A cold sore is not welcome on your face, or anywhere else, for that matter. Not only are they cosmetically unappealing, they can be downright painful. Let’s get over the fact they’re caused by the herpes virus. We all know it, and that aspect gets far too much attention. Defining cold sores simply for what they are, they are small, fluid filled lesions that pop up generally on or around your lips. The blisters often group together, and after they break, a crust forms over the resulting sore. There is no true cure for the virus, or the cold sores. The bright side is that there are preventative measures you can take that lessen outbreaks, severity, and duration. If the bothersome blisters do show up, there are a decent number of home remedies for cold sores that may ease your discomfort, and help diminish their appearance. Just because there is no cure, doesn’t mean you’re stuck using irritating prescription face creams or having a cold sore that hangs around for an eternity.
1. Enjoy vanilla
Vanilla extract, the real, good, pure, vanilla extract, is a natural cold sore remedy some people swear by. The thought process is that its alcohol based, and running along those lines, makes it hard for the virus to thrive and either wipes it out or lessens the severity and length of the outbreak. If you do use vanilla, try and get it organic, and try to start using it the second you feel the tingling set it.
You will need…
-a cotton swab or cotton pad
-pure vanilla extract
Soak cotton pad or swab in vanilla until thoroughly saturated. Apply directly to sore, holding the swab or pad in place for a minute or so. Do this four times daily until no longer needed.
2. Snag some licorice
One of the more random natural remedies for cold sores that you can use is licorice. Glycyrhizic acid, an ingredient in licorice root, has been shown in some studies to stop the virus cells in their nasty little tracks-or at least counteract the symptoms of them. This is thanks to its anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. A way to glean something positive from this isn’t to go munch on a bunch of licorice whips, but rather get some licorice powder, and make a cream. You can also try drinking licorice tea daily, though that doesn’t seem as effective as topical treatment.
You will need…
-1 tablespoon licorice root powder or extract
-1/2 teaspoon fresh water OR approximately 2 teaspoons petroleum jelly
Mix one tablespoon of licorice root powder to ½ teaspoon of fresh water, or however much you need to get the consistency of cream you want, making sure to add in small increments. Another option is to mix it with petroleum jelly, which on its own can help speed up the healing process of cold sores. If you opt for this, start with a teaspoon of the petroleum jelly and mix it with the licorice root. You can work your way up to your desired consistency from there. Gently dab (a cotton swab is handy for this) a thin layer over the sore, making sure to get it completely covered. Leave it on for at least several hours, or overnight if possible.
3. Toss your toothbrush
Throw out your toothbrush after the blister has formed, and toss it once the sore has cleared up. A toothbrush is the perfect vessel to carry the virus, and you can end up triggering an outbreak in yourself if you re-use the same toothbrush again and again. This is a preventative measure, since it can stop an outbreak or cut it short, it’s well worth doing.
4. Hands off
It may sound obvious, but it can be near an impossible to resist picking at that crusty little (or big) patch by your mouth. Almost subconsciously you can end up bothering it, or very consciously, you just want to peel it off and be done with it. Whatever your motive, resist touching the sore-even just reaching up to touch it and see if it somehow shrunk-as those actions can cause a bacterial infection. That’s the last thing you need. They are also so highly contagious that even touching your sore and then accidentally rubbing your eye, or somewhere else on your body, could cause them to spread (they aren’t confined just to the mouth, you know.)
5. Get milk
Putting a whole milk compress on your sore can help speed up the healing, and ease pain. The reason? Milk contains proteins known as immunoglobulins, which are essentially anti-bodies that fight off and prevent viruses-like herpes. It also contains l-lysine. L-lysine helps inhibit the wicked work of an ammino acid called arginine, which has been shown to cause outbreaks, and may help speed up the healing process as well. In short to prevent outbreaks, drink whole milk and get your dose of l-lysine. To help cold sores that have already erupted, make a whole milk compress to soothe the pain and fight off the virus.
You will need…
-1/2 cup to 1 cup of whole milk, plus a tablespoon or 2 extra
-cotton balls or cotton pads
Soak a cotton ball in approximately 1 tablespoon of milk, and apply it directly to the cold sore for several minutes. Before doing this you can either let the milk come to room temperature or, if you prefer, you can apply it cold. Use a clean towel moistened with water to dab off the milky residue at the end. If you feel you need it, apply a dab of petroleum jelly.
6. Wipe it out with hydrogen peroxide
Anyone who had a parent that put hydrogen peroxide on a scrape knows that it’s not exactly pleasant. The good news is that it’s a lot less traumatic to use at your own will, nor does it seem to hurt as bad now that you’ve grown up a bit. Love it or hate it, the solution can be an effective cold sore remedy. It disinfects, healing up speeding, and makes it hard for the surfaced sore to spread or worsen. The blister is already bothered and infected, at the very least virally, and keeping it clean can ultimately make it go away faster.
You will need…
-1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide
-cotton balls, cotton pads, or facial tissue
Soak a cotton ball in 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide. Use more if you feel it isn’t saturated enough. Place the cotton ball directly on your sore-it’s probably going to sting-and hold it there for a few seconds, or dab it around. Let it be for 5 minutes or so, allowing it to do its job, before rinsing off.
7. Be minty fresh
Peppermint oil is thought to have properties that directly kill virus particles outside of your cells, like the ones floating around an erupted cold sore. It won’t help to ingest peppermint oil because it only attacks the virus escaped from your cells. What we mean by it being “outside” of your cells is that herpes simplex virus usually resides beneath the skin, lurking and waiting for a trigger to make it rear its ugly head. When its’ erupted, its accessible to treat with the oil. When applied directly to a cold sore, people have found that the sore healed faster than usual-especially when applied at the very first sign of one.
You will need…
-Good quality peppermint oil
-1 cotton swab
-a bit of fresh water
First, use a bit of water to rinse the surface of the cold sore. Doing so gets away some of the surface gunk that would make it harder for the oil to really sink in and do its best. Then, dip a cotton swab in clean water and then dip it into the peppermint oil. This is to dilute it a bit, making it less likely to irritate your skin. Try this twice daily until it is no longer needed.
8. Take Echinacea
There are a couple of people I am quite close to who drink Echinacea tea religiously and swear by it. Every time I come down with a bug they give me the “I am not sick now am I?” look, with a meaningful nod at their mug of tea. The reason they get away with their smugness is because Echinacea bolsters your immune system and its defenses, making it harder to catch bugs, and shortening how long you are affected by them. While not yet proven it may help prevent cold sore outbreaks which often show when the immune system is weakened.
You will need…
-1 bag of Echinacea tea
-1 cup freshly boiled water
Place your bag in a mug and pour boiling water over it. Cover-a plate works well-and let it steep for 10 minutes. Squeeze the juice out of the bag when you remove it to get all the extra good stuff.
9. Load up on vitamins E and C
Vitamins are good for us, and for our cold sores-and by good for our cold sores, I really mean bad for them. Vitamin C has been shown to boost white blood cell count, and white blood cells are the body’s defenders. When something like an infection sets in the brave little cells head into battle, and having more of them means you’ll be more effective at fighting off the infection, which in this case is herpes. Vitamin E, when applied topically, has been found to relieve the irritating and painful discomfort of cold sores, as well as minimize scarring. You can get the vitamins through an oral supplement, oil (in the case of vitamin E) and-the best way-through your diet.
Vitamin C rich foods include
-red and green bell peppers
-spinach (little did Popeye know he was onto a cure for cold sores)
Vitamin E rich foods include
-leafy green vegetables
10. Cornstarch paste
If you’ve worked with cornstarch before you’ll be familiar with its fine, almost silky, texture-it seems like it could be soothing to a cold sore, doesn’t it? I would say so, and it can indeed help relieve the itchy burning pain of a sore when directly applied. The less obvious reason as to why cornstarch makes a pleasant home remedy for cold sores is the fact that it neutralizes the pH of the sore- the virus thrives in an overly-acidic environment-and creates an alkaline state (alkaline is the opposite of acidic.) To seek relief, and shorten the duration of your cold sore, simply whip up a silky-smooth cornstarch paste.
You will need…
-1 tablespoon of cornstarch
-1 teaspoon of fresh water to start
Measure out 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and place in a small bowl. Mix in 1 teaspoon of fresh water. Add more water slowly until you achieve a paste-like consistency. Put a dab on your cold sore before bed, and rinse off gently with water in the morning. Do this nightly until cold sore is gone.
11. Dab on some witch hazel
The leaves and bark of North American witch hazel have been used medicinally for years, namely by Native Americans, and have now become quite commercialized. Nowadays you don’t have to worry about tracking down a plant and stripping off its leaves and bark since you can find a bottle of witch hazel, or witch hazel hydrosol, at just about any pharmacy or general store. Since it does not produce enough oil to sell as an essential oil, the hydrosol is a distilled liquid version. It has been shown to help with a number of maladies, particularly in skin care, with emphasis on acne, bruises, insect bites, blisters and, if you hadn’t guessed by now, cold sores.
You will need…
-1 teaspoon of witch hazel
-cotton swab or cotton pad
Soak a cotton pad or the end of a cotton swab in witch hazel. Dab directly onto your sore, and leave on. Do this 1-2 times daily as needed.
12. Grab some aloe gel
The go-to for soothing minor skin irritations, aloe vera gel can provide quick relief from the pain of a cold sore once it blisters. It also fights off bacteria that may be irritating the sore more, and may make it go away faster. Being so dependable, aloe is often touted as being one of the best natural remedies for skin problems there is. The best way to benefit from it is to have an aloe plant. They’re not hard to come by, they’re hardy (I got one when I was five and it managed to survive my care for years,) and best of all, they’re useful and inexpensive. If you cannot get an aloe plant, find a good gel sold in stores.
You will need…
-1 aloe plant OR ½ teaspoon of aloe vera gel
Break off the end of one fleshy, succulent, leaf. Directly apply the gel to your sore. If you absolutely cannot come by a plant, dab a cotton swab in roughly ½ teaspoon aloe vera gel and apply directly. Leave on.
13. Ice it
Looks aside, cold sores hurt. They can really, really hurt. Think about what they are-little fluid filled boo-boos that burst, blister, and form a crust. Kind of like constipation, they aren’t taken very seriously. If you complain about constipation pain-which can land you in the E.R., by the way-all people think is “poop” and then they tune out. With cold sores, most people think “herpes” and then move on-especially since cold sores are so common. To numb the pain that some people just don’t understand (and the injustice of it all) try holding an ice cube directly on the sore for as long as possible, and then put on a dab of petroleum jelly. The jelly will help keep bacteria out, and will lessen that tight, skin-splitting sensation that sometimes happens when a blister gets too dry, as it might after using an ice cube. It’s along the same lines of how licking chapped lips makes them worse.
You will need…
-1 to 2 fresh ice cubes, or an ice pack
-A bit of petroleum jelly
Take a nice chilly ice cube, which would be most of them, and hold it on your sore for as long as possible, or use an ice pack. When you’ve finished, pat any obviously remaining water gently from the sore and apply a dab of petroleum jelly.
14. Wear sunscreen-even on your lips
Exposure to light, namely UV light, seems to be a very contributing factor in outbreaks. When you hit the beach, or even just go for a summertime stroll, apply sunscreen to your face, and apply lip balm with an SPF value of no less than 15. Indeed it may take you longer to get a crazy tan, but it’s a very, very, small sacrifice to make when you think of the painful cold sores erupting, and damage to your skin.
15. Wash it all away
You don’t have to go dump every single thing you own when you get a cold sore, but like your toothbrush, its best to get rid of some things that come in contact with your lips/mouth area-such as lip balm, or make up tools. In addition to this, wash your hands each and every time you touch, or even think you touch, your cold sore. While you’re always contagious, it’s easiest spread the virus when there’s an open blister and you may keep causes outbreaks if you continue using contaminated items.
16. Quarantine right away
The moment you feel the tingling sensation that precedes a cold sore flare up, start your treatment. Since there is no “cure” sometimes preventative measures work best, and nipping it in the bud seems to help boost the effectiveness of the treatment afterwards well as shorten the sores existence.
When it all comes down to it at the end of the day, you have a virus that will never go away completely until a true cure is found for herpes simplex. That being said, your world does not have to come to a crashing halt when a sore pops up. Use common sense, try to get to it in the beginning, and patiently treat it, keeping in mind that the remedy that works best for you will probably take some trial and error. Since you’ll probably be living together for a while, it’s good to remember that the less you bother your cold sore (i.e. picking at it or using unnecessarily harsh chemicals) the less it will bother you.
Wet…or dry? A word on cold sore living conditions
There are generally two chains of thought when it comes to treating cold sores. One is to dry them out, while the other is to keep them moist. Some people say the virus festers in a moist environment, others say it makes no difference and you’ll be uncomfortable with a dry, cracked, split, scab.
There isn’t much official research done on this, but from personal experience, I’d have to toss in with the “wet” lot. Putting a dab of petroleum jelly on a sore is a life-saver. The pain of a dry scab ripping open again and again is too much for me-not to mention I WILL pick at it if it’s all crusty. Perhaps with a bit more clout is the Mayo Clinic which, according to their website, also endorses the moist route for treating cold sores.
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By Claire GoodallClaire is a lover of life, the natural world, and wild blueberries. On the weekend you can find her fiddling in the garden, playing with her dogs, and enjoying the great outdoors with her horse. Claire is very open-minded, ask her anything :) Meet Claire→
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