is front and center in my wedding pictures :P

          1. gmg22*

            Stress is such a trigger! The day I moved into my college dorm, I literally had a ring of cold sores around my entire mouth. Aaaaagh.

        2. Seashells*

          Any chance your doctor would prescribe the medication mentioned above and you could take start taking it before and then during convention?

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            I was once in a circumstance where getting a cold sore would have been Very Bad (turns out you can’t enter the NICU if you have an active cold sore) and my doctor put me on a maintenance dose of Valtrex. So preventive dosage is a thing that exists – whether it makes sense for Worldwalker would be up to their doc, of course.

            1. ADR*

              This is going to sound wild, I guess, but I have taken 500 mg a day for ten years. I used to get one cold sore on my lips every several months or so. I hated it – especially the part where it would crack and bleed for several days before finally healing. But I would be very paranoid about my nieces when they were born – even kissing them on the cheek would make me feel guilty for two weeks in case I felt a tingle coming on or in case I could transmit without symptoms. And then when I became pregnant I got very nervous about it and I ended up going on a maintenance dose while I was pregnant and just never stopped. I do take 2000 mg twice in 12 hours if I feel one coming on. I don’t know if they are possibly bad health effects from such a long-term usage, but it makes me feel better and my doctor does not object. I don’t kiss my son on the lips either, but he doesn’t like that anyway.

          2. Worldwalker*

            I’m planning to ask. An antiviral for a cold sore seems like blasting a mouse with a bazooka, but I’m going to be surrounded by a bunch of well-known people (hence the impostor syndrome) and really, *really* don’t want to mess up.

            1. Fieldpoppy*

              A cold sore is an indicator of a systemic viral wave that also affects sleep, fatigue etc. It makes a huge difference to your overall wellbeing to take the drugs.

            2. Former prof*

              Acyclovir is used specifically for herpes simplex, is very safe and works amazingly well. You can get a prescription to keep on hand for trigger times – stress, dehydration, too much sun.

            3. quill*

              Unlike antibiotics, the mechanism of antivirals is highly unlikely to cause resistance. (Because a virus does not have a metabolism, unlike a bacteria, so an antiviral is all about locking the doors to your cells that a virus uses, then throwing away the key.)

              So, absent unusual circumstances (do ask your doctor to explain it if you’re still worried! I’m just a lab rat and don’t know your medical history!) it’s more of shooting a mouse with an arrow than a bazooka in most cases.

            4. Keymaster of Gozer*

              Antivirals for cold sores really have to be taken before the sore becomes apparent if they are going to be really affective. Once the sore has actually appeared it’s at its most infectious and really recommend not touching it any more than you have to. Having said that, I dab vaseline on mine to try and prevent the dreaded cracked skin and bleeding down my face.

              (Unless you’re going for a zombie look of course)

            5. Properlike*

              Worldwalker, I know nothing about you (except that you get cold sores), but I want you to hear this, as I’m somewhat familiar with your field: YOU WOULDN’T BE THERE IF YOU WEREN’T CAPABLE AND ABLE TO CONTRIBUTE. You have a unique combination of skills and perspective that no one else can offer. For real.

              If you weren’t already aware, famous, well-known people differ from you only in (possibly) years of experience or great skills in certain areas that brought them lots of attention. I’ll bet they also have a team of people helping amplify their skills/vision/talent. Most likely they have the same imposter syndrome, with the added weirdness of people treating them like superior humans.

              Act with them like you’d act with any other colleague whose work you enjoy, with appropriate deference to their experience/rank. You’ve got this!

        3. quill*

          From my experience the earlier you catch the cold sore the smaller it stays. Granted, mine have never had a problem staying very local…

        4. ArmyOfSkanks*

          Hi fellow DragonCon goer! I get stress-related cold sores too, and in addition to the magic of acyclovir mentioned below, one random internet remedy that actually seems to help me is putting an ice cube in a paper towel and icing the absolute shit out of the relevant area at the first hint of tingle. Like, don’t give yourself frostbite, but get to the point where you’re questioning it, lol! But really, acyclovir before icing, even. I promise you won’t regret it!

          Also, congrats on the workshop; I’m sure you’ll do great!

    2. gmg22*

      I’ve had them chronically since I was a kid, though they have thankfully gotten much less frequent. I would have lost my damn MIND if a colleague had ever given me a hard time about looking “unprofessional” because of a cold sore. They were, for better or worse, a very frustrating part of my life and appearance for a long time before I got my management routine down.

      My hot tips from a lifetime of cold sore suffering:

      1) Admittedly this is a controversial practice, and if you do this you need to be very careful to disinfect everything you use and wash hands thoroughly — but I will sometimes lance a cold sore blister with a pin in the early going so it forms a small scab quickly as opposed to a larger one later.
      2) Abreva, which works just fine to dry out the area and keep swelling down.
      3) Lemon balm salve, my newest discovery of the past couple of years — this really does speed healing time very impressively and reduce the appearance of scabs.
      4) Toothpaste that doesn’t contain sodium lauryl sulfate. Turns out a fair number of people have an allergy or sensitivity to this chemical, which is a foaming agent and really not needed to keep your teeth clean — when I started using Sensodyne, which is SLS-free, my cold sore frequency dropped from 3-4 times a year to less than once a year. I used to get canker sores much more often, too — now very rarely.

      I never found Valtrex or similar antiviral meds to work all that well for cold sores, but I know some people swear by them.

      1. Alara*

        Not OP, if you happen to have a recommendation for the lemon balm salve, I’d love to hear it! Thanks for the tips.

        1. gmg22*

          Sure! The salve I got is made by a company called WiseWays Herbals; you can find it on Amazon in a couple different sizes/containers.

      2. Eukomos*

        Seconded on the Abreva, if I put some of that on as soon as I feel one forming it cuts my recovery time in half, and sometimes halts the formation of the sore entirely. That stuff is a miracle!

      3. Somewhere in Texas*

        I also take Lysine and drink lots of water, which helps speed up the healing process. Once it’s started “healing” I move to Campophenique. It stings, but it helps scab and heals faster for me.

      4. RabbitRabbit*

        Agreed on the SLS-free toothpaste for reducing/avoiding canker sores entirely. If you’re having trouble finding ones in the US, I find that Sensodyne and similar toothpastes frequently meet this criteria, just check the label to be sure.

      5. ElizabethJane*

        Related I’ve had good luck making my own lemon balm compress. The plant grows like a weed so it should be easy enough to keep for just about anyone. I take a handful of leaves, chop them up and toss them in a little jar. Cover with a light oil like grapeseed oil and let it sit in the sun for 8 hours or so to infuse and then strain and store in the fridge for up to 4 weeks. I use a q-tip to apply like a chapstick and it works super well

      6. Keymaster of Gozer*

        COld camomile tea bags against the sore for me – I have no idea if it works but it stops me picking at them,

    3. NYC Taxi*

      There isn’t a good way to cover them. They look worse and more obvious with makeup caked on them, plus the makeup makes them feel more irritated. I just put on some Blistex and wait for it to go away. OP’s coworker needs to mind her own business, and it’s pretty disappointing that OP’s own manager didn’t seem to back up OP.

    4. Mags*

      Compeed Cold Sore Patches. It is medicated so it helps with the cold sore and you can put lipstick over it if you want (since the actual cold sore is covered). I am SLIGHTLY allergic to the adhesive (because of course) but it is great for concealment and it does make it heal up a bit faster. I’ve got about five boxes in my medicine cabinet.

      1. M / P*

        Seconding this. I use the patches and they work great – in my experience they stop the itching immediately and make the cold sore heal fast.
        This doesn’t solve the problem of your manager but the patches were a game changer for me. Along with topical acyclovir that I used to carry with me.

    5. Ingrid from the pharmacy*

      A cream with aciclovir if you catch it within the first 24 hours. Later than that it is useless so just use a good cream to give it a “moist healing climate” (I have no idea how to translate that from Danish. I hope you get the picture.) La Roche Posay has a really good healing/reparation gel for lips. Kinda translucent so you can just smear a lot on the cold sore and then a thinner layer over the rest of your lips. Helps to hide it. Keep the sore covered at all times. Locobase Repair is also great but very visible.

      1. Ingrid from the pharmacy*

        (Caveat: the trick with cream is only for cold sores, no putting any cream on unhealed wounds and (more than very minor) scabs! Use specific band aids that create “moist healing climates” for those.)

    6. NotJane*

      Another cold sore sufferer here. I don’t think there’s any good way to cover them up. Not that I’ve ever tried, but I think applying concealer or lipstick or whatever would just make the cold sore more obvious. Plus, you’d have to keep reapplying the cover-up throughout the day, trying to conceal it might delay the healing process, etc.

      Also, cold sores take forever to heal! The last one I had took probably 2 weeks to fully clear up. No one’s taking that kind of time off from work for a cold sore.

    7. natnatboom*

      You can get patches which are often used for spots or acne as well, which have a gelling agent – it draws out the moisture and obviously keeps the sore covered. I use them during the day (sometimes cutting the patch down to size/easier placement with some clean nail scissors if needed) and then leave it open to air overnight. After 2-3 days, this has usually done the job of getting the nasty stage out of the way and it can scab and heal open to air. I find the patches especially good for being (a) more discreet, and (b) more hygenic because you’re not constantly touching the sore to reapply cream etc. Depending on placement, a patch can last a working day.

      1. Massive Dynamic*

        Hydrocolloid patches!! These are amazing, both for coverage and speeding healing time. Careful to get the ones without tea tree oil if you have a sensitivity to it.

      2. Sopranohannah*

        This is a great suggestion. I love these things for my occasional pimples. I’ve been getting a brand with tea tree oil and they usually clear them up overnight.

      3. different seudonym*

        A million thanks–had no idea these patches were a thing. I knew the principle, and was messily MacGyvering my own with neosporin and waterproof bandaids. This is so much better!

    8. Myrin*

      My sister gets bad cold sores frequently and she now uses round little plasters made specifically for them. They’re hydrocolloid-based and while also working as a general cover, they apparently dry out the sores really well. And even though they’re see-through, they generally flatten the sores in such a way that they become almost invisible. It doesn’t always work 100% but according to my sister, they’re akin to magic.

    9. Meg*

      yeah that was my first thought to. I absolutely hate when I get cold sores (thankfully less often now as an adult) and I’m always so embarrassed by them. I have found using Abreva starting as soon as I start to feel one coming on helps them not get as bad/last as long.

      But no idea how I would even cover them up. Plus, as someone who deeply loves lipstick I immediately stop using any the moment I feel a cold sore so that I don’t contaminate the lipstick. I suppose I could disinfect them afterwards, but that’s such a pain.

    10. Butterfly Counter*

      I honestly haven’t figured out anything that doesn’t make them stand-out more (concealer, for example, seems to highlight them).

      When I get a cold sore, I put Carmex on it, because Carmex is supposed to alleviate cold sores. I don’t know if it does help, but it will make them more shiny and noticeable. It’s like cold-sore-highlighter. Maybe they could come up with an arrow that heals cold sores. –Mitch Hedberg

    11. AnonEMoose*

      It doesn’t cover them up, but Abreva does help make them not get as big or last as long. My husband and I both get them occasionally…we keep some on hand so we can start applying it as soon as we can tell one’s about to happen, and it does help.

    12. Miss V*

      My usual method is to put about four coats of mascara on. It doesn’t actually do anything to hide the cold sore, but it does draw attention away from my mouth to my eyes, so if nothing else I feel more confident about it.

      LW, I’m so sorry you had to deal with this. Agreeing with everyone else that you didn’t do anything wrong. I’m pretty sure the normal response to seeing someone else with a cold sore/pimple/whatever, is to think ‘ouch, that looks painful’ and then give it no more thought.

    13. Allison*

      Same. I can apply Blistex to help with the pain and shorten the duration, but it’s close enough to my mouth that concealer would take a LOT of precision to cover neatly, and it isn’t really gonna hold up throughout the workday.

    14. yala*

      I would think that might be a benefit of masks being more common. The one time my mom wore one without complaining was when she had dental work done and was waiting on a replacement.

    15. ENFP in Texas*

      I don’t know about covering, but I have started using ABREVA at the first sign of a tingle, and it is a game-changer. HIGHLY recommended.

    16. Opalled*

      Nothing to add on covering them up but I’ve had cold sores since I was a child and I’ve tried all the different things: Abreva, carmex, etc. What really works is bee propolis mixed with raw honey. The mixture put directly on the area will shorten the length and size of the blister; if I feel like one is starting to form and catch it early, sometimes the mixture curtails it. Bonus is that it actually tastes good if you get it in your mouth.

    17. Claire*

      I get cold sores frequently, and have found one shade of lipstick that actually does somewhat cover them up a bit: Clinique lipstick in Bamboo Pink. Keep a tube that you only use with an outbreak, so you don’t cross-contaminate.

  9. MeTwoToo*

    This person was awful. I work in health care and am also prone to cold sores triggered by stress. 2021 was a nightmare for me, but at least there were masks! Early on I did try covering them with make-up and that only made them worse. If she dares to mention it again, I would go directly to a chilly ‘How kind of you to take an interest’.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      Plus I try to keep my makeup away from them, because I don’t want to risk contaminating the makeup.

    2. Dream Jobbed*

      There’s a solution for all of us – wear a mask and say you’re feeling under the weather and don’t want to risk spreading it to anyone.

      1. Amaranth*

        I’d be tempted to wear one and whenever someone looked at me questioningly I’d sweetly remark “Oh, I’m not contagious, but Phyllis complained that cold sores are unprofessional and I should go home.”

  10. Katherine Vigneras*

    What a crappy way to treat someone. Cold sores aren’t chic, but they’re certainly not unprofessional. OP, I hope the cold sore went as painlessly and quickly as possible, and I hope your mean boss steps on a Lego.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      If I notice a cold sore on someone, I don’t think they’re unprofessional. If anything, I think “ouch…that looks painful” and move on.

      1. Katherine Vigneras*

        Exactly. The most attention they get from me is, ooh, that sucks, hope it’s on the mend.

        1. Katherine Vigneras*

          (My internal dialogue, of course. My external dialogue is to not comment on anything that wasn’t a choice, and certainly not in the negative.)

        1. AnonEMoose*

          I tend to get them if I’m super stressed, fighting some other kind of illness, or both.

  11. maggie98765*

    I’m so sorry you went through this. Nobody likes cold sores; they are painful and ugly. That she felt more of a need to scold you for something out of your control than to be compassionate speaks volumes about her. But I also wanted to say I suffered from cold sores often when I was younger but they’re completely gone now as long as I take L-Lysine, an amino acid that’s cheap and available in any drug store without a prescription (it’s kept with the vitamins). You might want to ask your doctor about it –it was a godsend for me.

    Take care.

    1. Two Dog Night*

      I’ve also had good results with L-Lysine–I used to get horrible cold sores several times a year, but since I started taking it I’ve hardly had any, and they’ve been tiny.

      But, LW, as everyone has said, you didn’t do anything wrong. The manager who spoke to you behaved horribly, and your manager should have had your back.

      1. gmg22*

        I forgot to put L-Lysine on my list above! Yes. I start on 1,000 mg twice a day as soon as I feel the telltale tingle of a cold sore. Definitely helps.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          Ditto – I call this “invoking the lysine contingency” because I watched Jurassic Park too many times as a child. :)

        2. Two Dog Night*

          I take 500 mg every day, which might be overkill, but it doesn’t seem to do any harm. I’ve never been good at noticing when cold sores are coming on, even after all that practice….

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      L-Lysine is good for canker sores too. I don’t take it all the time, I just start taking it twice a day when I feel a sore coming on. It makes the healing time so much faster.

    3. Unkempt Flatware*

      Yep. When I get the itch or tingle, I take 3000mgs and the sore doesn’t come. If I have one already, 3000mgs per day will take it down in a couple of days

  12. Observer*

    and “follow any reasonable requests or instructions.”

    Well, “go home because you have a cold sore” does not qualify. I’m betting that your manager wouldn’t give you a straight answer because she has the mistaken idea that she needs to be “supportive” of other managers, no matter how stupid they are being and / or because they didn’t push back on the original complaint and doesn’t want to walk that back now.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I’m going to give the OP’s manager the benefit of the doubt and say that they just listened to the other managers complaint, but didn’t think too much of it. And when the OP brought up the situation the manager was just gobsmacked that a coldsore was what the other manager was talking about and didn’t know how to respond to OP.

      1. Sleeve McQueen*

        That’s what I wondered too. Like maybe your manager doesn’t think much of Herpes Cop Helen and so didn’t get more detail in the initial conversation because she doesn’t really care what she thinks. Not the best way to handle it because she needs to protect OP better, but because she didn’t know the nature of the conversation she didn’t think to do it.

  13. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP doesn’t explicitly state it, but I’m getting a strong whiff of gender imbalance out of this. Would the manager say the same thing to male employees (who don’t typically wear makeup, unless they are newscasters or stage actors)?

    1. RVA Cat*

      I thought so too.
      I could see this co-worker telling a male employee with razor bumps he’s being “unprofessional” when not only is it also out of his control, it’s something that especially affects men of color.

  14. Elizabeth Bennet*

    For those of us who get cold sores I recommend:
    – taking Lysine as soon as one starts to form seems to prevent it from becoming too large and noticeable.
    -using prescription gel on the cold sore (there’s also a lot of over the counter stuff available now)

    OP – this person was being a jerk and your manager should have been more supportive. Take care.

  15. Allypopx*

    This hit me right now because I’m at a new job and I have a scab on my lip (not a cold sore) and am doing a daily dance of “does it look more professional to leave it be or have this weird obvious cakey makeup patch on my lip”

    And what I’m ultimately judging is what people might think quietly, and probably forget in a week. If someone PULLED ME ASIDE I’d have a meltdown. Probably a more public one than you described.

    I’m sorry this happened and you did absolutely nothing wrong, but I’d take this as a serious observation about your workplace culture – given your managers reaction – and avoid the other coworker like the plague.

  16. cncx*

    how awful. i get cold sores AND as luck would have it last year i got facial shingles which would not go away because doctors kept thinking it was a cold sore (so i was getting cold sore dosage instead of shingles dosage) and i had a visible lesion on my lip for a good 12 weeks. Most of it was during lockdown in my country but in America there is no way i wouldn’t have come in, what get fmla for a cold sore lol…this awful lady thinking you can control cold sores… my coworker here was like “we all get them why are you so upset” somewhere around week eight when i was just fed up. i took the normal precautions the weeks i was in in terms of touching people’s equipment and using my own cups and silverware but gee you can’t really control cold sores (or shingles). I still have nerve damage on my face so kids, if you are eligible for the shingles vaccine and you’ve had chicken pox, get it if you can.

    1. Sled Dog Mama*

      UGH, I had shingles over my right hip for 6 months before I was diagnosed (I was 24 at the time). Just pain no lesions to make it obvious what was going on. I really feel for you. A few years later I developed a tingling on one side of my face, fortunately my doctor decided to believe me and gave me the Antiviral horse pills, I have no idea what I would have done if that had developed into full blown shingles. I too have some nerve damage over my hip from that going on so long but I still count myself a lot luckier than my grandmother who had shingles when I was 4 and spent the next 25 years unable to have anything touch her leg.
      My Dad made an appointment to get his shingles vaccine the for the day he was eligible because apparently with a blood relative who had shingles his chances of having it went way up, with his mother and daughter having it, he was taking no chances.

      1. tangerineRose*

        The shingles vaccine has to be administered twice last time I checked, but it’s still so much better than getting shingles.

  17. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    The moment’s passed, but I would have responded “My supervisor is Alison; talk to her and have her send me home if she agrees.”

  18. LadyHouseOfLove*

    Ugh, back in high school, a friend of mine had a teacher pull her aside and asked, “Honey, do you have herpes?”

    My friend, who I really need to stress was 15 years old, coldly replied, “It’s just a cold sore” and walked away. Which, yeah, if you want to be technical, yes, it is officially called “herpes labialis,” but did you have to word it that way to a teenager? My friend made it clear to me that she lost a lot of respect for that teacher that day.

    I am glad we have there’s more of a normalization of masks in the States. I’m definitely wearing one when I get the occasional cold sore. What goes on my face is no one’s business but my own.

    1. bennie*

      i got cold sores because my mother, who gets them, passed them along to me – i’ve been having them since i was little. people are so fucking stupid.

    2. gmg22*

      As a lifelong sufferer of cold sores, there is nothing more infuriating to me than people who a)think in the first place that there should be some kind of stigma around herpes, which is carried by A LOT of people, and b)don’t even know the difference between oral and genital herpes anyway, so they say and do ignorant, hurtful stuff like this.

    3. Susan Calvin*

      No lie, it’s one of the more confusing for its subtlety language-and-culture barriers between German and English to figure out that technically, Herpes is Herpes is Herpes, but the connotations are so very different – here we also call the oral kind by its name, and if you mean the genital kind, you have to specify…

    4. Jessica Ganschen*

      I read once that before a treatment was invented for them, nobody really cared about oral or genital herpes in a moral sense. A lot of people had them, and a lot of people still do. It was like acne: kind of painful and a little unsightly, but otherwise not a big deal. So if you have a treatment that you want to sell to people, you have to convince them it’s not just a nuisance, but a PROBLEM. Quickly, quickly, run to your doctor and beg for a prescription! Before anyone finds out that you have the dreaded [strained whisper] herpes!

      1. Tiny Soprano*

        There’s a great episode of This Podcast Will Kill You that covers the demonisation of herpes in the US in the middle of the century. 100% the fault of companies wanting to sell products.

    5. tg*

      I thought it was herpes simplex? As another cold sore sufferer I have to say that manager was wrong…

      1. Wisteria*

        Colds are (usually) caused by HSV 1, although either HSV 1 or 2 can be responsible for any HSV lesion on any part of the body.

    6. Sara without an H*

      I like your friend. That’s an amazing level of aplomb for a 15-year-old.

    7. Allison*

      It’s so easy to get cold sores YEARS before you *ahem* start becoming intimate. You can get it from kissing, sharing drinking glasses, utensils, or lip balm, or anything else you put your mouth on. Cold sores are annoying enough, we don’t need to add shame to the mix.

      1. PT*

        This is why you’re not supposed to kiss babies any more. They could get herpes, and literally die.

  19. Kassie*

    Ignore that lady! But also, if it is something that bothers you, or you get them a lot, there are prescription medications that can help with cold sores, both in reducing their size and severity or preventing. I think a lot of people think they have to live with them, but that’s not the case.

  20. H*

    As someone who gets cold sores a number of times a year, not once have I been made to feel ashamed of having them. That ‘manager’ needs some guidance on how to treat sensitive issues. What would happen if a woman was on her period and had an accident (also something that has happened to me and a few colleagues)?? Would she be disgusted and outraged at that too??

  21. MMMMMmmmmMMM*

    I always abide by the adage: “Never comment on someone’s appearance about something they cannot fix in under 10 seconds.” i.e. food in teeth, smudged lipstick, etc. LW, this manager was incredibly rude. On days you do have sores, I’d just avoid her since you seem to not be getting any support from your manager.

  22. Junior Assistant Peon*

    “She replied that the other manager had spoken to her about my unprofessional behavior but hadn’t given her any details.”

    You’re guilty until proven innocent with this kind of stuff. I got in trouble once because I “offended somebody” and had no way of defending myself. I found out much later what it was about, and would have defended myself vigorously if I knew at the time. It was a case of somebody overhearing a piece of a conversation and taking something I said out of context, and I would have been comfortable repeating the whole thing verbatim to HR.

    1. PT*

      To be fair, the boss never said she did anything about it.

      As a boss, I would note a vague complaint like that, “Tangerina is being unprofessional,” but I would not consider it actionable or hold it against Tangerina until I got actual details from multiple people, because I know that the sorts of people who huff around making vague complaints are usually poop-stirring drama llamas.

      I would be mindful that that person had a bee in their bonnet about it, in case they’d gone around poop stirring and drama-llama-ing to other managers, because at some point that mess would end up back in my lap. Usually it would go like this:

      Fergus: Tangerina is being unprofessional!
      Me: mhm that’s nice
      Tangerina: Fergus is telling me I am not allowed to have cold sores at work
      Me: Yes I heard Fergus say something, don’t worry about it.
      My boss: You need to fire Tangerina, Fergus says she is working as a prostitute in her off hours.
      Me: That is not remotely what happened at all.
      My boss: This is really serious. How can you run your department like this? She needs to be fired.
      Me: *rolls up sleeves to deal with drama and stop this nonsense*

  23. Heidi*

    It’s tragic that we often don’t have the presence of mind to come up with a clever way to tell someone off at the time they’re being jerks. I probably would have been too shocked to push back at the moment also. Sorry this happened to you, OP.

    1. Heidi*

      I’m also curious as to why the OP’s father thinks that people will be “offended” by a cold sore. There might be some weird misinformation out there about what cold sores signify and how contagious they are.

      1. JB*

        It’s because people with a poor sex education and poorer understanding of viruses believe that OP is advertising that she recently participated in certain sexual acts without protection.

    2. CheezeWhizzard*

      You don’t have to be clever when responding to jerks at work. In fact, most of the “clever” responses I see suggested here are unprofessional and frankly cringey. A simple “you’re being inappropriate” (or something along those lines) works fine.

  24. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Ooh a rare appearance of Petty Alison. Love it.

    OP – I would circle back with your manager and say something like “I’ve been thinking about the conversation we had re: my cold sore. If I get one in the future, how should I handle it?” and just see what she says.

    1. LizM*

      This is what I would do.

      Personally, I haven’t found an effective way to cover them up, so I might add that, because I think that people who don’t get cold sores don’t understand that it’s not as easy as just slapping some concealer on it (I feel like concealer just puts a big bullseye on it.

    2. Me*

      No, Op should not ask how should they should handle a cold sore. Expecting an employee to do anything about a completely natural body thing out of the persons control is not ok. Therefore there is no reason to ask their manager what the OP should do about it. OP should do absolutely nothing about their cold sore from a work standpoint.

      Now, if you are suggesting the OP go back to their manager and ask how to handle the out of line coworker should it happen again, that’s valid.

      1. Paloma Pigeon*

        Yes, I feel we need some Alison-y language re: “What should I do differently?” But not about the cold sore. About a coworker making judgmental comments that are wildly out of line based on someone’s appearance. I’ll start:
        “Last week we touched on the fact that Lucinda remarked that my behavior was unprofessional based on my physical condition. I’ve had cold sores off and on my whole life and they’re not something I can control. I’m concerned that someone could be labeled unprofessional, with no way to defend themselves, for a physical ailment that might be temporary, like a cut or scratch or bruise. That could be a slippery slope toward ostracizing individuals who have permanent physical issues. How would you propose handling this if it comes up in the future?”

        1. Properlike*

          THIS. I would use “visible medical condition” somewhere in there. I don’t remember if it’s illegal to treat people differently because of something like this, but I bet OP’s manager doesn’t know either, and if she checks it goes on HR’s radar too.

          I’m also concerned that the manager doesn’t seem to have gone to bat for OP with Toxic Manager or drilled down into the specifics of what was “unprofessional” when it was originally reported? That could do real damage to OP’s reputation and I would be anxious to clarify whether or not her manager will back her on this if it continues.

          1. Isabelle*

            The “medical condition” part is key here. Some people get HSV-1 outbreaks more frequently than others, for example people who are immunosuppressed. What if OP was undergoing chemotherapy or was an organ transplant recipient?

            Both the obnoxious lady who berated OP and the manager are in borderline disability discrimination territory. This deserves to be brought to HR since the manager is unhelpful and obnoxious lady needs to be educated on this issue.

          2. Vanilla Nice*

            The disability angle is what immediately came to mind for me too.

            Years ago, I worked with a clueless new college grad who regularly made snotty, uncalled-for comments to other co-workers about their physical appearance and mannerisms. She got away with this for much longer than she should have (probably close to a year), until she called out a co-worker for their occasional facial tics. It turned out the co-worker’s facial tics were caused by a serious underlying neurological condition that was documented with HR. Clueless New Grad got a pretty stern talking-to from our manager about it, which she apparently responded to with eye-rolling condescension, and was terminated a few days later. (As I understood it, New Grad had a number of performance issues that led to her being let go, but the condescending remarks definitely didn’t enhance her standing with anyone) .

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        It’s a passive-aggressive way of making OP’s manager say outright if she agrees with Nosy Nancy or not.

        1. Me*

          Why would you suggest a professional be passive-aggressive? Direct clear communication is what should be used in the work place. Game playing isn’t cute and can often backfire.

      3. Allison*

        I would say to my manager “Look, this lady, whom I don’t work with in any capacity, told me I should stay home any time I have a cold sore. I’m sorry, but that’s not a request I’m able to honor.” Maybe if manager knows what this lady’s complaint is, they’d start singing a different tune.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’d go full evil ex-virologist and ask them just what exactly THEY know of to stop viral infections forever….

      (But to be fair, I’m a bit of a git)

    4. Amaranth*

      I’d want to put it more on the manager from the start as ‘I know you can’t think its actually unprofessional to have a cold sore or a pimple…’ What if the manager asks them to stay home just to avoid complaints?

    5. 'Tis Me*

      Email to your line manager, CC:ing HR.

      Subject: Recent complaint about unprofessional behaviour

      Message body: Dear My!Manager and HR!Rep,

      As you know, New!Manager has recently alerted me to the fact that my coming to work with a visible cold sore is considered by the company to be unprofessional behaviour, serious enough to verbally admonish me about and to then further escalate to you over. I would appreciate your advice on how to proceed next time I have one/what needs to be put in place ideally before that time.

      As I am sure you are aware, this is the visual (and uncomfortable!) manifestation of a permanent, but usually mild, medical condition in that the virus permanently resides within my nervous system, although usually in a dormant state. While stress, fatigue and other illnesses increase the likelihood that one will appear, having a cold sore in and of itself does not mean that I am unwell and I do not consider myself to be chronically unwell or disabled because I get cold sores [occasionally/a few times a year/monthly]. As a result, I am really hesitant to discuss the possibility of making a formal request for accommodation over this – I do not consider myself to be disabled or unable to be at work at these times. However, is this what I am expected to do? In this case, what sort of form would a reasonable accommodation take, e.g. Being allowed to work from home for the duration (possibly a few weeks at a time) during which I have a visible sore or scab on my face, at short notice? If this is how you would like me to proceed, please can I confirm what sort of documentation you require to put this accommodation in place? What will I need to do to use the accommodation after that time? (If I need medical documentation for each cold sore, for instance, my doctor charges [amount] for sick certificates, and I will also need to take a half-day off work each time to visit them. Should my accommodation request also include getting the time for these appointments on top of my sick leave and refunds for the certificates?)

      I have considered whether maybe New!Manager intended for me to cover it up with make-up instead, but (a) that is medically contraindicated – it can spread the sores to other areas and contaminate make-up, extend the healing time, cause further infections, etc, (b) would be ineffectual, and (c) as men are not expected to wear make-up in an equivalent role to mine would most likely count as a request which unreasonably impacts only one gender (especially given, as mentioned above, it goes directly against medical advice). I can’t imagine that could be what she meant?!

      Can I please also confirm that the perception that I have a medical condition that affects my ability to perform my work in a professional manner, and that I was unaware was serious enough to request medical accommodation for, will not impact on my employment, given that I have already been verbally admonished twice over my unprofessional conduct in coming to work with a cold sore? I have never before heard this idea expressed, including during the 2 years I have been here, and was very startled to hear that it is the case, especially given that about half of the population carries the HS1 viral strain (although of course not everybody with the virus manifests cold sores)! However, I appreciate that New!Manager was speaking to myself and you, My!Manager, as a representative of the company, and want to assure you all that I take this as seriously as I now understand is warranted.

      Additionally, given the prevalence of the HS1 virus, might it be advisable to revise the staff handbook to explicitly mention your general accommodations for medical requests for flare-ups of cold sores, and the steps needed to put them in place?

      Thank you so much for your time!
      OP

      I *suspect* this will result in being explicitly told, in writing, that you’re fine going to work with cold sores… They *might* also have a few words to both managers…

        1. 'Tis Me*

          Sometimes it is truly the best type of compliance! ;-) Obviously, not when the rules are reasonable, the culture thoughtful and considerate, management supportive, etc – but in a place where a manager – and a new one at that – feels empowered to harangue somebody else’s report then tell their manager that they behaved unprofessionally, and the manager doesn’t probe into that vaguery and call BS?!!

          Also, if New!Manager claims OP badmouthed them, OP has the receipts to prove that no, she really didn’t: New!Manager is just a terrible person and dreadful manager.

          OP’s manager may feel unhappy at being tarred with the same brush as New!Manager – but as a manager who accepts vague complaints about their reports, and calmly passes them on without actually making any effort to ascertain what had actually caused the complaint, and when it was offensive nonsense aimed at the report at best, and potentially something that could result in legal liability because of the ways in which it was ridiculous and insulting, doesn’t support or defend their report, they can’t really expect much more.

    6. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I wouldn’t do this. It implies that OP should be doing something differently. I think if this person or anyone else says anything ever again, OP should talk to HR and point out that she is being targeted and harassed due to a medical condition that does not impact her ability to do her job.

  25. Bart*

    I get cold sores on my lip and under my nose when I am really stressed. I talked to my doctor and now have a magical prescription for Valtrex. I take two pills at the first tingle of the cold sore and then two more pills that night. And that’s it! It keeps my cold sores from growing and scabbing and sometimes it never has a chance to emerge. It is a game changer! It really helps with pain and healing. And: prior to my meds I have taught with raging cold sores and never have I had a supervisor or a college student comment on them.

    1. gingersnap*

      Echoing the magic that is Valtrex. Saved myself many a bad outbreak with it. The birth control app Nurx will prescribe it so you can easily get it without a doctor visit. Also if OP sees this, check out Compeed cold sore patches. They’re hydrocolliod patches that I use if the Valtrex doesn’t work and they stop me from constantly touching the sore. They also give the appearance of a small bandage of sorts which may help your annoying coworker.

    2. Bee Kind*

      Valtrex is the only thing that works for me. It is sorcery. I’ve had cold sores since I was a kid. The pills are magic.

  26. Derptown*

    Would it be ok for OP to go back to her manager and say something like “I was thinking about our prior conversation and wanted to ask for clarification. Like many people, I do sometimes have cold sores/blemishes, and wanted to confirm that I won’t be considered unprofessional or penalized for that?”

    1. mf*

      Not only do I think this is would be OK, but it’s also probably a really good idea. What happens the next time the OP gets a cold sore? Will the busybody manager report her again to the OP’s boss? If I were the OP, I would explicitly ask my boss that I wanted her to have my back and to make it clear to the busybody manager that my professionalism was not in question.

    2. Totalanon*

      I wonder at what point it would become an ADA issue if that wasn’t the case. I’m guessing cold sores aren’t a protected area, but penalizing someone for anything health-medical condition related seems like sketchy ground.

      1. Mme Pince*

        I was just commenting below that I take an immunosuppressant that makes it more likely I’ll have cold sores because it keeps my immune system from keeping the virus in check. I would definitely be considering taking it to HR.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          That’s my problem. I’ve got an autoimmune disease and because of the meds for that I’m more likely to get a flareup of any of the herpesvirus family I’ve got kicking round my body.

          Cold sores, epstein barr, chicken pox…

      2. Wisteria*

        The ADA covers accommodations for disabilities, and disabilities are conditions that interfere with major life activities. The senior employee and both managers were jerks for a number of reasons, but ADA violations are not among them.

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      This is really, really good wording, and I think it’s especially important to have this follow up conversation since OP’s boss wasn’t clear in their earlier conversation about whether or not she agrees with Mean Lady’s stance.

    4. Sara without an H*

      I like this script. And yes, I do think it would be a good idea for OP to follow up with their manager about this issue.

  27. heckofabecca*

    As someone with excoriation disorder (skin picking disorder/dermatillomania)… this is basically a nightmare scenario! You’ve done nothing wrong, and it’s ridiculous that your manager couldn’t just say so when he found out what the other manager was complaining about. Ugh. Big hugs.

    1. Mme Pince*

      Oof, heckofabecca, you have my sympathy. It must be awful dealing with the anxiety of something like this on top of the disorder itself. Sending your good wishes and virtual hugs.

      If I were OP, I think I’d be considering going to HR over this. My perspective might be skewed by the fact that I also get cold sores in regular times and now am even more prone to them because I’m on an immunosuppressant. I can’t believe the audacity of a manager thinking they can police a medical condition in this way. Even if it was a condition that had an actual impact on work, which it’s not, this would not be the way to handle it.

    2. Just @ me next time*

      I’m also a compulsive skin-picker. It gets worse when I know that I have an event coming up that I don’t want to look bad for (presentation at work, social gathering, poetry reading, etc.) The more I tell myself that I can’t pick, the more I end up in front of the mirror, squeezing every pore until I dissociate.

      Many years ago, when I was working in retail, a child pointed at me and asked her mother, “What’s wrong with her face?” I was so humiliated. Thankfully, my current coworkers have never said anything about it. But I do get secretly annoyed with a couple of my teammates who have mentioned how great their skin has been during the pandemic since they’re not wearing makeup. Stress + being in my home all the time = out-of-control picking.

    3. A Person*

      I think that LW’s manager never actually knew what the problem was, and that both managers used the word “unprofessional” without defining it.

      LW quotes their manager: “She replied that the other manager had spoken to her about my unprofessional behavior but hadn’t given her any details.” So it sounds like “other manager” said “Your employee was unprofessional” and that’s all. And then LW’s manager didn’t say “what do you mean by unprofessional?”

  28. Princess Deviant*

    I gasped out loud at the headline, then it got worse as I continued reading.
    What a horrible person that manager is.

  29. the cat's ass*

    Dang, other manager is a crummy person. And your manager was spineless, OP, and I’m sorry. Perhaps another chat with your manager and HR is in order.

    Professional trauma makeup is called moulange (I think i’m remembering that correctly from my triage days), and that WOULD be something to catch notice. Otherwise, other manager should keep her eyes and mouth to herself. Cold sores are uncomfortable enough without commentary.

  30. Caroline Bowman*

    I shudder to think what this self-appointed Appearance Cop would do in the event of an acne outbreak!! Dear me!

    She was wrong, rude, nasty, overstepping and also wrong. Your manager was also wrong for not shutting her down completely and siding vocally with you. Please go back to her and ask her specifically what her notion of ”the right thing” would be to do. So angry on your behalf.

  31. HQetc*

    OP, just want to join the chorus of those saying this is Grade-A bs, that manager was so over the line that the line was a dot to her. Also, I just want to note that it’s weird that she was pleading “professionalism” when she couldn’t keep her own “I am squicked out” reaction under wraps, and instead was visibly disgusted. Now *that* is unprofessional and rude as heck. I’m so sorry you dealt with that. Cold sores suck at the best of times, and you shouldn’t have had to deal with the mean and rude icing on the painful cake.

  32. Llellayena*

    If you’ve got the capital to spend, I would so want to respond “Unless you plan to kiss me, my non-contagious, temporary medical issue should be none of your concern.” If you’ve got a decent HR, I would actually go to them. Not to try to get any redress, but as a warning flag. She’s a NEW manager and can you imagine the HR fallout if she said something like that to a burn victim or an amputee (not sure how to get the link in here for the post about the manager who wanted the mastectomy survivor to be forced to wear a prosthesis because it made the men uncomfortable). Someone needs to train her in how to be a good manager (and a decent human being, but HR can only do so much).

    1. Llellayena*

      So a commenter below said cold sores are contagious, so my comment might be slightly incorrect. I was using “contagious” as not spread through the air (like the flu or, y’know, covid) and figured that “transmissible” would be the version that would apply to cold sores, as in transmissible by touch. But if anyone wants to call me out on that, sorry! I haven’t had to deal with cold sores.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Cold sores, once they start weeping, are really infectious. But if you don’t pick at them, wash your hands and resist snogging your coworkers you’re fine (it’s not an airborne virus)

      2. AnonNurse*

        To be clear, they can be spread but generally through direct contact with an open lesion. I have literally had them for as long as I can remember and have now been with my husband almost 25 years. He has never had a cold sore and we hope to continue that streak through hand washing and no contact with my lip when I have one. I’ve never heard of someone getting one from a coworker that they had no intimate contact with.

  33. Goldenrod*

    “You didn’t do anything wrong. But I’d be awfully tempted to consult with someone who does special effects makeup and learn how to give yourself an ever-changing procession of open sores and wounds all over any exposed area of your body from now on.”

    And THIS is why Alison is the queen of workplace advice.

    ALISON FOR THE WIN!

    :D :D :D

  34. Nicole*

    I’ve NEVER commented before- I read the AAM posts on a feed so I purposely came to the site to leave this message.
    As someone who has dealt with cold sores my ENTIRE life, I have never, ever had someone say this to me.
    They last a week, if not more, at times. Mine are tied to my cycle, so before I got them under control that meant if I were in your position, I would be taking sick time for a whole week each month. Impossible.
    These are common and what you did was fine! I would have cried too, they are embarrassing, painful and just awful.
    Since cold sores are so contagious, I don’t think there is a way to cover them up with makeup. It is too painful to do, first of all. Second, you would have to use a disposable applicator because it is so contagious. The entire container would be filled with germs and could spread to other parts of your body. My daughter had a cold sore and after itching it, spread to her torso.

    I hope you can follow up with your manager in your next one-on-one to make sure you do not have to use sick time for this and to ask for support from her if you have to deal with this horrible coworker in the future.

    1. A Frayed Knot*

      As you say, cold sores can be contagious. If someone touches a cold sore, then touches other surfaces, and another person touches that surface and their own face…you get the idea. I am not anything close to a medical professional, so I don’t know how long the virus lasts on surfaces. (I really don’t want to know, either. I worry enough about how long COVID lasts on surfaces.)

      I think the best response would have been “I am taking every precaution to protect myself and others.” I mean, is she stopping everyone with a cough or sniffle? This shouldn’t be about how the cold sore looks, only about if it is a health concern to others. I’d rather be around someone with a cold sore than someone with a cold.

      1. HelenofWhat*

        That is not how it works, or we’d all have herpes from using public toilets. Oral herpes is transmitted by direct physical contact. This LW is not kissing coworkers, they have nothing to fear. (I’m not a doc but I have oral herpes and was advised by my doc after my now-husband fretted over catching it from me. Years in and he still has never had a cold sore.)

      2. A Person*

        COVID doesn’t last long at all on surfaces (unlike some germs). It really is airborne.

  35. gmg22*

    Rereading this, it sounds like the co-worker already half knew she was out of line when she spoke to the LW’s manager — the giveaway is that LW was reported as “unprofessional” but the co-worker didn’t say why. (What on earth kind of manager would just sit there and say “OK, thanks for letting me know” and not ask for details, btw?)

    I absolutely think a followup with the manager is warranted — she needs to have it reinforced how uncomfortable this made the LW feel and that it is not OK to discriminate against colleagues based on a medical condition, which is what this is.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      “What on earth kind of manager would just sit there and say “OK, thanks for letting me know” and not ask for details, btw?”

      THIS is the question I want an answer to. I don’t understand OP’s boss’s actions here. Why not ask the other manager some follow up questions about the supposed unprofessional behavior? And if the other manager won’t give those details, wouldn’t you think that’s really weird and an indicator of that manager’s level of professionalism? I just do not get it.

      OP, if you do follow up with your boss and get a better read on what she was thinking, we’d love an update.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, the other manager I get at least, even if I don’t agree with her stance or her behaviour at all: she’s just an annoying busybody.
        But who puzzles me is the OP’s manager, for all the reasons you’ve listed here.

      2. Gel Pen Destroyer*

        The only thing I can think of is if Manager A already knows that Manager B tends to have ridiculous complaints, so they’re essentially grey rocking the other manager and didn’t ask for details because they figured it was nonsense. But then Manager A should have been more supportive of OP.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Yeah. I understand why Manager A would grey rock Manager B as a general strategy, as well as why Manager A may be cautious in giving OP the sense that they don’t take Manager B seriously or inadvertently undermine Manager B in OP’s presence. I get that that’s an awkward fine line to walk if they’ve decided that they’re willing to tolerate Manager B being a busybody, but they can’t have it both ways.

          This combined with how the OP described the job’s culture as one of deference is really concerning.

  36. SJ*

    OP, I’m so sorry! Every single person in this story sucks, except for you, you’re great. Oh and your friend is fine too. But everybody else is the worst. Super sorry about your dad especially, what a messed up response. It sounds like you respect him/his opinions in general but he’s wrong about this one. Nobody gets to be “offended” about your face. That’s nonsense.

    Wishing you gentleness and care as you deal with this. You mentioned feeling dirty and ashamed which is such a hard thing to be feeling. I am adding my voice to the chorus saying you did nothing wrong and have nothing to be ashamed of. Not one single solitary thing. Sending you love and support!

    1. LKW*

      I think that’s the right language to use when discussing this: “Offended by my face” – that right there should make sensible people quiver with the litigiousness of the situation.

    2. gmg22*

      Well said. LW, if you need reassurance that you have nothing to be ashamed of and are not alone, look no further than the chorus of cold sore sufferers in these comments! This is a not at all uncommon affliction and the stigma around it is ignorant beyond belief.

  37. Greige*

    This is really, really not ok. What if what she took for a cold sore was actually a permanent facial feature? Your face looks like your face, and you shouldn’t be denied the opprotunity to work because someone doesn’t like it.

  38. Polecat*

    With more time to reflect, I think you should talk to your manager again and say that you were very taken aback when the initial incident happened, and that after thinking about it, you want to clarify the situation. I think you should explain that from your point of view, the unprofessional behavior was somebody commenting on your appearance and your health. And that you have concerns about that.
    A decent manager will recognize that when it comes to health issues, they need to be careful. This woman didn’t comment on the color of your eyeshadow. She made a comment about a health problem that you have. Treat it like you would any other health problem. If she commented that your arm being in a cast was unprofessional, I think everybody would understand that she’s nuts. So why is it any different when she comments on a sore? It isn’t.
    Your best bet is to focus on coworker commenting on a health condition you have. That’s dicey, and any decent manager or HR is going to recognize that isn’t a road they wanna go down.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      Yes – completely agree with this. It’s astounding that a) this person commented about someone’s cold sore, and b) went to someone’s MANAGER about it!!

    2. mf*

      ” I think you should explain that from your point of view, the unprofessional behavior was somebody commenting on your appearance and your health. And that you have concerns about that.”

      I think this is a good script. I would also add something along the lines of “I’d like to you speak to Busybody Manager so I can be assured that this issue won’t happen again.”

      OP, you shouldn’t have to deal with being treated like this because you have a cold sore, and if you are, that’s 100% your manager’s problem.

  39. LKW*

    Is it ok to cover a lesion? If so, I’d be tempted to put on the largest or most brightly colored bandages possible. Heck, you could wear one even if you weren’t having an active lesion. Just make it more obvious.

    I’d be tempted to come up with a variety of visible medical maladies – much like what Alison suggested. Black eye. Large pimple. Big ol’ scar across the forehead.

    I suspect this is the same kind of person that would “advise” someone with a hemangioma or birthmark that they should cover it or have it removed surgically, instead of just accepting bodies as they are.

    1. AnonNurse*

      My 25 pound Boston Terrier recently gave me a black eye with her BUTT a few weeks ago. That was a fun one to explain every day to every person I interacted with. As a nurse, it was dozens of people a day including docs and administrators. LOL. Thankfully it showed how many people were willing to say something and ask about my safety – though in a caring and non-crazy way!!

  40. Elm*

    This is literally a medical condition and a manager is telling you you can’t come to work with it because it’s “icky.” I wonder if she’d do the same thing to someone with alopecia or obesity. I’m sure she’d say something about my eczema (and my own cold scores!).

    You know who else would care about this (other than no one)? HR. Cold sores can be embarrassing to talk about because they’re generally herpes related, but a lot of people get it as babies when kissed by someone with it, not sexual contact–something a lot of people know, but apparently not this lady.

    I’m not saying to go to HR right now, but I would at least consider it if it comes up again.

    Either way, I’d email that woman and say “I want to loop back to your your comment about my cold sore and ask what you found unprofessional about it. It’s just been sitting with me and I need to clear the air between us. It is a medical condition I can’t control but doesn’t affect my ability to do my job. It is not a health hazard unless someone uses my dirty mug or utensils, for which I would not grant permission. So, I’m very confused about your concerns. Could you clarify?”

    Maybe mention the words “medical condition” at least one more time if you can. Drive that point home. She’ll get the point without you having to accuse her.

    Then, don’t respond. Just keep the email so you have it in case you need it–otherwise she could just deny this happened. You don’t owe her an explanation about how cold sores work, how makeup can make it worse, etc. The burden of proof lies with the prosecution, which she is, and she needs to prove you did something wrong by having a medical condition. Which you didn’t.

    As you know, covering it with makeup can make it worse, and they can last for days or even weeks even if treated. So, just take care of you.

    1. Observer*

      I wonder if she’d do the same thing to someone with alopecia or obesity.

      It’s highly likely. I wonder if she’d do this to someone with a legally protected disability.

  41. KayEss*

    I (luckily?) only get cold sores inside my mouth, but I used to get pimples on my face that I would compulsively squeeze and pick. The last one I had was between my nose and upper lip, and I worried it into a horrible gaping wound that (of course) got infected, and then it left a scar that was highly visible and reddened for almost a year. All WHILE I was interviewing for jobs. Not a SINGLE person ever commented on it, because they were all civilized—unlike this lady, apparently.

    1. SarahKay*

      I don’t get the herpes-virus type cold sores but as a teen and young adult I’d get absolutely streaming colds, 2-3 a year. The endless sneezing and nose-blowing would rapidly destroy the skin on the bottom of my nose down to my upper lip. In all the time the only comment I EVER got was a single occasion when someone suffering with a cold sore sympathised that my (what she thought was a) cold sore looked even more painful than hers. The manager who told off OP is a lousy human being, and OP’s manager is a disappointment!

      For my nose, I’ve since discovered the joys of Sinutab, ultra-balm kleenex, and using a good lip-salve (body shop Vitamin E lip-salve for preference) to stop my skin getting so damaged when I have a cold.

  42. Eukomos*

    That is such weird behavior from both managers that I’m inclined to think something you’re unaware of is going on, OP. Did the other manager specifically say it was the cold sore? Maybe she thought your shirt was an unprofessional color or something so strange it didn’t occur to you she was talking about the other thing and your manager didn’t understand (or, apparently, care) what the issue was, which was why she sidestepped your question. Or the manager who scolded you is known to be crazy but protected by a higher-up, and your manager didn’t want to loop you into the gossip. This is not just wildly rude, but very weird.

    1. gmg22*

      I’m guessing what’s going on here is that everyone the LW has interacted with about this (the rude/intrusive coworker, the avoidant manager and LW’s dad) unfortunately buys to some degree, maybe unconsciously, into the stigma around cold sores as being “dirty” because they are caused by a type of the herpes virus.

    2. I'm just here for the cats*

      You make a good point. OP did the manager specifically state it was your cold sore she was talking about? If she didn’t I would be tempted to email her and say “Our conversation the other day had me really rattled. I pride myself on my professionalism and always adhear to the dress code. I do not understand what you were talking about. After some thought, the only thing I could think of is that at the time I had a cold sore, which is a very common medical condition that I have no control over. I hope that you do not believe that someone should be sent home just because there is a mark on their face. ”

      Please update us OP

  43. learnedthehardway*

    I would – in your shoes – be talking to HR about this. A) this woman behaved INCREDIBLY unprofessionally towards you, B) she needs some education that cold sores are not an STD, and C) what she said (BECAUSE she assumed your cold sore was about your sexuality) may actually constitute something akin to harassment (at least in intention).

    You did nothing wrong, and your manager perhaps needs some education as well – their response wasn’t what I would call enthusiastic.

    (Personally, I’ve gotten cold sores since I was a kid – they’re a herpes type virus, but then again, so is Chicken Pox and Shingles. I get breakouts if I don’t get enough vitamins. Mine used to get really bad when I was a kid, but I discovered that putting a dab of hydrocortisone on and taking Vit C gets rid of them in no time.)

  44. Jaybeetee*

    Funnily enough, I’m at the tail end of a cold sore right now – a very mild one that is already nearly gone after a few days. I used to get several big, ugly, scabby, take-forever-to-heal cold sores per year when I was a teen and young adult, particularly around seasonal changes and in high humidity. Now I get them rarely, and far milder. Not sure what changed, but anyway.

    And yes, people who associate them with STDs are really annoying and ignorant. I got my first cold sore when I was about 10 and I definitely wasn’t doing… anything like that.

    The idea that they’re unprofessional at work is asinine. What are you supposed to do, stay home for 1-2 weeks until it’s gone? That manager is out of line and again… ignorant.

    In fact, storytime: As a teenager I worked in a fast food place, and at one point had a cold sore. I actually was worried about what people would think of it at work, so I remember trying to awkwardly cover it with a small band-aid until a supervisor told me not to (the band-aid was probably more of a risk around food than the actual sore). That place was actually toxic to the gills in other ways, but on that one they were right.

    If an 18-year-old Dairy Queen night supervisor can figure this out, what’s that manager’s excuse?

    1. Observer*

      If an 18-year-old Dairy Queen night supervisor can figure this out, what’s that manager’s excuse?

      Snort. If the behavior doesn’t live up to even that standard, then you KNOW there’s a problem. The problem is that the supervisor doesn’t know it.

  45. Kittykuddler*

    Am I the only one who thinks she should push back with HR about a manager telling her that her medical condition is unprofessional? She absolutely should not be commenting on it. As a fellow fellow cold sore sufferer, I get that they aren’t pretty to look at. But I feel like this manager is comparing coming to with a cold sore to showing up to work with a visible hickey.

  46. Merci Dee*

    What a coincidence. This morning when I brushed my teeth, I felt a little twinge of discomfort when I opened my mouth and then noticed that I have a little skin crack on the left corner of my mouth. This is always the first sign that I have a cold sore on the way, and they’re always, always just in the corners of my mouth. For the next few days I’ll be dabbing on even more chap stick than normal to help keep the area lubricated, and I will probably dab on some liquid Campho Phenique if the lesion starts to get painful (anyone else grow up with a bottle of Campho Phenique in the house, and with parents who believed that stuff would heal any- and everything that ailed you?).

    Most of the people at work will totally ignore the uninvited guest that’s going to grow on my face. The most that anyone will say to me about the cold sore is, “oh my gosh, I hope it doesn’t hurt too much!”. They might offer a brief mention of their favorite cold sore remedy, and I will be able to add it to some of the new ones I saw on here this morning. So, thanks for that, guys! I might have to add the Lysine to my nightly vitamin regimen.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      Try some 1% hydrocortisone – just a wee dab. Clears cold sores up in no time. (Just don’t get it elsewhere on your face – topical steroids can trigger rosacea. Ask me how I know, sigh…)

      1. Merci Dee*

        Oh, yay! Something else to inflame my rosacea! I’ve had rosacea for years, but never knew that topical steroids could trigger it. When I was in college, I went through a really bad patch where I had contact dermatitis in several areas on my face, and a doctor at a walk-in clinic suggested hydrocortisone cream to heal the patches. It worked like a charm, and I was very grateful for the relief from the unrelenting itch. But I didn’t realize that the cream could cause other skin issues down the road.

  47. lost academic*

    The majority of people in the US have the virus that causes cold sores though a smaller percentage actually develop them. My reaction is LADY JUST WHO THE EFF DO YOU THINK YOU ARE WALK YOURSELF OVER TO HR AND RESIGN.

    But I also bet that her mental connection is cold sore — herpes — STD — OP must have sketchy sexual practices — how dare she flaunt that at work — because she’s ignorant and judgy af. And I doubt this is the first or last time she’ll show her colors at work.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      There’s something about her reaction that seems unusually out of touch. Like yes, cold sores are caused by one of the herpesviruses that also sometimes causes genital herpes, but what adult doesn’t have at least some lived experience with people who’ve had cold sores that were very likely not contracted sexually? Did this person get through childhood without ever seeing a cold sore on a peer?

      To the extent that it almost seems implausible that someone could get to adulthood without being familiar with cold sores transmitted through casual contact, I wonder if this woman is really that ignorant or if she’s intentionally being a bully.

      1. Merci Dee*

        So, Johns Hopkins estimates that between 50 – 80% of adults have the oral herpes virus, and the National Institutes of Health expects that 90% of adults have been exposed to the virus by age 50. The odds that this woman has gotten to be her age without growing her own cold sore are . . . not encouraging. Which makes her behavior even more questionable, if that’s at all possible.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Exactly, and odds are she wouldn’t have gotten it from sexual activity either, as most people’s exposure takes place in childhood or adolescence. Her behaviour raises a lot of questions or speaks to a kind of lack of perspective and life experience that often ends up being problematic in other ways.

          1. Merci Dee*

            If I had to make a guess, I’d say that I was exposed to the oral herpes virus from my mom. I remember her having a number of outbreaks when I was a kid, and she would be careful not to kiss anybody when she had the blisters on her mouth . . . but thought that she was no longer contagious once they dried out and scabbed over. And I’m learning, like, today that this is not the case — that you’re still contagious until the lesion fully heals. So who knows whether I picked it up from a goodbye/good night kiss or from sneaking a sip of water from Mom’s cup.

            1. Wisteria*

              People shed the virus even when they are not actively symptomatic, which means one is contagious all the time.

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                Cold sores are only really infectious when active – the rest of the time they stay dormant in the nervous system and don’t transmit.

              2. anonymous seal*

                Yes, one can shed asymptomatically (frequency of this varies by person), so you could potentially be contagious at any time. NO, people who have the virus are absolutely not contagious ALL the time. The frequency of asymptomatic shedding has been documented to decrease over time.

                Per your question below, I believe it is hard to nail down the prevalence of hsv-1 in the population because people are usually only tested if they experience symptoms (cold sores) or were knowingly exposed. Hence why you’ll see figures anywhere from 50%-80% from reputable sources.

                1. Wisteria*

                  OK, I grant “all the time” was not accurate. But, one does not know whether one is asymptomatically shedding or not, so if one is concerned with not spreading the virus (not a situation that one expects at work for cold sores), one should act as though one is contagious all the time.

                  CDC is pretty reputable.

        2. Wisteria*

          Are those current year numbers? CDC says around 50% in 2015-2016, which is down from 60% 1999-2000.

          (link in reply)

        3. Keymaster of Gozer*

          You can have the virus and never have a cold sore. Herpesviruses are fun! Also why they are such a nightmare to track: unless there’s symptoms there’s generally no testing.

    2. anonymous seal*

      Right? Statistically speaking, chances are that if this unkind lady was actually tested for the the virus that causes cold sores IT WOULD COME BACK POSITIVE.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        Fanfic here:
        Bad manager reads this, goes and gets tested. Then comes back to work and blames OP because OP “was unprofessional” and came to work with a cold sore and now she has herpes too!

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’d be ‘you ever had glandular fever/mono or chicken pox? congratualtions – you’ve got a herpesvirus too’

  48. Van Wilder*

    Wow. I would honestly try mentioning it to HR. Ask the company’s policy and what they would suggest you do in the future. They might be concerned that managers are bullying employees for medical conditions. And if they’re not, that will tell you that something is up with your company beyond just these two managers and that you should think about moving on.

    Fellow cold sore sufferer. I hate them. I once tried putting one of those Aleve stickers with makeup on top, and as soon as I got into work, I noticed someone staring at my lip, trying to figure out what was happening. Removed it right away. Best of luck with your crazy workplace.

    1. MamaSarah*

      My first thought when was “wow, this workplace culture would not work for me”. Geez…it’s not a bubo. Harassing someone a for medical condition, taking “reasonable” direction from all supervisors or senior staff, a manger that negates bullying with comments like “but you’re a good worker” – no thank you.

      Maybe this a big leap, but OP, you deserve better.

  49. foolofgrace*

    I don’t know if it’s cold sores or canker sores that erupt inside your mouth, but if you get one there, use yogurt. Really. Just take a spoonful and try to hold it on the sore for a few seconds, repeat with the rest of the yogurt. It’s not immediate but for me they heal in about a day.

    1. Lacey*

      I think that’s a canker sore or “fever blister” as people in my area call them. I used to get really confused though, because my parents are from another region of the country and they called them cold sores.

  50. RJ*

    This manager is a judgemental nitwit and very unprofessional. I too, would be heeding Allison’s advice to find a SFX expert to really play up my cold sore game. What an awfully dismissive person. It wasn’t you, OP. You be you, do your job, cold sores and all.

  51. Dream Jobbed*

    “This is a medical condition I have had since I was a child. Please don’t harass me about my health in the workplace, or I will be forced to utilize ADA protections.”

    1. Wisteria*

      The ADA covers accommodations for disabilities, and disabilities are conditions that interfere with major life activities. Cold sores don’t exactly rise to that level.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      That’s a bit much when “It’s just a cold sore, please stop bothering me about it” and, “if you have an issue, talk to my manager” will do.

      1. Dream Jobbed*

        I think it’s a bit much to be harassed about ANY medical condition you have no control over, to the point where you are crying in the bathroom. Making someone feel diseased and dirty needs a response that will shut them down.

        1. RagingADHD*

          It’s not going to shut anyone down if it’s obviously ludicrous. You don’t recover from an accusation of unprofessionalism by escalating and issuing threats that don’t even make sense.

          1. Dream Jobbed*

            So don’t use the ADA terminology. But no, you can respond to someone that their words are grotesques, and it is not legal to harass someone with a medical condition.

  52. Wisteria*

    Later that week, at my regular catch-up with my manager, I mentioned the incident to her. She replied that the other manager had spoken to her about my unprofessional behavior but hadn’t given her any details

    Y’all, this is why you need to touch base with your direct reports about complaints ASAP after hearing something! You need to ask the complainant for details, ask who was involved, whether there were bystanders and who they were, and what day and time the incident happened. Then you proactively and in a spirit of curiosity ask your direct report what they think happened and ask for the same relevant details. If there are discrepancies, tell them something like, “Hmm, Rosalie said something different. Why do you think she is saying something different?” And then go over the discrepancies. Don’t assume your direct report is lying! There are lots of innocent reasons why two people’s accounts might be different.

    Of course, if the complaint is something as idiotic as this, your action to the other manager would be to say, “Cold sores are a fact of life, they are not any more unprofessional than a mosquito bite,” and your action to your direct report is to inform them of the complaint in an FYI manner, reassure them that they did nothing wrong and you told the other manager as such, and tell them to please bring these encounters to you so you can respond appropriately to other managers.

    1. HotSauce*

      Yes! I can’t believe that OP’s manager didn’t ask for more information from the other person, just seemed to accept that her report was “unprofessional”. WTH?

    2. Sara without an H*

      What Wisteria said. I have an uneasy feeling about OP’s manager in this case.

  53. Ashley*

    If you have a WFH policy and like WFH I would be asking my supervisor about using WFH next time since she clearly isn’t backing you up against the other manager.

    As someone who routinely gets skin irritants I would drive that manager insane, and after a comment like that I probably wouldn’t wear long sleeves when I got poison ivy for the millionth time and make sure they say my gross puss oozing scabs. (The sleeves are really my choice but sometimes it does get gross enough you don’t want to be known for your puss oozing arm until you can get the steroids to kick in and stop it.)

  54. Lacey*

    Oh goodness. I’ve worked with people with various health issues that make me uncomfortable to be around them – whether they’re just SO sick I feel like I’m getting sick, or it’s a really unpleasant wound or bruise – but 1) I mostly feel bad for THEM because they’re obviously dealing with the unpleasant thing more than I am 2) none of those times have been about a cold sore. I’m often unsure if it’s a cold sore or just some nasty acne or ingrown hair, unless someone says something about it.

    I can guess what type of manager you have – always nervous to stand up to other managers even when they think they’re wrong. That’s why you can’t get a straight answer. But it’s really obnoxious.

  55. PolarVortex*

    I feel for you OP. I don’t get cold sores but I do get terrible allergic reactions in the form of hives/rashes on my face if I accidentally eat things I shouldn’t. Or use shampoo/face wash with things I’m allergic to. Or touch my face after touching something I’m allergic to unknowingly. It’s equally something that’s not really possible to cover up without a) making my face look weirder or b) making the issue itself worse. I feel miserable everyone can see it when it happens because I tend to look like I’ve been rubbing my face with poison ivy.

    That being said, if a manager ever said that to me, I might accidentally tell them to go &%*$ themselves as a kneejerk reaction. This lady is a problem and I hope you waste no more tears over her miserable, crappy words (now or in the future). I am more sorry your dad wasn’t in your corner, maybe scale back your convos with him to sportsball and whatever TV he’s into vs actual conversations for a bit. (Unless you can reason with him that his words were coming from a gross place and incorrect.)

  56. HotSauce*

    OP, this was so gross and out of line. I would definitely speak with your manager again and explain the entire situation. Frankly I’d also speak with HR about it as well, as I think it’s seriously inappropriate to berate someone on their appearance in this way.

  57. quill*

    A medical issue, no matter how minor or no matter what the assumption is of how you got it, on your face is never unprofessional. Period.

    And unless it was like, actively weeping pus / a contamination risk nobody should be saying jack about it. If it is actively a contamination issue, that’s “Hi LW, would you like a bandaid? something on your face is bleeding.”

  58. Shortenedfortime*

    I realize this is a little off topic (and possibly risqué), but I really find it frustrating that anything more than a light brushing of lips against my neck results in a hickey. I assume other people have their partners kiss their neck without this happening, and I wish I was one of them, because I hate looking unprofessional because I enjoyed my spouse kissing my neck. I either forego, or try to cover it up with makeup if I do let them kiss my neck. It’s so frustrating!

    1. A Person*

      Do you bruise easily anywhere else? Because that’s all a hickey is, and the skin on our necks is very delicate.

        1. Tiny Soprano*

          My sympathies! This is me as well. My 1 year old nephew grabbed the side of my neck with his sharp little fingers yesterday and now I look like I’ve got a hickey. Bruise like a banana is a great way of putting it!

  59. ratherhavecoldsoresthanbeajerk*

    OP, bless you and the sh*t you went through about this. I had so many cold sores in school and during the first years of my career, which then changed to adult acne. I can’t imagine the feelings I’d have had if someone scolded me for existing with those imperfections.

    It would genuinely take all of my strength not to treat the other manager like a biohazard for the rest of my time working with her. Disgusted looks and general avoidance like she has the plague.

  60. Name (Required)*

    My ex suffered terribly from cold sores.. We were signing loan papers for a car back in the 90s and the lady doing the paperwork told him that if he would start taking L-Lysine, it would prevent cold sores. He started right after that and never had another one in all the years I knew him after that. If you take it daily, it completely prevents them.

  61. Epsilon Delta*

    What this manager is suggesting would require taking a month+ worth of leave (in my case, not sure how it plays out for others). That is more leave than I get in a year. For something that is not contagious (in a work setting at least) and not affecting my ability to work.

    Actually, if we could get unlimited paid sick time, I’d be quite in favor of this policy…

  62. The Dude Abides*

    I cringe to think of this manager trying to pull this chicanery on a rugby player during a Monday morning meeting.

    The manager was out of line. I could understand giving OP a heads-up and leaving it at that, but this is beyond the pale, and I would probably be going to HR to 1) ensure that nothing else comes of it, and 2) to have it documented that the upbraider got out of line, and that the OP’s manager is a pushover.

  63. TootsNYC*

    can you cover up a cold sore with makeup? I’ve never been a makeup wearer and I’ve never had a cold sore, really.
    But the ones I’ve seen, I didn’t think would be hidden with makeup; they’d just look like a cold sore with makeup in the creases and cracks. It would look uncomfortable, and I have assumed it would BE uncomfortable.

    Once it’s started to heal, then yes, but at its worst?

    I went looking at images. Yes, I guess some of them could be more camouflaged than others.

  64. Dasein9*

    Add my voice to the chorus of those assuring you that this manager was way out of line.

    That said, I think you have an enemy at work and really need to watch your back with this person.
    You are in her sights and she has already demonstrated a tendency to overreach and meddle.
    Your own manager has shown you how much support you can expect.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Let’s stop with the fan fiction. A single data point is not enough to establish that LW has an enemy at work. For all we know, this other manager is like this to everybody or she’s just having a bad day (maybe her hamster exploded). All we know is what’s in the letter.

      1. Dasein9*

        I disagree. This is a pretty outrageous and bullying thing to do. The lack of response from LW’s own manager is also worrisome.

  65. NotSoAnon*

    Dang, this is freaking disheartening. Why on earth would anyone comment on a cold sore, which is completely out of someone’s control and which is generally made worse by attempting to cover with makeup.

    I get fairly bad cystic acne. As a fully grown adult woman this is a source of constant embarrassment and shame. That’s something I’m working through myself and if anyone at work had the audacity to comment on it looking “unprofessional” I might have some choice unprofessional responses for them.

    My dad gets HORRIBLE cold sores. Like major ones that he takes medication to help with. His are usually on his nose though and he is so self conscious about them. God this is infuriating.

  66. Kevin Sours*

    “but feels like she can’t openly criticize the other manager to you”
    This feels like a tepid response to me. Backing up your people when they are right and giving them clear guidance on what do it is “you have one job” territory for a manager. If they can’t figure out how to give OP a straight answer without criticizing another manager then they need to realize that’s because management has a problem, bite the bullet, and give a straight answer anyway.

    OP. Your manager sucks.

    1. Observer*

      I agree that OP’s manager is falling down on the job. But it’s incredibly common.

  67. Delta Delta*

    It takes a lot of nerve (or a special kind of nerve) to say, “I find your face offensive so you should go home.” Because that is literally what this lady did. I would never speak to this person again.

    Relatedly, I know people often incorrectly mentally connect cold sores with STDs as some are both caused by various viruses in the herpesvirus family. I learned about cold sores as a little kid from a teenaged afterschool babysitter. Not sure how it came up in conversation (maybe there was a commercial for Blistex on tv?), but she said something like, “if there’s ever a kid in your class who has a sore on their mouth make sure not to drink from the same thing as them” or something sort of bland like that. So forever in my mind cold sores are spread by cup-sharing 7 year olds and little kids who let their faces touch public water fountains. It’s so common – like public water fountains – that I don’t even notice if someone has a cold sore.

  68. The Bimmer Guy*

    Eww. I’m disgusted by the way that other person behaved. And I agree that OP’s manager should have taken a harder stance, or at least said in no uncertain terms that OP did nothing wrong, and to field any more critiques like this her way so that she could head them off on OP’s behalf.

  69. All the words*

    Perhaps this manager could provide a list of all the medical conditions she finds unsightly/unprofessional to distribute to everyone. Of course I’m being sarcastic, but this manager was offensive.

    I’ve had cold sores in the past. Life went on. I currently have eczema. It’s visible on my palms which I can usually keep out of sight. If I had a flare up on my face, neck or arms would that be grounds for termination? This is a chronic condition and not one I can just fix. What about other conditions that have visual markers? Are all people with those types of issues unprofessional?

    To me this seems like something to take to HR because this manager is bullying the LW about a health issue.

  70. STG*

    I’ve been a life long sufferer of cold sores myself although the sore frequency has gone down a lot as I’ve gotten older.

    I’ve never had a boss comment on them and I would have been completely mortified if they did. It’s already bad enough as it is with self consciousness.

    I’ve got a friend who has major outbreaks anytime they catch a cold. Like cold sores basically lining all the way around their lips. They do end up taking off work because they hate being seen like this but it basically means they blow through their sick time very quickly every year.

  71. RagingADHD*

    The majority of humans in the world have the cold-sore virus, and the majority of them caught it from THEIR OWN MOTHER. Because moms kiss their babies and share utensils and food.

    Apparently LW’s dad thinks it’s potentially offensive to have a mother.

  72. anonymous seal*

    I’m loving all hearing from everyone about their experiences with cold sores. It really doesn’t get discussed enough! In the interest of de-stigmatizing STD’s in general, I do want to note that it really doesn’t matter how OP or anyone contracted cold sores, this is still an outrageous and cruel way to treat someone! I know many people contract cold sores in childhood and non-sexual contexts, hence why so many bristle at being told it’s an STD, but it CAN be transmitted sexually. I DID contract cold sores from kissing, but that doesn’t make it any more “dirty” to have them!

  73. ughmondays*

    It sounds like this lady just harassed you about a medical condition and your manager did not correct her. I am not saying you need to jump to a lawsuit or anything but maybe remind your manager about their responsibilities to prevent harassment in the workplace.

  74. stitchinthyme*

    Wow. I’ve been working in offices for almost 30 years, and I’ve gotten cold sores all my life (thanks, Mom)…and not once has anyone, whether manager or coworker, ever made any sort of comment when I’ve had one. In fact, one time when I was in my 20s, I somehow managed to get FIVE at once — all of them ugly, blistery things. Even if I wore makeup, there’d have been no way to cover them up…and still no one said a word, though there’s no way anyone who wasn’t blind could have helped noticing.

    If someone did make a comment like the one in this letter, I’d probably have said something like, “Well, if you’d like to make the company give me free time off any time I have a cold sore, I’d be glad to take it.” (Note: my cold sores usually last a week or two and happen a couple of times a year. And that’s with taking daily medication to reduce their frequency and duration.)

  75. Pipe Organ Guy*

    Visible cold sores are unprofessional? Wow. Just. Wow.

    Apparently I’m one of those who never caught the cold sore virus, because I’ve never had one. But when I see someone with a cold sore, I don’t think “EEWWW! Unprofessional!” I think “Cold sore–that looks uncomfortable” and say nothing, because nothing needs to be said, and judgment doesn’t need to be passed.

    1. RagingADHD*

      Two-thirds of the world has it, and up to 90% of people have been exposed by age 50. If you’ve ever had a mouth ulcer, you might have it. Some people don’t get them on the lips/face.

      Many other things can cause mouth sores, too, but oral herpes virus is a possibility.

      And some people are infected and never get symptoms.

  76. AnonNurse*

    I’ve had cold sores all my life. I suspect from my grandmother/father/some family member kissing me as a baby, as they all have them as well. While I can’t help feel some embarrassment when I have a flare (we’re human and it’s hard not to worry about our appearance!) I absolutely have never and would never feel “unprofessional” and would be very direct with someone who insinuated or flat out said anything remotely like that. I take Valtrex when I feel one coming on or one pops up and if anyone asks about it, I simply say it’s a cold sore and move on. I’ve never had anyone make a big deal about it at all.

    I’m so sorry you were treated this way. I would be tempted to go back to my boss and say something along the lines of “I would like to revisit our conversation the other day regarding the busy body and her stating I was unprofessional. I was caught off guard but would like to be clear that a cold sore is not unprofessional or something to be ashamed of. She was out of line to comment in my appearance/medical issue and I would like an assurance that she will be talked to regarding that issue.” Then I would get my bosses response and potentially move it up the ladder. I wouldn’t want someone I barely know to have the chance to comment on my professionalism like that without it being called out and defended. You did nothing wrong and I’m so sorry it happened!

  77. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Ex virologist here who specialised in herpesviruses although I admit my area was mostly Epstein Barr (glandular fever/mono).

    Cold sores are damn annoying, I get them too (mine get BAD and tend to bleed) but there is nothing unprofessional about them. Yes, they are infectious once they start to weep and bleed but it’s close contact transmitted and unless your management thinks they’re going to snog you (if they are you got bigger issues) it’s easy to control infection by not picking at them and if you *have* put cream etc on them make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after.

    Have to admit I do not get the prejudice against cold sores/oral herpes but I did work in a herpes research lab for years. Chicken pox, Epstein Barr, herpes simplex, the vast population have at least one of these viruses knocking about their system. And that’s what made them so interesting to me – once you’ve got one there is no way to remove it permanently from your body. They go dormant but never leave. Tricksy little fellows.

    The evil part of me wants to send them my textbooks, or my various thesis, on herpesvirus and tell them if they can work out a sure fire way of never having these viruses flare up then they need to be in the medical field. The professional IT person I am now wants to tell them that saying cold sores are unprofessional is about as daft as saying having a grey hair is unprofessional.

  78. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — No, no, no, you did nothing wrong here. I hope Alison and the commenters upstream have convinced you of that. The problem with labeling anything as “professional” or “unprofessional,” is that the words can mean almost anything. They’re almost as amorphous as “culture fit,” and as ripe with possibilities for abuse.

    I’d like to offer you some advice on moving forward. It’s possible, of course, that Nosy Manager will, or has already, moved on to annoy someone else and will ignore you in future. Or, she may have decided that you’re a convenient target for harassment. IF she comes back with other petty criticism of your “professionalism,” you’ll need to start keeping notes of your interactions, e.g. “September 15, 9:45 a.m.: Nosy Manager pulled me aside and said that my pink shirt was ‘unprofessional.’ She did not supply any details.” These notes should be kept online, but not on your employer’s server space. (I like Google Docs for this kind of thing, but there are plenty of options out there.) You may not need this but, in my experience, it’s always better to have documentation and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

    You should also circle back to your manager and request some clarification as to how you should handle not just future cold sores, but any unsolicited criticism and advice from Nosy Manager.

    Good luck, and please update us.

  79. BitterMelon*

    Literally my worst nightmare come to life! I get coldsores 1-2x per year, and I’ve had them since I was a child. The most professional thing you did was not outright scold her for her comment then and there!

  80. middle name danger*

    Stuff like this is why I get so anxious around my acne. Bad enough it hurts, but I’m so worried I’ll be seen as unprofessional even though I’m doing everything I can to control it – I’m transitioning and being on testosterone, there’s only so much I can do to mitigate it!

  81. Slipping The Leash*

    How is this not a case of management harassing LW for a medical condition they cannot help? I’d go full HR complaint here.

  82. SassyAccountant*

    This is absurd. I have cold sores and have gotten them since I was a very small child. Sooo….her disgusted attitude is obviously about assuming what causes cold sores. What would she say about children who have them or those who have gotten cold sores since childhood? What exactly is she insinuating? If anyone should be offended it should be you. The implications (not that it is anyone’s business) are gross. Also, Alison has an excellent point. How long you supposed to be out with these cold sores? I have had cold sores that take WEEKS. Not a few days, not a single week BUT WEEKS to go away. I’m not taking sick or vacation leave for that! And as far as covering them up….with what? Makeup? Trust me as a long time sufferer if it’s in the beginning stages where it is still puffy and moist then makeup does not help. The makeup simply will not stay on and I argue it makes it look worse. AND! Are we expecting our male colleagues to cover their cold sores with makeup? If not then we have a very sexist angle to this as well.

  83. Sparkles McFadden*

    Being accosted by the random manager is not great. The real problem is that the random manager went to the LW’s manager with this nonsense. I am thinking that LW’s manager just ignored it and didn’t explicitly say “Having a cold sore is not unprofessional” when the LW brought it up because it is just so ridiculous.

    You are not in the wrong here LW. If it is still bothering you that much, you could bring it up to your manager and say “I just want to check back about that really weird incident and make sure that no one expects me to take a sick day if I get another cold sore.” I’d let it go because it truly is crazy.

    Oh, and I am sorry to say this but you might want to avoid talking to your Dad about work. If he thinks coworkers could be “offended” by a cold sore, it’s not likely you are going to get advice relevant to your workplace. If you do want to keep seeking his advice, please find out if he’d find a cold sore on a man offensive as well. I’m not trying to start an argument here. I’m just saying it helps to know if his viewpoint is from differences in professions, or from the idea that women need to be held to different standards.

  84. Chris*

    As a long time cold sore sufferer, this breaks my heart. They are SO painful, I can’t imagine anyone having anything but sympathy. They are also really embarrassing already. During periods of stress, I will get them one after another. A few years ago, I had them constantly for almost 3 months during a stressful time at work. Was I supposed to take sick leave that entire time? Anti virals help reduce pain and speed up healing, but often the cold sore is still visible.

  85. Allison*

    This poor woman must be old enough to remember a time when women had to look absolutely flawless at work to be considered “professional,” not a hair out of place, makeup perfect all day (and seamlessly covering any indelicate blemishes), every item of clothing fitting and flattering you just so . . . gosh, it must’ve been exhausting. Either she’s missed several memos informing her that appearance standards are a little more reasonable in most modern workplaces, or she’s so salty that she had to look perfect at all times in her youth, that she’s using her presumed authority to ensure today’s young ladies are subject to the same expectations.

  86. Betteauroan*

    Op, I am so sorry this happened to you. I get cold sores as well from time to time. I’ve found Abreva to be an amazing product. At the first hint of it starting to come on, dab a tiny bit on it and don’t lick your lips at all. You won’t even develop a sore. You got to catch it quick. It speeds the healing up tremendously, too.
    That said, do not feel bad about what happened. That lady is rude, ignorant, and obnoxious. She probably knows nothing about cold sores and how they are not necessarily sexually transmitted. The virus doesn’t make you dirty or imply that you have reckless unprotected sex with random people. She is the idiot, not you.

  87. Unkempt Flatware*

    Does anyone watch Kath & Kim? I would def pull a Sharon and come in with various cold sores, carbuncles, hives, monkey bites, pash rashes, etc. Every. Single. Day.

  88. AnonPi*

    I like Alison’s suggestion in the last paragraph, though I’d have a cold sore that changed places throughout the day like Prince John’s mole in Robin Hood Men in Tights ;D

    Ignore the vapid woman you’ve done nothing wrong but be human (which ironically some managers seem to have issue with – how dare we have bodily needs!). If she’s willing to go this far over a cold sore I bet there’s more to come. If it happens again I’d consider going to HR since it sounds like your manager doesn’t get it (or just doesn’t want to deal with it). You’re not doing a damn thing wrong, and you don’t need her giving you trouble over her idiotic ideals.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I’d have a cold sore that changed places throughout the day like Prince John’s mole in Robin Hood Men in Tights ;D

      +1. IMWO, there are no bad RH:MiT allusions…

  89. Stress Caused This Breakout*

    First, I agree with all that say to to HR. If this woman was bold enough to “chastise” you, then go to your manager (who should have shut that sh*t down immediately), chances are she’s commenting to other people as well. She shouldn’t be commenting to anyone about your appearance, but depending upon what she is actually saying to other people (including other managers), your professional reputation may be taking a hit. Someone needs to shut her down.

    Second, just some general advice (may or may not be helpful to you personally).

    About 6 months after I was promoted to my first manager job, I broke out in cold sores around my lips. HEAVILY. I tell people it looked like someone took the Bible, converted it to Braille, and stuck it on my lips. An exaggeration, but it looked pretty bad.

    Here’s the thing…I hadn’t had a cold sore in over 40 years! I had no clue that there were medications. My doctor gave me a prescription for Acyclovir, but she told me to take it for about 3 – 4 days, starting as to when I would feel a tingle. Unfortunately, the breakouts would keep happening (I didn’t often feel the tingle, and by the time I saw a breakout, it was too late). I ended up going to a dermatologist for a separate issue, and she recommended I just keep taking the Acyclovir indefinitely, until I learned to cope with stress in a different way. I haven’t had a breakout since, and seem to have (somewhat) adjusted to the stress of my job.

    This may be something that you are able to do (or not) but if the cold sores cause you problems (I don’t mean problems with this woman, I mean you, personally, for the convenience of your life), then consider consulting your doctor or your dermatologist.

    Hope this helps, and please please please don’t let either your direct manager or this other person upset you or make you feel bad about having a medical condition.

  90. Silicon Valley Girl*

    Omg, I’m sorry you work with such a horrible person! Having a minor medical condition (of any type) is not “unprofessional.” Making such a crappy comment is.

  91. HR is really only afraid of lawsuits*

    I hope you have an HR department. I recommend telling HR you were made to feel uncomfortable in the workplace over a medical condition over which you have no control. Even after the fact you can tell them that you’re thinking about be shamed over your medical condition and it feels like a hostile workplace. “Hostile workplace,” are magical words that HR knows could result in a lawsuit. You have to go into HR with suggestions about what you would like to happen next. Not just a vague “they hurt my feelings.” You could ask for 1) an apology from the original woman who scolded you and that 2)all managers be given training (or retraining) for dealing with medics conditions and 3)sensitivity training.

    1. Wisteria*

      HR knows that “hostile workplace” only applies if you are being shamed over being part of a protected class. Legal knows that a cold sore does not rise to the legal definition of a disability for ADA accommodation requests. OP can sue over whatever she wants to sue for, but her company won’t be concerned about this threat.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        Exactly. “Hostile workplace” is fairly well defined. It does NOT mean “someone was hostile to me.”

  92. Camellia*

    I started having cold sores as a very young child, and even as an adult, stress would cause them to flair frequently. When I decided to treat myself to braces, they flared up every time I went in for an adjustment. My orthodontist told me to go to the health food store and buy lysine, an amino acid. The store had a reference book and I looked it up and, lo and behold, it recommended lysine for cold sores! I was skeptical but a doctor had recommended it so I decided to try it.

    It worked. When I would first feel that little tingle on my lip I would immediately take 500 mg of lysine, and repeat it as needed. Most of the time the cold sore would not even appear. If I woke up with one already started (from nightmares), I would take it and the cold sore would be gone in a couple of days.

    I’m a very skeptical person but this has worked for me for thirty years, so I always keep it on hand now.

  93. Fiddle_Faddle*

    My coworkers had to put up with all sorts of interesting sights while I was in the middle of getting dental implants (3 front teeth lost in an accident). The work lasted for around 18 months and sometimes I was not pretty. On one occasion I was talking with someone and my temporary bridge flew out of my mouth – caught it in mid-air and went on talking. The coworker laughed so hard she literally was crying tears.

    1. Rainy*

      I like to think I’d be cool and composed if that happened to someone I was talking to, but honestly I’d probably laugh until I passed out and then ask for a selfie with you and the bridge when I woke up. That’s AMAZING.

  94. Jiminy Cricket*

    From an internet search, it seems either ADA or ADAAA protects employees from discrimination based on facial scars. Maybe cold sores would be covered too?

  95. Blarg*

    OP, I’ve had psoriasis since I was a kid (early bloomer…). It gets VERY neon red and somewhat terrifying looking when I’m hot. Or sweaty. Or it’s very dry. Etc. when it is angry looking, it is also rather painful so I’m more conscious of it.

    But as a person whose had this stuff on various appendages since i was 7 (~ 35 years), I hope it is reassuring that almost no one has ever noticed, let alone said anything.

    It’s been a weird silver lining, realizing that while we are incredibly aware of blemishes and flaws and skin that looks to be on fire, most other people simply don’t see it. They don’t. This person is terrible. But most people have literally never even noticed your cold sores, or if they did, thought about it more than momentarily. We’re so self-absorbed that we spend most of our time thinking about how we appear to others and very little time on how others look. I know this isn’t true for body size, but as far as skin issues that look like they could be contagious or dangerous or whatever … I hope you know that in my experience most people literally don’t even see it. (I did once have a guy cat call me with “nice legs” til he got closer and said “from far away” in horror, but honestly — he wasn’t wrong on that hot summer day, and I actually cracked up).

  96. MissDisplaced*

    If constantly farting in a conference room is considered professional as a way to “think outside the box,” because it was men doing the farting, then going to work whilst having a cold sore surely cannot be considered unprofessional.

    And yet because you’re a woman, it probably will be by men.

  97. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    Maybe this is because my mom has had cold sores my entire life, but I literally just think of them as a thing some people have. People get cold sores all sorts of ways. I’d treat them the same way I’d treat a huge pimple or a blistering sunburn — that is, I wouldn’t talk about it at all unless the person brought it up.

    And covering blemishes of any type is a personal choice. I’ve had cystic acne at times that was virtually impossible to fully cover. I’ve had reactions to eyeshadow that left the skin on my eyelid flaking for a month; covering it would have only irritated it further and made the problem worse. I’ve had eczema in spots that DID apparently look like hickeys (I’ve never had one, but my coworker asked about it), but covering it would have been painful and exasperated the whole issue.

    I mean, even IF someone got cold sores from something sexual, what the heck are they supposed to do about it now? (Apparently use all their PTO, I guess???) I just do not understand what in the world that woman is thinking.

    Letter Writer, you’re fine. That woman was completely out of line on several levels and your boss is being wishy-washy. You did absolutely nothing wrong.

  98. The Wandering Scout*

    This is so far out of the acceptable range I wonder why your company hired this woman. OP you haven’t done anything wrong and I am so sorry this happened to you.

    The only vaguely acceptable reason, that I can see, to not attend work due to a cold sore would be if you were a nurse that had exceptionally close contact with immunocompromised patients AND weren’t able to cover the cold sore with a mask or something. And that reason only works when there isn’t a global pandemic meaning most people are wearing masks anyway.

  99. Area51*

    OP, please *do not, do not, do not* put makeup on a cold sore.
    It may get infected and then you’ll have a scar on your lip, and may lose some of the red color.
    Ask me how I know. :(

    If you haven’t done this already, get Valtrex (valacyclovir) from your doctor and take it as soon as you feel a cold sore coming on.

  100. veggiewolf*

    FWIW, I’ve called out from work when I had a cold sore…during the days I was teaching preschool swim lessons and knew I wouldn’t be able to keep the small people from planting kisses on me. Even then, I figured I was going above and beyond.

    My corporate colleagues don’t randomly plant one on me, so I don’t call out when I have a flare-up.

  101. OP*

    Apologies I have only just had a chance to read through all the comments. The situation I wrote in about happened a couple of weeks ago. Since then I did have another chat with my manager. This time I was more direct and asked her flat out if coming to work with a cold sore was unprofessional. My manager was shocked and very apologetic. She explained that the busy body manager (BB) had made it seem like I’d done something super unprofessional and much more ‘risque’. My manager did try to press her for more details but BB had insisted ‘that it would not be appropriate for them to discuss my disgusting behaviour in the work place’. BB also wanted my manager to put me on a performance plan but she refused unless BB was willing to give her all the details and make a formal complaint to HR. My manager admitted that her vague comments at our previous catch-up where partially due to her embarrassment and partially a misguided attempt to protect me & not force me to disclose something really personal. I want to assure everyone that my manager is a lovely person and we have a good working relationship so please don’t be too hard on her.

    As for BB she continues to stick her nose in everyone’s business and generally rub people the wrong way. Rumour has it she’s the relative of either an important client or one of the senior executives so HR won’t touch her.

    1. Biziki*

      BB is a horrible person, a PIP for a medical concern is so far out of bounds she must be related to Jeff Bezos. I hope your manager takes everything she says with a heaping spoon of salt from here on in, because her professional norms calibration is way off.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      ‘I wanna report someone’
      ‘For what?’
      ‘Oh it’s too disgusting for work’

      I’d love BB to read this site – we’ve had people setting fire to toilet paper, pouring piss into kitchen sinks…how easily offended is this woman?

      I’m very glad that your boss was cool, and I wish for the most prominent case of cold sores for BB. Whole cluster. Or a really itchy spot on her bum.

    3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Yikes, but the company is going to have issues if they don’t reel her in at some point, because one day she will, genuinely and blatantly, with zero efforts to conceal it, discriminate/harass someone of a protected class in a manner that risks a serious lawsuit. This obviously is not one of those moments, but it is definitely going to happen at some point. Please update us when it happens!

  102. Jasmine Tea*

    I live in Asia and before Covid it was not unusual to see someone wearing a mask. We always assume they have a cold. However sometimes after making a sympathetic comment they would whisper, “No, I have a big zit (or cold sore)” Post Covid westerners may find masks are useful for Bad Skin Days.

  103. Sally*

    OP, I am so sorry this happened! This woman is a horrible person and should not be permitted to be in any position of authority over anyone, ever. Vile.

    (I suffer from mild acne and one of my ex managers did a similar thing when I had a small outbreak, so to speak, on my forehead. I was so hurt – I didn’t need her thoughtless, harmful words adding to my self-consciousness over this! She was then offended and hurt when I left for another job a few months later. Of course, that comment about the acne was the top of the iceberg – she was an awful person, and an even worse manager.)

  104. happybat*

    For your sfx makeup, may I suggest rigid collodion rimmed with reddish paint. Puckers up the skin very nicely and will peel off scabbily during the course of day….

  105. SentientAmoeba*

    This gives me all the feels because I’ve gotten cold sores my entire life. Now they only pop up once every 1-2 years and only when I am dealing with significant stress. I actually have one right now and it makes me want to stay inside because so many people act like this about them.

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