Effective Home Remedies for Cold Sores (Fever Blisters)

by Sarah Natural RemediesComments: 42

home remedies for cold sores instead of drugs

The huge billboard pictured above is currently on display near my home. It is advertising to find adults willing to participate in a research study to test a new drug designed to treat cold sores. Kind of ironic that the sign is positioned right above a Burger King, wouldn’t you say? You don’t need a research study to know that folks who eat a lot of fast food and other junk probably suffer from cold sores with more frequency than those that don’t. Could the sign’s eye rolling position actually be no coincidence?

One thought immediately came to mind when I first saw this billboard. Had these people (who were no doubt flocking to be guinea pigs for this study) ever tried any home remedies for cold sores before deciding that an untested drug with unknown side effects was a better way to approach the problem?

One thing is for sure: if the pharmaceutical industry has created a drug for a particular health condition, the profit potential must be in the billions of dollars!

Nontoxic home remedies for cold sores and other ailments don’t make corporations any money. Most importantly, Mother Nature can’t be patented, which is why you don’t see these simple, inexpensive solutions advertised on expensive billboards or on TV so few people seem to know about them.

For those who are looking for results without the toxic side effects, below is an overview of the best home remedies for cold sores that have historically helped people for generations.

Cold Sores Caused by a Virus

Unlike canker sores, which are typically triggered by too much sugar or fructose consumption (fruit too!) even in an otherwise healthy diet, cold sores are caused by a virus, specifically herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1).

According to the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, 8 out of 10 people are infected with the virus that causes cold sores, and most were infected before they were 10 years old.

There is no known cure once a person has become infected with herpes simplex. In other words, any drug, cream or home remedy only treats the symptoms and not the root cause. As a result, a strong immune system supported by excellent diet and healthy lifestyle is the best defense against outbreaks which last from 1-2 weeks.

Life isn’t perfect, so unforeseen stress, cold weather, sun exposure, a toxic environment, illness, or surgery can weaken a person’s immunity from time to time. So even with an excellent diet in place, a nasty outbreak is possible on occasion.

Unfortunately, outbreaks often seem to occur right before a major event like the high school prom, exams, graduation, or wedding nuptials which involve a lot of stress for some people! Hence, knowledge of fast acting cold sore home remedies is crucial information to avoid succumbing to the drug based approach.

Before overviewing the best home remedies for cold sores, here is a summary of the drugs on the market currently with all the many side effects.

Drugs for Cold Sores

In addition to the new drug on the horizon to treat cold sores, pharmaceuticals to treat the symptoms of cold sores come in both tablet and cream form.

Abreva® (docosanol) is a cream that is available over the counter. The manufacturer claims that it reduces the duration and discomfort associated with a cold sore outbreak if it is taken in the very early stages, ideally at the very first tingle. Docosanol cream is not appropriate for children under 12 and has not been tested on pregnant women. For those who do use it, side effects include headache, hives, rash, swelling of the lips, and allergic reaction including breathing problems (1).

Prescription anti-virals in cream and/or tablet form are also available under the following names and are usually not advisable for those with kidney problems. None have been evaluated for safety in pregnant or nursing mothers:

  • Acyclovir (Zovirax): *may slightly shorten* the duration of a first attack of cold sores. Common side effects include nausea, diarrhea, and headache.
  • Famciclovir (Famvir): Not recommended for people who have had an allergic reaction in the past. Side effects include itching, fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, or diarrhea.
  • Penciclovir (Denavir): This prescription cream that claims to reduce the duration of a cold sore outbreak has possible side effects of headache, decreased sensitivity to touch/local anesthesia, taste perversion, rash, swelling of the mouth or throat, pain, alterations in sense of smell, abnormal touch sensation, itching, skin discoloration, and hives.
  • Valacyclovir (Valtrex): Side effects include skin rash, allergic reaction, headache, dizziness, insomnia, and fatigue.

Effective Home Remedies for Cold Sores

If the lengthy list of side effects from pharmaceuticals designed to treat cold sores has you concerned or if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have kidney problems, take heart! Traditional, nontoxic home remedies for cold sores with zero side effects abound and some even have scientifically published research to back them up!

The best home remedies for cold sores that really do work to temporarily reduce discomfort and speed healing include:

  • Skin icing, aka “cold therapy”
  • Tea bags (black tea only)
  • Raw honey (preferably manuka honey) and turmeric paste

Skin Icing (Cold Therapy)

Applying ice or a cold pack directly on a cold sore for 2-3 minutes definitely helps to reduce inflammation and temporarily reduce pain and itch. It is best to do this over a kitchen or bathroom sink to catch melting ice drips and avoid making a mess. This remedy can be repeated multiple times during the day to maintain comfort.

Black Tea Bags

Tea bags are one of the best known home remedies for cold sores. Note that black tea bags, preferably organic, are the only form of tea proven to work. Herbal tea bags are not helpful. Black tea contains tannins which have been demonstrated to inhibit the herpes virus. Studies have shown that the beneficial effect of tannins works by stunting the formation of cold sores by inhibiting absorption of the herpes simplex virus into cells (2). Some over-the-counter medications for fever blisters contain tannic acid (source).

Here’s how to apply the black tea therapy for cold sores: place a warm, recently brewed black tea bag directly on the area where the first tingle of a cold sore occurs.  The earlier this home remedy is used, the better!  Apply a freshly brewed tea bag for a few minutes every hour or a minimum of several times a day. Remember, the tannins in the black tea inhibit the herpes virus from invading the cells, so the more often you do this in the early stages, the more effective this home remedy will be to stifle an outbreak in its tracks, or at the very least, minimize the size of the cold sore.

Raw Manuka Honey and Turmeric Paste (Best Cold Sores Remedy)

Another cold sore home remedy that is scientifically proven to be effective is the application of raw manuka honey and turmeric to the cold sore. Again, the earlier this home remedy is used, the more satisfactory the results will be.

Note that only raw honey will do for this remedy and preferably manuka honey (also called tea tree honey) as it is the most potent type of honey in the world. Note that heating honey destroys its anti-viral properties, so do not bother with honey that has been heat treated in any way.

Simply mix a dab of raw honey (source) and a pinch of turmeric together and apply as a paste to the cold sore. Reapply as often as necessary to maintain constant application of the paste to the affected area.

best remedy for cold sores

Research has shown that honey is more effective than the prescription only, anti-viral cold sore drug acyclovir cream at reducing the pain and duration of cold sores. The researchers’ found that “The mean duration of attacks and pain, occurrence of crusting, and mean healing time with honey treatment were 35%, 39%, 28% and 43% better” than when the prescription item was used.” (3).

Curcumin, a major component of the curry spice turmeric, has also been shown in a lab environment to be an effective anti-viral agent against the herpes simplex type 1 virus (4).  More study is needed to confirm the effectiveness on human subjects directly rather than in a lab environment. In the meantime, the research lends credence to the ancient Ayurvedic home remedy for cold sores which recommends slathering them with raw honey mixed with turmeric (5). At the very least, adding turmeric is certainly not going to hamper the effectiveness of the raw honey and may very well boost it.

Whether you are prone to frequent fever blister outbreaks or just get them occasionally, these three home remedies for cold sores can help resolve the discomfort and duration of an attack without the dangerous side effects and exposure to toxins of pharmaceutical creams and anti-viral drugs.

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

Comments (42)

  • Dr. Paulina

    Differentiating between the two types of infection using either type specific swab testing, preferably PCR, or type specific IgG antibody testing, is very important because HSV-1 genitally recurs less, is shed less, and presents far less risk of transmission to others than HSV-2. Antibody testing is not appropriate with possible new infection.
    However most African herbs have broken the jinx over the years totally eradicating this virus at all its stages.

    March 29th, 2016 7:01 am Reply
  • Ellen

    Lots of very good solutions here! Mine has been a good 12 calcium lactate tablets every few hours for a day or so at the first hint of an eruption. I also use 3 Cataplex F (both are Standard Process) to get the Ca into the tissues. I don’t get many outbreaks but enough stress will bring that unwanted gift and my life has been extremely stressful for a long time.

    February 26th, 2016 10:27 am Reply
  • pcjae

    It’s so funny that I just read this now because I was starting to get a tingly feeling on my upper lip on the left side. Usually, I just rub it, and it goes away. Seems to be working this time, too. I will go get my DesBio Smart Silver spray and spray it, too.

    February 25th, 2016 4:23 pm Reply
  • Kristina

    Elderberry extract (Sambucus) is the remedy that works best for me. As soon as I feel one coming on I take a hefty dose (keeping it under my tongue as long as I can) and keep taking it several times a day for a couple of days. It IMMEDIATELY stops the cold sore from getting any worse. It is antiviral and it slows the spread of the infection to a crawl until your immune system can kick in. The most effective one I have found is the Sambucol brand with Vitamin C and Zinc. I keep at least 3 or 4 bottles at home for cold sores and other viruses.

    February 23rd, 2016 8:44 pm Reply
  • E.

    Propolis tincture that I make myself from propolis bits bought from a bee keeper is the only remedy that I found that can stop my cold sore half way. To make it… I put propolis bits in a jar, cover with alcohol (Spirytus Vodka 90%) and shake every day for about 28-30 days.
    I use a half dropper or more mixed with some water on a spoon a couple of times a day when I feel a tingling pain on my lips. Be careful. It stains yellow everything.
    Propolis has antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. Assyrians put it on wounds and tumors to fight infection and help the healing process

    February 23rd, 2016 5:36 pm Reply
  • Laila Arde-Acquah

    WHAT IS FCLO for cold sores

    February 23rd, 2016 9:42 am Reply
    • Tess

      FCLO is Fermented Cod Liver Oil. Blue Ice by Green Pasture is the brand of Cod Liver Oil that is extracted by fermentation.

      March 5th, 2016 7:49 pm Reply
  • Nat

    Thank you, Sarah, for your help on this. I did a Google search on this topic and was overwhelmed by annoying websites with pop-up ads trying to sell some expensive cream. I said, “Hey, let me check out The Healthy Home Economist, maybe she’s got a natural (and more affordable) home remedy.” I’ve never had one of these before, but a week ago I had a chorizo and chicken dish at a restaurant and I felt a “zap” in my mouth. It felt electrical, but there was no glass or crunch, and so I just kept eating the delicious meal. When I got home, I had the beginnings of a weird sore on the corner of my mouth. Well, I have food allergies and get strange bumps if I eat preservatives or junk food, so I thought it must just be the food coloring in the chorizo. Well, it’s a week later and it turned into a blister and looks like the herpes pictures you see on the internet. Should I report this restaurant to the Health Department? I know that’s where I got this weird thing – maybe it was a virus on the silverware, or on the cup of water? Now I never want to eat at a restaurant again. If you have any advice, I’d sure appreciate it. It’s been a week and it’s not getting better. I tried the black tea bag and it soothed it, but it’s not shrinking. Thanks

    February 22nd, 2016 9:24 pm Reply
  • Cheryl

    I always use vanilla essence (not the nasty imitation stuff). Dab a vanilla essence soaked cotton swab or cotton tip on the tingling area prevents the blisters erupting. It also speeds the healing of erupted blisters.

    February 22nd, 2016 7:36 pm Reply
  • John

    Manuka honey comes in two types: One generates hydrogen peroxide, which, as an oxidiser, may have antiviral properties and the other produces different chemicals which might be virostatic. Do you knnow ehich of these varieties of manuka is the one that works?

    February 22nd, 2016 6:28 pm Reply
  • mark

    Anbusol, for teething pain in babies works the best. it seems to mimic the ice therapy, freezes the action of the virus and stops it cold (couldn’t resist).

    February 22nd, 2016 3:15 pm Reply
  • Chris

    Thanks for this article. My 5 year old woke up this morning with a huge cold sore on his lip. He had 1 other one about a year ago. I will definitely try the honey and turmeric and maybe the garlic, if it doesn’t still, tomorrow morning. I did use aloe vera and peppermint oil and it gave him some relief, but I will try the others.

    February 17th, 2016 10:02 pm Reply
  • ISK

    I have used Kerosene as a cold sore remedy for years. My grandma would swab my throat at the onset of colds to prevent the disease. This remedy has been used by people for generations to treat cold sores and colds with no ill effects. Dip a q-tip in kerosene and tap the affected area – it ceases the development of the sore, and within a day or two the cold sore is gone. If you are afraid of using kerosene, think again- you probably used other petroleum based products such as Vaseline without a problem. health-science-spirit.com/kero.htm

    January 28th, 2016 9:50 am Reply
  • Elizabeth

    When I was young I would get cold sores ALL the time. I am not sure who I heard this remedy from, but they said putting your own ear wax on your cold sore would get rid of them … forever. Somewhat gross I know, but I was twelve and high school was on the horizon so what did I have to lose. So the next time I felt that dreaded tingling sensation starting on my lip I applied ear wax. I don’t remember if I applied it more than once or not. And I don’t know if it’s coincidence or if it actually worked, but that was 38 years ago and I haven’t had a cold sore since. :)

    January 26th, 2016 2:03 pm Reply
  • Laurie

    L-Lysine, lemon balm tincture (internal and external), echinacea and/or golden seal tincture, Super Lysine Plus, cream or capsules from Quantum Health, licorice gel, available from Naturopaths (maybe make your own?). Cut out grains and nuts etc. Vitamin C. If you have a vaginally sore most home remedies are too messy. I would use lemon balm or the other tinctures mentioned, tea tree oil and then Abreva during the day. No reason why you can’t combine drugs plus natural stuff.

    January 17th, 2016 11:51 pm Reply
  • Juanita

    Dabbing tea tree oil on my cold sores immediately alleviates the pain and tingling.

    January 14th, 2016 6:41 pm Reply
    • Sara

      Agreed- pure melaluca/tea tree oil stops cold sores in their tracks, although it tastes nasty if you get it in your mouth. I’ll take that over 2 weeks of a cold sore!

      February 22nd, 2016 2:36 pm Reply
  • Gina

    I get cold sores at least once or twice a year, but know why I do. If I eat too much chocolate and/or nuts esp. almonds, I will break out.
    I think l-lysine helps, but the only thing that works quickly and affectively for me is homeopathic. The remedy depends on the symptoms. If I break out with blisters I use Nat Mur. Rhus Tox, Hepar Sulph, are two other ones that work extremely well.
    I wouldn’t break out if I would just pay closer attention to what I am eating and how much. And also, if I would remember to take l-lysine on a daily basis.
    Stress and monthly cycles can bring them on too, as I have noticed.
    The Arginine in the almonds becomes too high in the body and lowers the l-lysine. This can also happen when taking in too much bone broth.

    January 13th, 2016 11:31 am Reply
  • Marie

    I got a cold sore for the first time about 3 years ago. I researched coconut oil and started taking coconut oil every day (in tea, cooking, etc.). The research I read said that coconut oil reduces the viral load of lipid coated viruses like herpes because of the lauric acid. I haven’t had a cold sore since.

    January 12th, 2016 12:26 pm Reply
  • Jeff

    The key is addressing it as early as you start to feel that slight sore numbness in your lip. Get off all sugars and hit the L-Lysine and/or Vitamin C. Works every time.

    For me, though, I ONLY get cold sores when I’m run down. If I get stressed or sleep-deprived, here they come…

    January 12th, 2016 12:26 pm Reply
  • Sara

    Magnesium and zinc!! I take zinc orally every day and use magnesium lotion on my lips (and nose) and it is the only thing that has worked for me as a preventative for cold sores.

    January 12th, 2016 10:52 am Reply
  • Ellen

    L-lysine works for my husband EVERY time!

    I like Now brand. 2,500 mg in a day is the theraputic dose. 500mg is the preventative dose (during times of stress or if he’s eating l-arganine rich foods).

    January 12th, 2016 9:11 am Reply
  • Helen

    My son caught a cold sore for the first time (diagnosed as such by pediatrician) and I gave homeopathy. Topically applied grapefruit seed extract. It dried up fast and healed. Never came back. That was five years ago. I read the grapefruit followed the nerves and could sort out the problem’s root cause. That was at least 5 years ago.

    January 12th, 2016 8:17 am Reply
    • Sarah

      What homeopathic remedy did you use Helen?

      January 12th, 2016 10:14 am Reply
      • rawmilkmike

        I bet a lot of people are not aware of the strict definition of “homeopathy”.What is the proper term?

        January 13th, 2016 4:54 pm Reply
      • Helen

        I’m sorry Sarah I can’t locate the prescription (have tidied two entire boxes of health related paperwork!). It would have been several remedies. Most homeopathic doctors here in France aren’t unicists (that is propose ONE remedy) they go for several. I have found homeopathy to be amazing for molluscum contagiosum, those horrid little series of verrucas that kids often catch.
        But I really felt it was the grapefruit extract that did it. I read it followed the virus back to the nerve ending and prevented it from reproducing. It seems to have worked for my son as he’s been run down since but no cold sores since that first one. I know the production process of grapefruit extract isn’t amazing but I do feel it has some use. I’m sure other topically applied oils could be good too. Geranium is recommended for the nerve pain.

        January 19th, 2016 5:54 am Reply
  • Matty

    L-Lysine works for any herpes sore and is cheaper than Manuka honey. Curious as to why you never mentioned L-Lysine? It is highly effective and works quickly.

    January 11th, 2016 10:46 pm Reply
    • Sarah

      I have heard of this remedy, but did not find any published research on it. Do you know of any?

      January 12th, 2016 7:57 am Reply
      • Jawn

        1. Kagan, C. Lysine Therapy for Herpes Simplex, The Lancet, 1:137 26 Jan 1974)
        2. Griffith, R.S., A Multicentered Study of Lysine Therapy in Herpes simplex Infection”, Dermatologica 156: 257-267 (1978)
        3. Griffith, R.S., Success of L-Lysine Therapy in Frequently Recurrent Herpes simplex Infection, Dermatologica 175: 183-190 (1987)
        4. Olshevsky, V., Becher, V. Virology, 1970, 40, 948.
        5. Kaplan, A.S., Shimano, H., Ben-Porat, T. ibid. p.90.

        January 12th, 2016 12:54 pm Reply
        • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

          Thanks … I was hoping for something fairly recent … since the year 2000 preferably.

          January 12th, 2016 6:33 pm Reply
  • Rita

    I can honestly say that FCLO is what has kept my cold sores away. I use to get a cold sore when I was stressed or sick. Later, my chiropractor told me to poke a hole in a vitamin A gel cap and squeeze it on the cold sore as soon as I noticed one forming, and do that about 8 times a day. That worked great. My fever blisters never erupted, they would just feel like a small bump and diminish. Later, I then learned of FCLO from Sarah. FCLO is high in natural occurring vitamin A. I threw away my bottle of vitamin A, and have never needed it again. The FCLO keeps my vitamin A levels up and in return keeps the herpes virus at bay. I honestly can’t tell you exactly how many years I have been without a fever blister.

    January 11th, 2016 5:45 pm Reply
  • bethany

    I suffered for years with these since I was a child. Now I take 1000 mg. of lysine and 1000 mg. of vitamin C twice a day. I occasionally get them inside my nose now but if I feel a breakout starting anywhere, I use straight undiluted eucalyptus oil on a cotton swab. I keep applying it until the sensation is gone. It is very drying this way and does sting but this works for me every time.
    When my grandfather was living, he used straight ammonia on his! No, I never tried it but I guess it worked for him.

    January 11th, 2016 5:45 pm Reply
  • Cynthia

    I have experienced very good results taking a Humic Acid Membrane-Active supplement as a preventative. I rarely get an outbreak and when I do it does not get full blown & fizzles out quickly.

    January 11th, 2016 12:38 pm Reply
  • Connie

    At the very first tingle that says, here it comes, I slice a garlic clove. Let it sit for 5 min to let it weep a bit, and then secure a slice, not the whole clove, over the spot with first aid tape. Leave it on for 10-20 minutes, 2-3 times a day. I also take L-lysine as soon as I feel it coming on. Not glamorous, but it works every time for me.

    January 11th, 2016 10:51 am Reply
    • Sarah

      Garlic is highly anti-viral so not surprised at all that this is working well for you! :)

      January 11th, 2016 11:10 am Reply
  • Elisa

    The best remedy for me is coconut oil. I am surprised you did not mention it, as it is by far the best. If I start eating it and apply it early enough I could stop a cold sore from coming. It is really that powerful and this is also backed up by research (read about Lauric acid action on the herpes virus).
    I am usually taking as much as I could, usually starting with a teaspoon at the onset and eating several teaspoons a day, for 2-3 days. Even if I don’t have coconut oil right away, I could still speed up the healing of a cold sore with coconut oil (4-5 days rather than 2 weeks).

    January 11th, 2016 10:21 am Reply
  • Dolores

    Hi,
    we just use the gel from the aloe vera plant.Works a treat!

    January 11th, 2016 8:13 am Reply
  • Lea Ann Savage

    I’ve discovered that when I have the slightest sign that a cold sore might be coming on, if I take 2 table spoons of the amino acid L-Lylsine (on an empty stomach) it significantly reduces the duration and severity of the outbreak. Sometimes if I catch it early enough – preventing an outbreak all together!

    I’m glad to know that Manuka Honey and Turmeric also work topically. Thanks for this article!

    January 11th, 2016 7:50 am Reply
    • Elisa

      I agree that L-Lylsine is very helpful. If taken regularly it could prevent cold sores. L-lylsine together with coconut oil is the best way to fight cold sores.

      January 11th, 2016 10:25 am Reply
  • Beth D

    AH!!! I needed this article the week of Christmas! As I was baking on Christmas Eve… I literally felt it break out on my lip!! Manuka never occurred to me– I will always have some on hand! 😀

    January 11th, 2016 1:53 am Reply
    • Sarah

      Yes, it is best to always have a jar of raw manuka honey in the pantry!

      January 11th, 2016 8:58 am Reply
  • Michelle

    I had terrible cold sores as a child and can attest that ice is the remedy that made a huge difference for me. As soon as I feel a cold sore coming on, I apply ice for 5-10 minutes. Amazingly, if I catch them early, they practically don’t even develop. I’ve also noticed that they almost always occur when I’m undergoing some higher than usual degree of stress.

    January 10th, 2016 10:40 pm Reply

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