Infection with herpes simplex virus (HSV) has increased in prevalence worldwide over the past two decades, making it a major public health concern. Approximately 90% of recurrent HSV type 1 (HSV-1) infections manifest as non-genital disease, primarily as orofacial lesions known as herpes labialis. Improvements in our understanding of the natural history of herpes labialis support the rationale for early treatment (during the prodrome or erythema stages) with high doses of antiviral agents in order to maximize drug benefit. When evaluating the efficacy of different antiviral and anti-inflammatory agents in clinical trials, episode duration, lesion healing time, reduction in maximum lesion size and the proportion of aborted lesions should be used as the most reliable measures of therapeutic efficacy. There has also been considerable research into the most beneficial treatment for recurrent episodes of herpes labialis in immunocompetent individuals. Data from clinical studies confirm that short-course, high-dose oral antiviral therapy should be offered to patients with recurrent herpes labialis to accelerate healing, reduce pain and most likely increase treatment adherence. Optimal benefits may be obtained when these oral antiviral agents are combined with topical corticosteroids, but more research is needed with this combination. Patients undergoing facial cosmetic procedures (i.e. facial resurfacing) are at risk of HSV reactivation, but further data are required on the actual risk according to the specific procedure. Aciclovir, valaciclovir and famciclovir all provide effective prophylaxis against HSV-1 reactivation following ablative facial resurfacing. However, no definitive recommendations can be made regarding prophylactic therapy for minimally invasive procedures at present.