Cold Sores: What To Do

What do approximately 48% of people in the United States have in common? According to the CDC, herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1), otherwise known as the virus that causes cold sores.

What are cold sores?

There are two primary forms of the herpes virus: herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 most commonly causes cold sores and HSV-2 most commonly causes genital herpes; HSV-1 is far more prevalent in the United States.

How long do cold sore outbreaks last?

This entire experience lasts between 7-10 days, and it’s a long 7-10 for many people. That’s why many who have cold sores search for home remedies to expedite the healing process.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for either form of herpes; once infected, it stays in the body for life. That means managing symptoms of an outbreak is currently the best form of treating this condition.

What are some cold sore home remedies?

It’s always best to consult a doctor before trying out any of the 19 upcoming popular home remedies for mouth herpes and combining multiple of these home remedies will give the best results…

Lemon Lip Balm

Treating a blister or cold sore in its early stages with lemon balm can cut down the time required to heal a cold sore while also alleviating the discomfort of some of its symptoms.

Why It’s Effective

Lemon balm is derived from the plant Melissa officinalis. This plant contains properties that are known to reduce swelling and redness, which a cold sore typically causes. These properties may also therefore protect against future outbreaks.

How To Use It

  1. Lemon balm is readily available in drug stores and online.
  2. Purchase lip balm that contains at least 1% lemon balm.
  3. Apply to the affected area.
  4. You may also use a compress that is lemon-balm infused.

This option isn’t the only way to use lemon balm to fight oral herpes, though…

Tea Tree Oil

The antiseptic, antimicrobial, and antifungal effects of tea tree oil are perfect for treating cold sores.

Why It’s Effective

Some limited research suggests this oil has anti-inflammatory properties as well as antiviral effects, meaning it can tackle HSV-1 quite well.

Additional research states that tea tree oil acts as a drying agent for the cold sore (similar to rubbing alcohol, witch hazel, and other astringents). Drying out the sore does not completely heal the sore, although it can speed up the process a little bit.

How To Use It

  1. Dilute the oil.
  2. Apply diluted tea tree oil with a cotton swab to the affected area.

Those who aren’t fans of essential oils may find the following methods more to their liking…

Avoid Foods High in Arginine

Why It’s Effective

Research has shown that ingesting arginine in large quantities can increase cold sore outbreaks. This fact is because, in order to replicate, the virus needs to feed on arginine.

Foods High in Arginine

Those who sense an outbreak coming up should decrease the intake of foods like:

  • seeds
  • gelatin (meaning no gelatin capsules)
  • raisins
  • almonds
  • raw peanuts

The following treatment for cold sores? It’s much cooler


Those craving a little relief from cold sore discomfort don’t have to leave the comfort of their home. They just need some ice.

Why It’s Effective

Ice is useful for treating inflammation and discomfort brought on by cold sores. Just note that it will not reduce a breakout’s duration.

How To Use It

  1. Wrap ice in a towel or cloth.
  2. Apply to the affected area for approximately 10-20 minutes at a time.
  3. Repeat at least 3-5 times a day.
  4. Use a different towel or cloth each and every time.

The following remedy is also pretty chill

Take in Lysine

If you are shopping for an over-the-counter (OTC) antiviral medication, look for a product that contains lysine. Studies show these types of products are highly effective in reducing how long a cold sore lasts.

Why It’s Effective

Lysine is an amino acid, which is a substance that helps build proteins. Research has found that use of lysine supplements may reduce healing time as well as the frequency of outbreaks.

Why, though?

Experts believe that lysine disrupts the absorption of another amino acid that causes the herpes simplex virus to grow and reproduce: arginine.

Natural Sources of Lysine

Some natural sources of lysine include:

  • eggs
  • sardines
  • soy
  • peas
  • cod
  • red meat
  • beans
  • turkey
  • cheese

How To Use OTC Supplements

Those that are pregnant, have cardiovascular disease, or have gallbladder disease should consult with their doctor before using these products.

  1. Purchase products containing lysine at a local drugstore and apply topically as directed.
  2. Oral supplements containing lysine are best used as a preventative measure when treating the herpes simplex virus.
  3. Topical cream alternatives may be more helpful during an active outbreak.

Our next remedy is one you are probably familiar with but for another common ailment…

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is one of the few agents that actually helps treat the condition while also offering pain relief.

Why It’s Effective

Because this area is so sensitive, it is important to soothe the region and also keep bacteria out. Fortunately, cooling aloe vera contains natural antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties that are known to inhibit cold sore symptoms and outbreaks.

How To Use It

  1. Apply aloe vera to the affected area at least 3-4 times a day.

The upcoming method is most effective when used not just during outbreaks…


Sunscreen is effective in protecting the lips during the cold sore healing process. It is also useful to control the possibility of future outbreaks if it is worn on a daily basis around the lips.

Why It’s Effective

Melanin is a pigmented amino acid that is known for influencing skin color. Notably, the higher the concentration of melanin, the more protection someone typically has from the sun. One of the areas of the body with no melanin? The lips.

That means that the sun’s UV rays can hit the lips especially hard, which is unfortunate for cold sore sufferers. Why? Because sun exposure is a well-known outbreak trigger. Therefore, applying sunscreen to the area helps protect the lips from this trigger, reducing the risk of outbreak.

How To Use It

  1. Look for a product of about SPF 15-30.
  2. Apply it to the lips whenever you go outside, even if it’s cloudy.

Like applying sunscreen, the next trick for fighting cold sores is most effective if used outside of active outbreaks…

Reduce Stress

Everyone can benefit from relaxation; this fact is doubly true for those with cold sores.

Why Stress Reduction is Effective

It is it well-known fact that stress brings the herpes simplex virus out of its dormancy.

Why, though?

It all has to do with the immune system. In other words, people with lowered immune systems are more likely to experience an outbreak. And stress can negatively impact the immune system, thereby placing someone at greater risk for a cold sore outbreak.

Stress-reduction Methods

Everyone has their own unique way to de-stress. Popular relaxation techniques include:

  • Watching a movie
  • Bird-watching
  • Yoga
  • Walking, jogging, or running
  • Journaling
  • Drawing
  • Deep breathing
  • Listening to music

Sometimes no amount of preventative measures can stop an outbreak from occurring. So, when one hits, the following might help sufferers find the relief they’re craving…

Lemon Balm Essential Oil

Essential oils are all the rage these days, and for good reason. In the case of lemon balm, its essential oil may help cold sore sufferers find relief.

Why It’s Effective

Research suggests that this essential oil may protect cells against HSV-1; that means that it’s best to apply this solution as early into the outbreak as possible.

How To Use It

  1. Dilute lemon balm with a carrier oil.
  2. Using a cotton swab, apply the diluted oil to the affected area.
  3. Repeat 3-4 times a day.

Of course, this option isn’t the only oil that may help combat HSV-1…

Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen and Aspirin

These common over-the-counter medications are great to take when fighting a cold sore outbreak.

Why They’re Effective

These painkillers will not speed up recovery. However, they will make the outbreak more bearable by reducing pain. If using an NSAID like ibuprofen and aspirin, any possible inflammation may go down as well.

How To Use Them

  1. By taking 125 mg of aspirin per day, the duration of an active infected cold sore could be reduced by up to 50%.
  2. Before taking NSAIDs like ibuprofen and aspirin, people should always consult with their doctors as they may lead to bleeding problems for some people.

These methods are easy enough to apply; the following might sting a little…

Hydrogen Peroxide

One way to reduce the chances that a cold sore becomes infected? Applying hydrogen peroxide.

Why It’s Effective

Cold sores can result in open blisters, which are susceptible to infection. Therefore, it is important to disinfect the affected area to avoid bacterial infection. Hydrogen peroxide works by oxygenating the affected area, creating the bubbles most people associate with this solution. This bubbling importantly brings contaminants like dirt up to the surface of the skin.

How To Use It

  1. Douse a cotton swab with hydrogen peroxide.
  2. Disinfect the affected area.
  3. Repeat at least 2-3 times a day.

Don’t worry; the following remedy is much sweeter…

Licorice Root Paste

We don’t mean to head to the store and pick up the nearest pack of Twizzlers when we say that licorice can be an effective remedy for cold sores.

Why It’s Effective

Licorice contains both antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, making it perfect to fight the herpes virus. Overall, licorice may reduce cold sore symptoms and help prevent them from spreading.

How To Use It

  1. Combine 1 tablespoon of licorice powder or extract with a teaspoon of petroleum jelly to create a paste.
  2. Apply paste directly to the affected area and leave overnight.

The following remedy is important to follow 24/7…


Bees collect resin from botanicals to create propolis, which bees use to seal crevices in their hives.

Why It’s Effective

This substance has high levels of antioxidants and antiviral properties. Therefore, it’s no surprise that research shows it can prevent replication of the herpes simplex virus.

How To Use It

  1. Propolis is available for purchase online and in drug stores. Opt for something with a 3% concentration.
  2. Apply after following the specific product’s instructions.

The final method for treating cold sores on our list? It’s coming right up…

Rhubarb and Sage

A topically-applied cream made of sage and rhubarb is can drastically heal up the healing process.

How Effective is It?

This remedy is sold under the brand name Zovirax. The average healing time using Zovirax is 6.7 days. A healing cream made with just sage had an average healing time of 7.6 days. Either way, that is a great reduction from a 10-day outbreak.

How To Use It

  1. Zovirax is available for purchase at drug stores and online.
  2. Apply after reading the instructions.

Improve Immune System Defenses

The immune system plays a key role in fighting cold sore outbreaks. In other words, a weakened immune system means greater risk of more infections. Therefore, taking active steps to boost the immune system is a great way to reduce the severity and frequency of outbreaks.

Ways to Boost the Immune System

Building up the immune system involves improving both diet and exercise.

  • At least 30 minutes of exercise a day during an outbreak is recommended (don’t worry; it doesn’t have to be intense exercise). Moderate exercise 4-5 days a week is recommended for everyone.
  • Increase intake of immune-boosting foods high in zinc and vitamin C.

Zinc, especially, plays an important part in the body’s response to HSV-1…

Get Enough Zinc

It’s important to incorporate zinc into the diet, no matter if an outbreak is occurring or not; this behavior can decrease the severity and frequency of outbreaks.

When an outbreak does occur, applying a zinc cream may help.

Why the Cream is Effective

Studies show that zinc oxide cream reduces outbreak duration by up to 1.5 days (compared to those that were given a placebo). Besides reducing the length of an outbreak, these topical creams may also reduce the itching, tingling, soreness, and blistering associated with cold sores.

How To Use Creams

  • Available over the counter.
  • Purchase at local drug store and apply following the instructions.

Foods High in Zinc

Dietary zinc may help prevent an outbreak in the first place. Zinc-rich foods include:

  • oysters
  • cashews
  • chickpeas
  • lamb
  • spinach
  • whole grains
  • dark chocolate

The following method for dealing with a cold sore? It’s pretty darn important…

Get Rid of Old Toothbrushes

A cold sore is easily spread and highly contagious… even within the same body. In other words, someone can transfer their HSV-1 infection to other parts of the body or worsen it themselves.

How Does this Transfer Occur?

This transfer can occur when someone touches the cold sore directly with an object and then touches someplace else with that infected object. Therefore, getting rid of objects that come into contact with the cold sore is imperative to stopping the virus from spreading to other areas of the body.

What Objects Should Be Thrown Out?

Any item that has come into contact with the cold sore should be thrown out. These items include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Toothbrushes
  • Lipstick
  • Lip balm

Of course, this method for dealing with cold sores lies primarily on the following premise…

Do Not Touch It

People have the sometimes-irresistible urge to touch the cold sore or to pick at it. It’s important to resist this urge no matter what.

Why Touching a Cold Sore is a Bad Idea

The hands are a hotbed of bacteria. So, touching the cold sore means introducing bacteria to the area. When an outbreak has open sores, that can mean a worsening infection.

But that’s not all the harm that could happen. Since cold sores are highly contagious, touching the cold sore may result in transferring the virus to other parts of the body.

Being Conscientious is Key

During an outbreak, the following is quite important.

  • Be attentive to the cleanliness of the hands. Wash them frequently throughout the day with antibacterial soap.
  • After touching the sore for any reason, immediately wash the hands. This includes after applying medicine to the area.
  • Any items used to apply medicine should be discarded, such as tissues, Q-tips, etc.
  • Refrain from interacting with those that may have a weakened immune system, such as babies. Do not kiss babies even when not experiencing an outbreak, as it could lead to a life-threatening infection.
  • Make it a habit to frequently wash the hands the entire time a cold sore is present.

Not touching cold sores is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to preparing for a cold sore…

Become Educated on What Causes an Outbreak

Like any other medical condition, knowledge is power! Early prevention can increase the likelihood that repeated episodes do not occur. Or, if they do occur, it can be less often and with less intense symptoms.

In other words, it’s important to learn the triggers of cold sores. This way, cold sore sufferers can take active measures to avoid these triggers, meaning an outbreak is less likely.

Common Triggers

The most common triggers of cold sores include:

  • fatigue
  • a compromised immune system
  • infection
  • exposure to ultraviolet rays
  • hormonal stress

Prevention is the best medicine, but sometimes even that fails. When that occurs, reaching for the following may help during an outbreak…


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