Zovirax (Acyclovir) Ointment, Cream

  • Generic name: Acyclovir
  • Brand name: Zovirax
  • Therapeutic class: Antiviral, Nucleoside analogue

What is topical Zovirax used for?

  • Cold sores. Topical acyclovir lessens the duration of pain and shortens the length of an outbreak, and can be applied at any stage of cold sore - early prodrome or late vesicle or crusted stage.
  • First episode of genital herpes (ointment only).

Although all of the acyclovir patents have expired, there is currently no generic version of Zovirax ointment or cream on the U.S market.

How effective is Acyclovir cream?

Topical acyclovir 5% cream applied 5 times a day decreases pain and the duration of hard crust. The beneficial effects may be achieved when the treatment is started during an “early” lesion stage (prodrome or erythema) as well as when the lesion is in the “late” stages (papule, vesicle, or ulcer)5.

Can Zovirax cream be used on genital herpes?

Officially, Zovirax cream is not approved for genital herpes. However, topical acyclovir cream may be useful in the treatment of first and recurrent episodes of genital herpes2, and sometimes compares quite favourably with oral treatment3. It helps to reduce the duration of pain, healing time, viral shedding and duration of new lesion formation.

For the prevention of recurrent herpes outbreaks consider Acyclovir tablets.

Difference between Cream and Ointment

Zovirax Cream is approved for the treatment of recurrent herpes labialis (cold sores) only. It is supplied as 2 g tubes and 5 g tubes.

Each gram of cream 5% contains 50 mg of acyclovir in an aqueous base (cetostearyl alcohol, mineral oil, poloxamer 407, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, water, and white petrolatum).

Zovirax Ointment is approved for the treatment of initial genital herpes. It is supplied as 15 g tubes.

Each gram of ointment 5% contains 50 mg of acyclovir in a polyethylene glycol (PEG) base. The delivery of acyclovir from PEG ointment through skin is very poor.

Both topical Zovirax products are manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline for Biovail Corporation.

Topical Acyclovir alternatives

  • Penciclovir (Denavir)
  • Docosanol (Abreva)
  • Idoxuridine


  • 1. Zovirax Ointment Prescribing information.
  • 2. Kinghorn GR, Turner EB, Barton IG, Potter CW, Burke CA, Fiddian AP. Efficacy of topical acyclovir cream in first and recurrent episodes of genital herpes. Antiviral Res. 1983 Dec;3(5-6):291-301. PubMed
  • 3. Fiddian AP, Kinghorn GR, Goldmeier D, Rees E, Rodin P, Thin RN, de Konig GA. Topical acyclovir in the treatment of genital herpes: a comparison with systemic therapy. J Antimicrob Chemother. 1983 Sep;12 Suppl B:67-77.
  • 4. Spruance S, Nett R, Marbury T, Wolff R, Johnson J, Spaulding T. Acyclovir cream for treatment of herpes simplex labialis: results of two randomized, double-blind, vehicle-controlled multicenter clinical trials. Antimicrobial Agents Chemother 2002;46:2238-2243.
  • 5. Spruance SL, Nett R, Marbury T, Wolff R, Johnson J, Spaulding T. Acyclovir Cream for Treatment of Herpes Simplex Labialis: Results of Two Randomized, Double-Blind, Vehicle-Controlled, Multicenter Clinical Trials. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2002 Jul;46(7):2238-43.

Last updated: May, 2015

Advanced Consumer Info

acyclovir 5% ointment

acyclovir 5% cream

  • Zovirax is the oldest antiviral drug available since 1982 in topical form.
  • Pregnancy Category: B.
  • Breastfeeding: Compatible.