Most people have an old friend that occasionally pays a visit during moments of stress—even ones as exhilarating as snowboarding down a freshly powdered mountain. Suddenly the brisk air brings on an itch on the lip, and soon turns into a full-blown crisis.
Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, might be one of the most crippling things that could possibly happen to a face—we dare say it’s up there with a sudden crop-up of cystic acne. No, it’s not a life-threatening injury—it’s mainly a vanity issue—but it does present a major blow to confidence, making a person feel an urge to hide out until it disappears. Not to mention, no kissing for at least 10 days, and it physically hurts.
How cold sores are triggered
So where do these pesky sores come from anyway? They’re caused by certain strains of the herpes simplex virus (HSV)—which is part of the reason we feel so embarrassed when they make an appearance on our lips. But no need to feel like a pariah—90 percent of American adults have been exposed to this virus, usually as a result of an infection from childhood. And once we contract the virus, it lies dormant in nerve cells and can be triggered by a number of issues:
- Hormonal changes
- Sun and wind exposure
How to fight cold sores
Starting to feel that all too familiar tingle in the lips? Here are five natural remedies that can head cold sores off at the pass before they rear their ugly heads. (Be sure to wash your hands before and after treatment.)
Known to be a potent healing ingredient, raw honey possesses some antiviral properties that could be beneficial in fighting cold sores. In a study involving eight adult patients who had experienced these infections, topically applying honey was relatively successful at reducing the duration of an outbreak and occurrence of crusting, and speeding up healing compared with a commonly prescribed medication.
In another study, peppermint essential oil was also found to have strong antiviral effects against cold sores, especially when used as a pretreatment. So as soon as you feel that itch coming on, apply a drop or two of peppermint oil directly to the area with a q-tip. You might never even have to lay eyes on that thing.
Some people believe applying organic vanilla extract topically to a developing sore can help dry it out, thanks to its alcohol content, which shortens the sore’s lifespan. So if you prefer to avoid rubbing alcohol, soak a cotton ball with organic vanilla extract and apply directly to the affected area three to four times daily, as symptoms persist.
Antiviral oregano oil is believed to help reduce swelling and speed up healing of cold sores. Apply a drop or two of it directly onto the sore using a q-tip.
Avoid arginine-rich foods
Arginine is an amino acid that helps cold sores thrive. At the first signs of an outbreak, try avoiding foods that contain significant amounts of it—chocolate, peanuts, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, flaxseeds, sesame and sunflower seeds, dark leafy greens, and whole grains.
As frustrating as cold sores can be, just try to remember that it happens to a lot of people—no one is judging! Aside from trying these remedies, leave cold sores be and you and your kisser will be back in business in no time.
Illustration by Foley Wu