A cold sore is an infection ninety percent of the people experience at least once in a lifetime, and it is caused by the herpes simplex virus. You may acknowledge that you have this condition if you notice blisters especially on your lips, which can also be present on the cheeks or nose. You will feel a stinging or burning sensation on the infected area and, after some time you will want to scratch it. The eruption may occur once or several times in a year. After the blisters break, a yellowish crust remains, and it will fall within a few days without leaving scars. Unfortunately, since the virus doesn’t ever leave the body, there is no cure for it. All the traditional and home remedies for cold sores aim to alleviate the outbreak symptoms and bring a natural relief. Here is a list containing the most used ones which will help you get rid of an outbreak naturally.
1. Homemade Ointment
We may find a lot of herbs and ingredients that can help in gaining a cold sore relief. Preparing a homemade ointment or a lip balm using several of them might seem like an excellent idea. These plants have anti-fungal and antibacterial properties as well as a moisturizing effect which is crucial in this situation.
You will need:
- 1 teaspoon (each): dried calendula flowers, Echinacea root, dried yarrow flowers, comfrey leaves, rosemary leaves, plantain leaves
- a cup of almond oil
- ¼ cup beeswax pastilles
- ¼ teaspoon Vitamin E oil
- 10-15 drops essential oil of choice (or a combination)
Cold or Hot Infusion for This Cold Sore Ointment?
To prepare this lip balm for the cold sore, you will need to infuse the oil. You may choose from two methods: cold or hot. The hot one is faster, but the cold one is better in preserving the healing qualities of the plants. However, when you are in the middle of an intense cold sore outbreak, you will probably prefer the hot infusion, which means placing all the herbs in a small pot together with the oil. Let the ingredients infuse over very low heat for at least three hours. Otherwise, you can prepare the infused oil as a prevention method: combine the same ingredients in a glass jar and put it in a sunny place for about 25 to 30 days. Don’t forget to shake it daily.
No matter which method you choose, the next steps are the same:
- First of all, you need to separate the plants by using a fine sieve until all the oil drips out. Squeeze the herbs to get all the beneficial oil.
- Use a double boiler to melt the beeswax in one-fourth cup of infused oil. You may save the rest for other balms or salves.
- After all the beeswax has melted, remove from heat. Stir in the Vitamin E oil and any aromatic extracts if using. Stir to mix evenly.
- Pour this mixture into small jars of lip balm tubes and use on the affected spot. It can also be of help in case of chapped lips.
2. Witch Hazel
Witch hazel is a shrub particularly found in North America. Its flowers and bark were used by the Native Americans to treat several skin conditions. Just like any other ancient remedy, it has become well known nowadays, and you can find it in pharmacies and many stores. People may purchase it in the form of a hydrosol, a distilled liquid. Regarding a cold sore episode, if you use witch hazel extract, it has an effect similar to tea tree as it disinfects and dries the skin. But it can be a potentially irritant, especially if you have sensitive skin. So you should test it first.
- Drop some extract on a cotton pad and apply it on the elbow.
- If everything is fine within ten minutes, then you can treat the cold sore with witch hazel extract.
- Do it two times a day until you get rid of this nasty condition.
- To get the best effects, try to apply it as soon as you feel a blister bursting out.
Folk medicine has used vinegar for a long time to treat cold sores. Since it contains acetic acid, it might be helpful in fighting the virus and preventing it from developing. Whether we are talking about apple cider vinegar or white vinegar, the effect remains the same. This is great news for those who suffer from chronic breakouts as vinegar seems like an excellent home remedy for cold sores.
- Only apply it on the sensitive spot with your hand or with the help of a cotton pad or clean piece of cloth. It might be stingy in the beginning, but this is a sign that is working, and you will get used to this sensation after applying it several times.
- You will get best effects if you use it exactly when you feel the first symptoms of an outbreak.
- If the cold sore has already developed, combine the vinegar with freshly squeezed lemon juice and gently rub a pustule.
- You should follow this treatment for as many days as necessary.
4. Tea Bags
People say that any tea bag will work out just fine but green tea bags are the best in helping you get rid of cold sores. It is because of the high content of antioxidants which have a constriction effect over the blood vessels. You will find a huge relief, and drinking green tea is another great way of helping your body fight against infections and viruses.
- 1 tea bag
- 1 cup of water
- Prepare the tea by following the instructions on the package. There are different types of green tea which require different water temperatures.
- After the steeping time has passed, take the tea bag out of the mug and let it cool for three to five minutes.
- It is probably a good idea to enjoy the tea while waiting.
- The moment the tea bag has chilled apply it on the cold sore and gently press it against the area for seven to ten minutes.
- If you want a better effect, you may place the tea bag in the fridge and let it there for about fifteen to thirty minutes.
- The recommended dosage of green tea is up to three cups per day, while you may use tea bags every three hours for topical application.
5. Ice Cubes
There is no doubt that cold sore blisters can be very painful. Even if it is a common condition, it can hurt very much. It is a regular thing since those pustules are filled with liquid and when they break you will get a nice crust just as for any other injury. If you want to soothe the pain caused by a cold sore, you may try some ice cubes, followed by a small amount of petroleum jelly. The last one can help by forming a barrier and keeping the bacteria away. It is advisable to use it because simply putting water on your lips (in the form of ice, of course, but it will eventually turn into its liquid state) is just like licking them when they are cracked: it can make you feel a lot worse.
- Grab an ice cube and keep it on the sore spot for as long as you can.
- Dry your lips with a tissue paper and apply some petroleum jelly.
- You can repeat this process whenever you feel like it is necessary.
Doctors say that low levels of zinc cause an abnormal functioning of the T-cells responsible for fighting against cold sores. Dr. Felice Femiano, DMD, explains that zinc can inhibit the development of the herpes simplex virus and prevent the recurrence of outbreaks. Individuals who tried applying zinc directly on the cold sore spot stated that they healed faster and didn’t face too intense symptoms.
You can increase your zinc level using oral supplements or by topical application. While the supplements are available without any prescription, ointments that contain zinc sulfate are only sold with a doctor’s prescription. You may go for the creams with zinc oxide which you can find in drug stores, or you may prepare some at home. People can also find zinc in some foods like peanuts, beef, legumes, pork or shellfish. If you choose oral supplements, take into consideration the fact that zinc may interfere with other nutrients such as calcium, copper and iron and can prevent their absorption. So, don’t take all these supplements at once, try them separately. Also, don’t use a high dosage of zinc because it can become dangerous.
7. Baking Soda
Baking soda is effective in treating cold sores because it has a drying effect on the blisters. Also, it pulls out the acids responsible for irritating the sensitive spot. The only thing you want when you experience a breakout is to get rid of those annoying pustules as soon as you can. Getting help from the white powder in your kitchen would be a great thing in this case.
You will need:
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda
- Some pure water
- Add about half teaspoon of water at a time over the baking soda powder and stir until you get a thick paste.
- Apply the remedy on the infected area and let it dry out for about ten minutes.
- Don’t even think to scrape it out off the lesion because you will make things worse. Instead use warm water to rinse it slowly and gradually.
- Use this treatment two to three times per day until the outbreak is healed.
Besides from keeping your teeth clean, toothpaste enters the category of cold sores home remedies. It can alleviate the symptoms, but it will not cure your condition. The explanation is simple: toothpaste cannot kill the herpes simplex virus which is causing your lips to become so unaesthetic. Collective experience has shown that toothpaste may bring temporary relief and can dry out the blisters. But scientific studies state that it may contain some irritants such as SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) which can do more harm to your cold sores and turn them into canker sores. If you want to use toothpaste, find a more natural one which doesn’t contain potential irritants.
- Clean the area, and then apply a small dab of toothpaste.
- Wait for ten to fifteen minutes and then rinse gently with lukewarm water.
- Pat your lips dry with a paper towel and consider using some petroleum jelly just like you did after the ice remedy.
Alum is a drying agent which has the effect of constricting the blood vessels thus fastening the healing process. Very efficient with acne, alum may also help with the cold sores. Unlike other aluminum compounds, known as potential carcinogens, alum has larger particles which cannot penetrate the skin. Therefore, it is safe to use and doesn’t pose any risk to your health. You may find it in the form of powder or stick.
- In case you are using loose particles, soak a cotton pad in a little water, squeeze it, and then dip in the alum powder.
- Press the pad against the cold sore for a couple of minutes.
- If you purchase a stick, just wet it and rub the infected area.
- Small, almost invisible particles will remain on the surface of the skin and will act for drying and healing the pustules.
L-lysine enters the category of essential amino acids, and our bodies cannot produce it. This means that we must obtain it with the help of our diet. There are more foods which contain it, especially the ones that have a high amount of proteins, like fish, meat, dairy products, and eggs. However, it seems that supplements provide a greater quantity and are more helpful when it comes to outbreaks. The University of Maryland Medical Center says that a proper amount of l-lysine obtained from regular intake of supplements can prevent the recurrence of cold sores. But the same source states that not all the studies got positive effects for the prevention of the herpes virus while using these supplements.
But why could l-lysine be effective in fighting against cold sores? Another amino acid, called l-arginine is related to l-lysine. They are best buddies and share similar pathways in our organisms up to the point when arginine tries to take control over lysine. So eating foods high in arginine can lower the l-lysine levels. The journal “Chemotherapy” published a study showing that lower amounts of arginine can stop the herpes virus from replicating. Arginine is promoting the development of infections, while lysine can stop that. The conclusion is that avoiding foods rich in arginine and taking l-lysine supplements can help in preventing the recurrence of cold sores.
Here is the list of foods with high arginine content: chocolate, nuts and nut butter, raisins, seeds, whole grains, coconut, soybeans, seaweed, spinach, and watercress. You should not eliminate these foods from your diet but if you experience repeated episodes of cold sores you might want to consider eating fewer amounts and taking l-lysine supplements.
11. Licorice Root
Licorice has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, therefore, this root can be used successfully as a cold sore remedy. It contains glycyrrhizic acid which has been proved to inhibit the growth and development of the virus and alleviate the cold sore symptoms. The most effective way of using licorice as a remedy is to prepare an ointment out of root powder. Making a tea out of it and drinking several cups per day can also be helpful but not as effective as topical application.
- 1-2 tablespoons licorice root powder
- Put the root powder in a small bowl and add water little by little until you obtain a thick paste.
- You may replace the water with petroleum jelly because it is also a healing agent for cold sores. Just like in the case of water, add it in small batches until you get the desired consistency.
- Grab a tiny amount of this mixture and apply it on the affected area.
- Clean your hands with sanitizing soap first or use a clean cotton pad to do this.
- Leave the cream to act overnight and repeat until you notice an improvement.
This standard product can help in treating your cold sores because it contains some proteins also known as immunoglobulins. They are antibodies that once on your skin will fight and chase away all the symptoms caused by herpes simplex. As we previously spotted, dairy products (including milk) contain l-lysine, also beneficial for suppressing the virus that causes the outbreak. While drinking milk can prevent the cold sores from reoccurring, topical application can help in case you are in the middle of a cold sore episode.
- Soak a clean cotton cloth in a glass of milk and apply it on the sore spot.
- You should take the decision to use the milk cold or warm, but a lower temperature may bring better relief.
- Keep the cloth for eight to ten minutes on the lesion.
- Pat dry with some paper tissue and apply a small amount of petroleum jelly if you need to.
- You may even try some lip balm to keep your lips moisturized.
13. Lemon Balm Extract
Due to its high content of flavonoids, rosmarinic, and phenolic acid, lemon balm extract has a strong antiviral effect. Together with the ability to release stress leading to herpes episodes, this herb can successfully treat cold sores. Herbal healers say that it can fasten up the healing process to half of the days usually needed for this condition. Unlike other plants which are more efficient when applied topically, lemon balm can also work wonders in the form of tea or tincture.
- You may drink several cups of tea per day to enjoy the beautiful flavor but don’t forget to take one ounce of tincture combined with a little bit of water beginning with the moment you first notice the symptoms.
- It is a good idea for you to continue with the treatment two more days after the blisters heal. It will prevent the virus from reappearing too soon.
More Info: There is a difference between lemon balm extract and essential oil. If you wish to apply essential oils for cold sores, you can do it by reading our article on this topic.
14. Vanilla Extract
Another solution used as a home remedy for cold sores based on alcohol is vanilla extract. Just like for the lemon balm, alcohol pushes out all the antioxidant properties to help fight against the virus. Applying this remedy will speed up the healing process and the symptoms won’t get too severe. It is preferably that you use a pure vanilla extract made out of organic pods.
- Place a clean piece of cotton cloth or pad in vanilla extract. Do not squeeze the extra liquid; it stays better on your lips.
- Apply the material on the blister and keep it there for two to three minutes. It is possible to feel a burning sensation due to the alcohol, especially if the blister is broken. This feeling will fade away real soon.
- You may continue with the treatment for up to four times per day.
- Your lips will smell amazing even if they don’t look like this. But you will certainly get relief.
15. Hydrogen Peroxide
Although it is not a pleasant thing to apply hydrogen peroxide on a scrape or lesion, it is an excellent solution for cold sores. Hydrogen peroxide can reduce the period needed for healing and prevent the blisters from spreading to other areas because it has a powerful disinfectant effect. Since all the pustules are infected, it is evident that they need to stay clean to heal faster. This remedy also has an antiviral effect extremely useful in this case.
- Place some hydrogen peroxide in a small bowl and soak a cotton pad in it.
- Gently apply the solution on the pustule and be brave because it will hurt or sting a little bit.
- You need to let it act for about five minutes before rinsing with warm water.
- Even if it is not something you would like to do every day, remember that it will help you feel better in a shorter amount of time.
Cornstarch is a drying agent and can rebalance the pH of the cold sore, helping the skin regain its initial state faster. Due to its smooth texture, cornstarch can bring some relief and reduce the itching and burning.
- 1 tablespoon of cornstarch
- Enough water to create a paste
- Place the cornstarch in a small plate or bowl. Start adding water and mix until you get a thick paste which can be used as an usual cream.
- Apply a small amount of cornstarch paste on the sore spot before you go to bed and leave it to act overnight. In the morning, use warm water to remove the paste.
- Repeat the whole process until you get rid of the cold sore.
17. Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is mainly known for treating skin issues, from minor scratches to sunburns. Therefore, it is advisable to use it in the case of cold sores, too. It can disinfect the spot and chase away any other bacteria that might want to stick on the infected spot. All these qualities bring aloe vera in the top of the herbs used to treat skin issues. A real plant will have the best effect in treating cold sores, but some gel will also do.
- Apply a cut juicy aloe vera leaf it on the cold sore and leave it there.
- Do the same with pure gel if you don’t have the aloe at hand.
- You can repeat it for several days; there are no side effects.
Even though it is a natural antibiotic and everybody knows that antibiotics don’t work in case of viruses, garlic also has antibacterial properties. It has a disinfectant effect and keeps the sore clean and safe. If you don’t like the smell of vanilla on your lips, feel free to try garlic instead. First of all, eat it on a regular basis to boost your immune system. Second, prepare a paste to treat the cold sore topically.
- 2-3 garlic cloves
- Crush the cloves very well until you obtain a paste.
- Take a small amount and apply it on the pustules. Let it take action for seven to ten minutes.
- Rinse it well with warm water and pat dry with a paper tissue.
Organic raw honey is an excellent home remedy for cold sores. It has antibacterial and antifungal value, as well as a deep moisturizing action. You may also use it in the case of cracked or chapped lips. Eating honey more often (two to three teaspoons per day) will help your immune system get stronger. Also, you will efficiently fight against viruses and bacteria.
- Apply a dab of honey directly on the blister and leave it for five minutes if you can.
- Rinse with warm water and use the remedy several times a day to get relief.
20. Cold Water
You probably have noticed by now that everything coming close to the freezing temperature can soothe the pain and itching caused by this nasty condition. Cold water can also help in treating cold sores.
- Grab a piece of clean cloth and soak it in a glass with frigid water.
- Apply it directly on the blister and keep it there until it begins to warm.
- Pat dry and apply some lip balm or petroleum jelly to keep the lips hydrated.
- It is important not to let them wet because you create a proper environment for the growth of bacteria.
Pieces of Advice to Prevent and Fight a Cold Sore Outbreak
1. Boost Your Immune System with Echinacea
It is a powerful herb and drinking Echinacea tea on a regular basis will help your organism become stronger making it less prone to catching viruses and shortening the outbreak time. Scientific studies have not yet proven that it can help particularly in the case of cold sores, but it is a powerful booster in general, and the herpes virus acts when the immune system is weakened. Take a cure of Echinacea tea for at least two to three weeks to see the benefits.
2. Add More Vitamin C and E to Your Diet
Vitamin C helps to the formation of white blood cells, our defense shield against the viruses. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant which can reduce the damage of the tissue due to external agents and it also helps in the development of red blood cells and the proper functioning of the immune system. Both of them are crucial in preventing a cold sore outbreak.
Here you have a list of foods rich in vitamin C: citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, greens, tomatoes, broccoli, kiwi and so on. And you may also go for leafy greens, avocados, nuts and whole grains to get the precious vitamin E.
3. Throw Away Your Toothbrush
Be sure you replace your toothbrush after a herpes episode to avoid the reinfection. The virus may get stuck on this toilet article, and you face the risk of meeting with HSV1 sooner than you think.
4. Don’t Touch the Crust
It may sound somehow radical, but you need to resist the urge of picking the crust on your blisters. Getting it off won’t help because you will only bother it and become prone to bacterial infection. And you wouldn’t like to add some other germs to your mouth right now. As you surely know, the sores are contagious and if you touch and then you take your hand to your eyes or somewhere else on your body you will only make the infection spread. It is why you should always wash your hands thoroughly after applying a home remedy on the cold sores.
5. Use Sunscreen on Your Lips
UV light may be a trigger for cold sores outbreaks. When summer comes, no matter if you go to the beach or pool or just for a walk, take the time to apply sunscreen not only on your face but on your lips too. Make sure you use at least SPF 15. Don’t even think about your tan because you will probably be willing to get it in a longer period than to walk with an unaesthetic cold sore on your mouth.
6. Take It Easy
It is possible that you won’t find the perfect home remedy for cold sores in the first place and that you will have to try several alternatives to get the right one for you. As we stated before, scientists couldn’t find any treatment that can kill this virus, so you need to remain calm and co-habit with it.
Listen to your body and avoid anything that triggers the outbreaks. But when they happen, just apply a treatment and go on with your life.
PS: You may want to read our list of 5 Essential Oils For a Cold Sore Outbreak.