If you’re wondering how to get rid of cold sores without waiting for them to heal up on their own, read on for more information!
In this article, we cover a number of natural remedies that can help accelerate healing. Red light therapy is also another natural treatment that can help keep the virus in remission.
The main cause of cold sores, HSV, is present in about 67% of adults worldwide.
Most people are completely asymptomatic. Of those who develop cold sores, some are asymptomatic after their first outbreak while others experience recurring outbreaks.
Home Remedies for Cold Sores
Over-the-counter antiviral medications typically only shorten cold sore symptoms by a day or two, and they have a number of side effects.
It’s worth trying out other natural remedies to see what your body will respond to.
This section provides a guide to a few of the key remedies that could reduce the severity of cold sore outbreaks.
Aloe vera gel soothes sunburned or irritated skin. Its anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties inhibit virality, easing cold sore symptoms.
Regular use could also potentially inhibit future cold sore outbreaks.
Essential oils are concentrated plant oils that have been used medicinally for millennia. A few words of caution about essential oils used to treat cold sores:
- Essential oils are for topical application (they should not be ingested)
- They must be diluted with a carrier oil such as coconut oil since they are extremely potent and in high doses can be toxic
- They should be used in small amounts for a limited time since overuse can damage and weaken the epidermis and actually interfere with the healing process.
- Always test essential oils on healthy skin first to rule out any allergic reactions before using the oil on a cold sore.
Oils that could be the most beneficial on a cold sore include:
Anise oil contains an antiviral compound that could inhibit the growth of the HSV-1 virus.
Chamomile contains compounds that can soothe a cold sore. It’s also an antiviral agent especially effective against drug-resistant HSV strains.
This aromatic oil has anti-inflammatory properties and can help shorten the duration and severity of a cold sore outbreak.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) may help reduce swelling, redness, and discoloration of cold sores.
According to a 2014 study, this essential oil effectively inhibited the penetration of drug-resistant herpes simplex viruses into cells by 96 percent. Lemon balm can be applied as a lip balm or as an oil tincture.
Oregano has a powerful effect against HSV due to its high levels of carvacrol, an antiviral compound often found in aromatic plants.
This aromatic antiseptic oil has been shown to be effective against antiviral-resistant HSV strains.
Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca)
The pungent oil of the Melaleuca tree has antiviral, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Thyme is another aromatic plant whose essential oil has powerful antiviral effects.
Medical-grade honey, which has been sterilized by gamma radiation, is effective at treating cold sores.
In a 2021 study, patients applied medical-grade honey (MGH) immediately after the first sign of symptoms and experienced an average 5.8-day healing time compared to an average of 10+ days for those without.
Honey also reduced itching and pain in over 70% of study participants. In this case, 100% of the participants preferred using honey over conventional cold sore medications.
If medical-grade honey is hard to get ahold of, raw, unfiltered honey also has antiviral and antibacterial properties, especially if the honey contains propolis (or “bee glue”).
Now that we’ve explored some home remedy solutions, let’s take a closer look at how creams and ointments may be able to help.
Creams and Ointments for Cold Sores
The jury is still out on whether keeping cold sores moist or dry is better for cold sore healing.
Generally, people feel more comfortable if the mouth is kept moist and liberal application of creams, gels, or ointments can offer relief.
Prescription and OTC Topicals
Prescription ointments or creams and over-the-counter topical remedies such as Abreva often contain numbing agents to offer pain relief and possibly faster healing.
Petroleum jelly doesn’t heal cold sores, but it can ease discomfort and provide a protective barrier against irritants.
L-Lysine is an amino acid that reduces the activity of another amino acid that HSV needs to grow and replicate, known as L-arginine.
One study pointed to a 4-day healing period after using lysine cream, which is even faster than common prescription creams.
This amino acid is commonly found in certain foods. It is also available as a cream or as an oral supplement.
If sun exposure triggers cold sore outbreaks, wear lip balm with sunscreen of at least SPF 30 whenever you are outdoors.
Behavioral Solutions for Cold Sores
While creams and ointments can help, lifestyle choices may also have a significant impact on cold sore outbreaks and on how long they last.
Outbreaks can be triggered by stress, hormonal fluctuations, sun exposure, weather, chemotherapy, a weakened immune system, or illness.
Here are some lifestyle choices that could help reduce your chances of an outbreak.
Because chronic stress weakens the body’s defenses including its defense against HSV, you may find some relief from cold sores by practicing stress management techniques such as meditation, exercise, or being immersed in a hobby.
Stress relief can also help activate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for healing, immunity, and maintaining hormonal balance.
Regular stress management practices also bolster the immune system, which can help keep the HSV virus hidden in the body, but less likely to grow and replicate.
Protect The Area When Outdoors
Although fresh air and sunshine are necessary for our well-being, be sure to use lip balm with sunscreen while outdoors. Exposure to heat or cold can also trigger outbreaks, so minimize time outdoors during temperature extremes.
The amino acid L-lysine may help prevent cold sores because it counteracts the effects of L-arginine, which the HSV-1 virus thrives on.
Eating foods high in L-lysine and low in L-arginine can help. This amino acid is also available as a supplement.
Eat More of These Foods:
- Most cheese and other dairy products
- Apples, mangoes, apricots, and pears
- Fish (especially flounder)
- Most poultry and meat
Avoid These Foods:
- Most nuts and seeds
- Most grains
- Gelatin desserts
Reduce Sugar Consumption
Reducing the amount of sugar you consume in general (not just during cold sore outbreaks) supports the immune system and cellular health. Excess sugar has been linked to chronic inflammation which can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to cold sore outbreaks.
Prioritizing your immune system has never been more important. One of the most remarkable aspects of photobiomodulation is its ability to stimulate the release of nitric oxide, the body's natural vasodilator, which increases cellular healing potential and blood flow allowing the body's immune system to be stronger and better defend against viruses.
Functional Medicine Doctor of Physical TherapyDr. Alayna Newton, PT, DPT, FAFS
Red Light Therapy for Cold Sores
Red light therapy is a popular anti-aging remedy that also accelerates wound healing. This natural treatment may help keep HSV in remission long-term with no side effects.
A number of studies support red light therapy for cold sores.
A 2013 study treated patients with very brief treatments of near infrared light over just a couple of days. The light therapy group experienced much faster healing: 129 hours compared to 177 hours for the control group.
A similar study treated patients with frequently recurring HSV infections (at least one outbreak per month for more than six months). Patients were treated with red light daily for two weeks. The red light group experienced longer recurrence-free intervals: an average 37.5 weeks versus the control group's 3-week average interval between herpes simplex outbreaks.
Red light works even in cases of HSV strains that are resistant to antiviral medicines.
This was confirmed by a 2011 study of two patients who had refused to take antiviral medicines because they found them ineffective in the past.
A 23-year old student experienced recurring cold sores due to stress associated with nursing school. After 7 days of treatment with red wavelengths, the student went into remission and remained completely asymptomatic during a post-treatment 17-month evaluation period.
A 50-year old woman experienced recurring cold sores every 2-3 months. After 5 days of treatment with red wavelengths, she also went into remission and remained completely asymptomatic during the subsequent 17-month evaluation period.
A large Brazilian study involving 232 patients observed the effects of red light therapy on 232 patients. The red light group received treatment while the virus was in the prodormal stage. This is the initial stage of 6-48 hours before the appearance of a cold sore where patients experienced pre-lesion symptoms including tingling, itching, burning and/or pain.
It has also recently come to light that some of the benefits of red light therapy could come from light stimulation of the gut microbiome, in other words by treating your abdomen as well as the cold sore itself
The treatment group experienced much faster healing than the control group. In a follow-up five years later, the treatment group still had longer intervals between outbreaks.
Red light therapy may also reduce the length and likelihood of breakouts when used in long-term treatment.
How Does Red Light Therapy Work?
Red and near-infrared light results in the ‘biostimulation’ of human tissue. It causes beneficial biological effects at the cellular level, much like photosynthesis in plants.
Treating cold sores and preventing future outbreaks means maintaining a robust immune system as well as the strength and vitality of individual cells.
Inside your cells are tiny organelles called mitochondria, which produce the energy they need to perform their functions, fight off pathogens, and repair themselves. This goes for every cell in your body, from skin cells to immune cells.
Chronic inflammation, poor diet, or environmental toxins may cause the mitochondria to malfunction and produce less energy, resulting in cells that are weaker and more susceptible to infection.
As red or near infrared light photons absorb into the skin, they excite light-sensitive chromophores inside the mitochondria. This stimulates the mitochondria to boost energy production.
The treatment also suppresses chronic inflammation that could contribute to mitochondrial dysfunction.
The ripple effect of red light therapy is remarkable. Immune cells, blood cells, skin cells, and even the cells that produce collagen, start to work more effectively and efficiently, which supports the body in healing cold sores.
And, the treatment may help support a robust immune system that helps keep HSV in a dormant state.
How Do You Treat Cold Sores with Red Light Therapy?
Use a red light therapy device to shine visible red light and/or invisible near infrared light onto your mouth and lips for 10-15 minutes a day.
A Natural Solution to Cold Sores
Red light therapy has a huge range of applications, from skin rejuvenation to arthritis joint pain, chronic skin disorders like psoriasis and acne, hair loss, and much, much more.
One of the added benefits of our new red light therapy panels is that we’ve added a 480nm blue light wavelength, which has additional beneficial effects for skin care. The synergistic effects of red light and blue light are increasingly effective when used together.
You can discover the many benefits of this natural treatment in the Learning Center.
You’ll get the best results by treating your whole body even if you have a small problem area like a cold sore.
The SaunaMAX Pro is the first RLT panel for in-sauna use.Check out the BIOMAX light therapy devices that give you options from targeted to full-body treatments.