Here’s how to naturally get rid of cold sores and how to prevent pesky outbreaks.
If you suffer from cold sores, you’re not alone. Globally, 67% of the population is affected by the herpes simplex virus (HSV 1), which produces fluid-filled blisters around the mouth and surrounding areas of the face (1). While most people get cold sores on their lips, they can also appear on the cheeks, chin and in the nose.
The virus is most contagious when blisters are present, but it can be passed to another person at any time, during asymptomatic “shedding” of the virus (2). Cold sores are commonly spread by sharing drinks, utensils, food, cosmetic and from kissing (yikes!).
At present time, there’s no known cure for the herpes simplex virus. Instead, the virus “hides,” or remains dormant, in the nerve endings, until cold sores are triggered by factors such as stress, sunlight and weakened immunity (3)(4).
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If you’ve had a cold sore before, you’re familiar with the tingling, burning sensation that creeps up on your lip and throws you into a panic. These painful, itchy blisters seem to have a way of showing up right before important events or vacations, which calls for natural remedies to clear them up quick.
Natural Home Remedies for Cold Sores
1. Coconut Oil
The primary reason coconut oil is considered a superfood is because of a nutrient it contains called lauric acid. Lauric acid is a medium-chain fatty acid that has antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties (5). Since cold sores are a viral infection, the lauric acid in coconut oil may be effective in preventing the virus from multiplying.
How to Apply Coconut Oil to Cold Sores:
At the first sign of a cold sore (tingling or itching), apply coconut oil to the affected area using a Q-tip. Reapply several times daily.
Don’t forget to eat your coconut oil, too! Lauric acid boosts immunity, and as mentioned above, a weakened immune system is a trigger for cold sore outbreaks. Therefore, adding coconut oil to your diet is also effective not only for healing, but for prevention.
Coconut oil is a healthy cooking oil and makes a great dairy-free alternative to butter in baking recipes. You can also add coconut oil to your soups, smoothies, coffee, tea, homemade nut butters and Paleo dessert recipes.
Lysine is an amino acid found in eggs, chicken, nuts, shellfish, and seeds. Studies show that supplementing with lysine is effective in reducing the occurrence of breakouts, severity and healing time (6).
Although it’s unclear exactly how lysine works against the herpes simplex virus, research suggests it blocks the absorption of arginine in the intestine, which is the amino acid the virus needs to replicate (7). Based on these findings, you may want to avoid foods with a high arginine to lysine ratio to prevent cold sore outbreaks.
Paleo foods that are high in arginine and low in lysine (and may be potential triggers for cold sores) include chocolate, cacao, coconut meat, coconut milk, gelatin and almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts.
How to Take Lysine for Cold Sores:
In addition to eating lysine rich foods, you can also take it as an isolated amino acid in capsule form.
The study mentioned showed that 1,000 mg of lysine three times per day for 6 months was effective for treating the herpes simplex virus, but your health care practitioner can recommend the appropriate therapeutic dose for you (8).
As always, it’s important to consult a licensed healthcare practitioner before adding any new supplement to your routine, since certain supplements can interact with prescription drugs and may only be suitable for short-term use.
3. Tea Tree Oil
Studies show that tea tree oil has a direct antiviral effect on the herpes simplex virus when applied topically (9). Findings suggest applying tea tree oil to the affected area at the first sign of a cold sore (usually accompanied by a tingling or burning sensation) is most effective for reducing the severity of the infection.
How to Apply Tea Tree Oil to Cold Sores:
Dilute tea tree oil with a carrier oil like coconut oil or jojoba oil. Using a Q-tip or cotton ball, apply a few drops of diluted tea tree oil to the affected area. Be sure to avoid getting tea tree oil on the surrounding areas of your lips or skin, as tea tree oil is highly concentrated and can burn your skin.
As a nutrient critical to immune system function, studies suggest a lack of zinc in your diet may encourage cold sore outbreaks. This is because zinc helps produce T-killer cells that fight off viral infections, including the herpes simplex virus (10).
How to Take Zinc for Cold Sores:
The Paleo foods richest in zinc include grass-fed beef, chicken, pumpkin seeds, oysters, spinach, mushroom, cashews, and algae such as chlorella, so be sure to include these in your diet regularly to prevent cold sores.
You can also take a zinc sulfate supplement to boost your immune system, which can speed up healing time and prevent outbreaks altogether. However, it’s important to check with your doctor before supplementing with zinc, as high levels may interfere with the absorption of other essential nutrients, such as iron and copper (11).
You can also apply zinc directly to your cold sore using zinc oxide cream, which can be found at most local drugstores. Zinc oxide cream is used to reduce irritation from diaper rash, cuts, burns and bug bites, so it may also help reduce the itching and burning of cold sores.
5. Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is a natural antiseptic that can help dry out cold sores and speed up healing time. Since hydrogen peroxide can cause initial pain and irritation when applied, it should only be used on fresh blisters and not during the healing phase when scabs begin to develop.
How to Apply Hydrogen Peroxide to a Cold Sore:
Hydrogen peroxide is highly concentrated, so it should always be diluted with equal parts water to prevent burning of your skin. Properly diluted hydrogen peroxide can be applied directly to a cold sore with a cotton ball.
6. Sea Salt
Saltwater is one of the oldest natural remedies for wound and skin healing, which is why it’s also used to dry out cold sores and accelerate healing (12). Sea salt is also a natural antibacterial that can help dry out bacteria on your skin and prevent cold sores from becoming infected (13).
How to Apply Sea Salt to a Cold Sore:
To make a salt water solution to apply to a cold sore, dissolve 1 teaspoon of pure Celtic or Maldon sea salt in 1 cup of water (250 ml). Apply salt water solution to the affected area multiple times daily.
7. Lemon Balm
Studies show a promising effect of lemon balm for healing cold sores, with one study done on 116 participants noting an improvement in redness and swelling in only two days (14). Another study, that involved three German hospitals and one dermatology clinic, showed that when lemon balm was applied to treat the herpes simplex virus, no recurrences were found (15).
How to Apply Lemon Balm to a Cold Sore:
Lemon balm is best applied topically to cold sores as a cream or ointment – however, creams with high concentrations of lemon balm may have limited availability in the U.S. In this case, you can steep lemon balm tea, and once cooled, you can apply the tea directly to the cold sore using a cotton ball.
Why Use Natural Remedies for Cold Sores?
Cold sores can be extremely irritating, painful and unsightly, so it’s understandable that an OTC prescription may be the first place you turn. However, pharmaceutical drugs are hard on your liver and deplete the healthy bacteria in your gut that keep your immune system healthy – which may do you no favors when it comes to preventing cold sores in the future (16).
If you do choose to use an OTC prescription alongside natural remedies for cold sores, be sure to take a probiotic supplement to replenish the healthy bacteria in your GI tract once your prescription is finished.
In addition to using the remedies above, you can prevent future cold sore outbreaks by eating immune-boosting vitamin- and mineral-rich foods, and avoiding processed foods that wear down your immune system, such as refined sugar and alcohol.