Updated: Apr 7, 2020
I've been a cold sore sufferer for over 25 years and have tried every natural remedy there is! If you’ve also dealt with this stubborn virus you know all outbreaks vary in severity and duration so I've put together a list of my favorite remedies I've found most helpful in both preventing and alleviating these annoying outbreaks.
What is a Cold Sore?
Cold sores, also called fever blisters are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) are a highly contagious outbreak that normally appear outside the lips and mouth, but they can be anywhere on the face and even infect the eyes. Once exposed to the virus it lies dormant in the nervous system and blisters appear for a number of reasons. These blisters start with a tingling sensation, then a red, inflamed blister forms that is fluid filled which after 7 days or so scabs over and heals. Until the scab is healed the blister is easily spread to others by touching the blister and then touching someone else, kissing, sharing eating utensils, cups or even towels. HSV type 1 can also be spread to genitals which then becomes herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).
Cold Sore Outbreak Triggers
Once initially infected with the virus, cold sore outbreaks can be triggered by hormones and are common in women around their period. Other triggers include too much sun exposure or heat exposure like hot yoga or saunas. Too much acidic foods or drinks like excessive sugar, excessive alcohol, or spicy foods can be easy triggers. Stress, lack of sleep, expressed or unexpressed anger, or anything that weakens the immune system can all trigger an outbreak.
Lines of Defense
The best line of defense for a cold sore is prevention. Being diligent with sunscreen directly on the lips and around the mouth, reapplying often can help when the sun is a trigger. Other preventative measures include getting adequate sleep every night, drinking half your bodyweight in water every day, doing a daily meditation or relaxation method like yoga for stress. Using alkalizing tools like baking soda in water to help keep from becoming too acidic. Avoiding spicy foods and if you have a night of binge drinking, take a few capsules of activated charcoal before retiring.
Supplementing with the amino acid lysine preventatively 500 mg/day for both prevention and shortening the duration of an outbreak. Once an outbreak appears, increase lysine to 3000 - 5000 mg/day.
Zinc has shown in laboratory tissues to inhibit the growth of both HSV-1 and HSV-2 so a topical zinc and taking 30mg/day of zinc during an outbreak can help.
Vitamin D is an immune supportive supplement and getting adequate amounts can help with prevention. If you aren’t exposed to sunshine on a regular basis then supplementing is important for overall immune support. Dr. Mark Hyman the Medical Director at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine recommends getting tested for your D levels and then his recommendations based on your results are here.
The Chinese herb Long Dan is specific to cold sores and the results have been remarkable for this cold sore sufferer. It’s the first remedy that actually stopped the cold sore from getting worse and on its way out.
Probiotics and fermented foods are important for immune function and so they have a direct effect on cold sore outbreaks. Taking a daily probiotic supplement, found in the refrigerated section at health food stores, can help prevent future outbreaks.
Vitamin C is a known immune boosting vitamin so it can help with prevention and treatment, but the dose needs to be over 1000 mg each time. And using liposomal C is more potent and effective.
Agarikon is a medicinal mushroom found to specifically target HSV and it can be used daily as a preventative.
Tea Tree oil is a strong antiviral oil and dabbing a drop directly on the blister multiple times a day helps. If it’s too strong on or near your mouth, dilute with coconut oil which is a cooling oil.
Lavender oil is also a great remedy for blisters so it can be used directly at the start all the way through the scab stage.
Melissa oil also called lemon balm has been studied for its use on the herpes virus and some people have remarkable results with it. This is an expensive oil and I haven't been one of the people who had great results.
Ice can bring some relief especially at the start of a blister when they are the most painful and feel on fire. Apply either through a paper towel or directly on the blister for 5 minutes then remove for 10 minutes and repeat throughout the day. Don’t leave the ice on too long or it can become heating to the body and cause further aggravation of the blister.
Keep sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher and/or a hat in your car for those times sun exposure is unexpected.
Know your limits with alcohol and sugar.
Rest when you have an outbreak - it’s an immune response and you’re fighting a virus.
Wash your hands regularly and don’t touch a cold sore once you feel a tingling sensation.
Change pillowcases every morning during an outbreak so not to spread the virus.
Replace your toothbrush after using it during an outbreak.
If you have more than one cold sore a month, see your doctor. It can be a sign of a more serious issue relating to a suppressed immune system.