There’s no doubt about it: cold sores are annoying. These crusty, oozing red blisters never fail to crop up at exactly the worse moment–whether it’s an important presentation at work, a date, or a job interview. And to make matters worse, the painful skin bumps are usually a recurring problem. Once you’re infected with the virus that causes cold sores, the herpes simplex virus (HSV), you’re stuck with it for good. There is some silver lining to this. Some studies suggest the frequency and severity of cold sore outbreaks may decline after age 35 (1).
But… What if you’re under the age of 35? What if you’re still struggling with frequent cold sore outbreaks? Is there something you can do to fast-forward the departure of these painful, fluid-filled blisters–without resorting to costly antiviral medicine from the doctor? Thankfully, yes. Here’s the ultimate guide to homeopathy for cold sores; the following nine simple, inexpensive home remedies will make your cold sores go away faster.
What Are Cold Sores?
Before diving into the various home remedies for cold sores, it's crucial to first understand what cold sores are and how they develop in the first place. Cold sores are blisters–and sometimes, clusters of blisters–that appear on and around the mouth. While they aren't life-threatening, they can be uncomfortable, itchy, and unsightly. And if you're no stranger to cold sores, you can probably tell when the next outbreak is coming: it typically begins with a niggling itch, tingle, or burning sensation in your lip or mouth.
What Causes Cold Sore Outbreaks?
As mentioned earlier, cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two strains of the virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is almost always the culprit for cold sores (2, 3, 4). Regardless, it’s also worth noting that it’s possible to get cold sores from HSV-2–that’s the type that causes genital herpes–but it’s not as common. The initial breakout is often the worst, accompanied by a fever, sore throat, aches, and a headache.
And unfortunately, once you've picked up the cold sore virus, it sits dormant in your nerve cells. That is until a trigger prompts it to rear its ugly head again. Some of the most common triggers for cold sore outbreaks include a compromised immune system (e.g. stress, exhaustion, cold, flu, and fever), damage to the lips, excessive sun exposure, and hormonal imbalances.
How Long Do Cold Sores Take to Heal?
As annoying as they are, most cold sores do not require medical attention. Cold sores typically break open and scab within 48 hours (5). And will resolve themselves within two to three weeks. In the meantime, though, because HSV is so contagious, you should be careful not to spread it to other people. That means you should avoid kissing or other intimate contact, babies, people with compromised immune systems, and just sharing food, drinks, and personal belongings.
Homeopathic Remedies For Cold Sores
While there is no quick cold sore remedy that can make these awful blisters disappear overnight, several homeopathic remedies can make cold sores less painful and go away a little faster.
#1 – Tea
Think twice before you toss your used tea bags after your morning or afternoon pick-me-up–after the tea bags are allowed to cool, they can make an effective treatment for cold sores. That's because tea contains tannic acid, an astringent shown to exert an inhibitory effect on the HPV by inhibiting its ability to replicate (6, 7). So, here's how you can seek quick relief for your cold sores: apply a wet, cooled black tea bag to your cold sores, and keep the tea bag on for 10 minutes. Repeat 3 or 4 times a day; this can help reduce the duration and severity of your cold sore outbreak.
#2 – Baking Soda
Here’s something you might not know: baking soda has uses beyond baked goods! And one of them, of course, is that it can be a treatment for cold sores. That's because baking soda helps dry the sores out while pulling away any acids that might be irritating the area. Not to mention, some research has also found that baking soda is excellent for soothing itchy skin–a common manifestation of cold sores (8, 9, 10). And all you need to do for this home remedy is to mix a small spoonful of baking soda with a few drops of water, then apply the paste on your cold sores. Let it sit for five minutes. Rinse it off after. Repeat this once or twice a day until your core sores subside.
#3 – Aloe Vera
Research suggests that widely-available aloe vera gel exerts impressive anti-inflammatory and antiviral effects (specifically on the HSV) and can be effective homeopathy for cold sores (11). To harness aloe vera's goodness as a natural remedy, apply a thin layer of aloe vera gel three times a day until the lesions have dried. A 2015 journal article published in the Academy of General Dentistry also suggests that drinking 2 ounces of aloe vera juice daily can help accelerate healing and reduce pain associated with cold sores (12).
#4 – Lemon Balm
Studies indicate that lemon balm's antiviral properties can help reduce the redness and swelling associated with cold sores and even protect against future infections (13). A 2012 study even found that lemon balm could kill the HSV in some cases and affect how the virus attaches to host cells (14)! This study highlights lemon balm's usefulness as a homeopathic remedy for cold sores. To speed healing, you can apply a cream, ointment, or even lip balm containing lemon balm to your cold sores several times a day. Continue doing so until your sores have healed.
#5 – Oregano Oil
Oregano oil is one of the most well-mentioned home remedies for cold sores–and for a good reason. Because of its antiviral properties, the topical application of oregano oil can help diminish the size and inflammation of cold sores (15). To make use of this popular homeopathy remedy, apply diluted oregano oil to a cotton ball (or Q-tip) and apply it to the affected area. Repeat several times throughout the day, and continue doing so until your blisters have healed completely.
#6 – Colloidal Silver
Colloidal silver is a commercially sold product that contains microscopic flakes of pure silver. These silver flakes are usually suspended in demineralized water or other liquid. So, how does colloidal silver serve as a treatment for cold sores? The secret is in the silver; the metal is known to be an effective antiviral when applied to the skin–meaning that it can kill harmful viruses, such as the HPV (16, 17). So, if you want to get rid of your cold sores quickly, spray colloidal silver several times a day on affected areas. Repeat until your sores have healed.
#7 – Lavender Oil
As it turns out, lavender oil is not only good for helping you de-stress–it can also be an effective au naturale treatment for cold sores. When applied topically, lavender oil helps close up wounds (and that’s what your cold sores are: wounds) more quickly than other solutions, such as saline and iodine (18). Studies have also shown that lavender oil helps calm irritated skin when used topically (19). To promote quicker healing and relieve itchiness, apply one or two drops of undiluted lavender oil to your affected areas. Repeat until the lesions have cleared.
#8 – Castor Oil
The ricinoleic acid found in castor oil makes the essential oil a potent treatment for cold sores. That’s because the acid exerts antiviral effects (20). Not to mention, castor oil helps moisturize and soothe the affected region–promoting quicker healing. To move on from your cold sore outbreak quicker, apply a thin layer of castor oil to your cold sores twice a day with a cotton swab or Q-tip. Repeat this until all blisters have cleared.
#9 – Frankincense
The antiviral constituents in frankincense oil make it an excellent tool for healing cold sores (21). It doesn’t hurt that the oil exerts antimicrobial effects as well–meaning that it can also be used to inhibit bacteria from developing on the mouth or skin (22). This, in turn, brings down the severity of your cold sore outbreak, thus hastening recovery. Soak a cotton ball with frankincense essential oil and hold it to your cold sores for one to two minutes. Do this four times a day until the cold sores heal.
Prevention Is Always Key
Ultimately, it's important to remember that prevention is critical. You'd much rather keep the cold sores away than have to deal with them popping up now and then. That's why you should keep your immune system healthy–get your vitamins, rest adequately, and stay physically active–so your body can fight the infection off before it gets going. Change your toothbrush regularly, particularly after an outbreak, to help keep your mouth and lips blister-free. You don't want to re-infect yourself. Also, apply lip protection with adequate SPF to ward off UV rays.