5 Natural Remedies for Cold Sores

January 5, 2016

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.

What causes cold sores?

So where do these pesky cold 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:

  • Fever
  • Hormonal changes
  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Sun and wind exposure

Cold sore symptoms

Cold sores are red, blister-like sores that can appear in or around your mouth. You may feel tingling and throbbing around your mouth when a cold sore is coming on. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, cold sore symptoms can also include burning, stinging, and itching.

5 natural remedies to fight cold sores

Starting to feel that all too familiar cold sore 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.)

1. Raw honey

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.

2. Peppermint oil

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 cold sore 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 a cold sore.

3. Vanilla extract

Some people believe applying organic vanilla extract topically to a developing cold sore can help dry it out, thanks to its alcohol content, which shortens the cold 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.

4. Oregano oil

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.

5. 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.

How to prevent cold sores

While cold sores can sometimes feel like an inevitable evil, you may be able to reduce your chances of another one popping up.

Cold sores can sometimes be triggered by sun exposure. A good lip balm with SPF could help prevent a cold sore if yours tend to be triggered by the weather.

Some people notice more cold sores when they are fighting a fever. It’s always good practice to get a healthy amount of sleep and keep your hands clean to avoid catching a bug that could cause a cold sore to pop up.

What to do if you have a cold sore

If you do end up with a cold sore despite your best efforts, the best course of action is to be as hands-off as possible to avoid irritating the sore or spreading it to someone else. Wash your hands often and use a cotton swab or pad to apply any treatments or remedies. Cold sores will generally heal within a week or two.

If your cold sore won’t budge, reach out to your doctor to see if there are other options (like over over-the-counter-treatments) that may work for you.

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.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before changing your diet or healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Illustration by Foley Wu

This article is related to:

Health, Living, Tips

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Dana Poblete

Dana's love for all creatures under the sun (bugs, too) drives her in her advocacy for ethical eating, environmental sustainability, and cruelty-free living. A natural born islander, she surfs when she can, and writes, always.

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