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Get rid of cold sores fast! Learn all about cold sores and how to treat them naturally with home remedies

a pair of lips with a cold sore

Cold Sores

Cold sores can be unsightly and painful and often inflict themselves upon us when we are run down. If you are a cold sore veteran and just want to know about the natural home remedies for cold sores - jump to the How to Treat Cold Sores Naturally section.

If this is your first cold sore, then read on to find out all about the little horrors!

What is a cold sore?

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and take the form of fluid filled tiny blisters which sit over an inflamed base on the skin. They usually appear on the lips and around the nostrils. They can appear on the genitals and eyes, but this article only deals with facial cold sores.

Symptoms of a cold sore

Burning, stinging or a painful ache. Many people report feeling a tingling in the skin before the cold sore erupts.

Some people also experience a mild tiredness or slightly raised temperature when they have cold sores, but this could also be down to the fact that cold sores frequently appear when people are run down or under the weather with some other infection or virus.

What causes cold sores?

Cold sores are caused by a recurrent viral infection (herpes simplex) of the skin or mucous membranes. After the first infection has healed the virus stays dormant in the nerves and pops up again when it is triggered.

A cold sore typically takes anything between 2 to 12 days to incubate.

What triggers a recurrence of cold sores?

Cold sore reinfections can be triggered by a variety of things. Minor infections or illness, sun, cold weather or wind, hormones and stress (emotional or dietary) are just some of the things than can trigger a cold sore flare-up.

How long do cold sores last?

A typical cold sore infection lasts about 1 - 2 weeks.

Are cold sores contagious?

Yes very! Transmission is by direct contact with blister fluid or discharge and cold sores are most infectious whilst the sores are still oozing or weeping. Cold sores are usually contagious until they have completely healed. Use a separate towel whilst you have a cold sore and throw away any tissues you use on your face.

Can I pop a cold sore blister?

No. Do not burst or pop a cold sore blister. This causes fluid to leak which can spread the infection further and potentially lead to scarring.

Home Remedies for Cold Sores

How to treat cold sores naturally

I am very fortunate in that I have never had a cold sore but plenty of people in my family have and over the years I have found some of the best home remedies for treating cold sores naturally to give the fastest healing results.

Cold sores love being damp and moist so the best treatment is to dry them out with anti-viral essential oils to stop them replicating. If you have a severe or large cold sore you will need to treat it to dry it out first and then move on to healing the wound.

Treating a cold sore

The easiest and most simple method of treating either a severe cold sore or one in the very early stages is to use an essential oil called Melissa. Melissa officinalis (also called lemon balm) is extremely anti-viral and has been shown in a study (Melissa officinalis oil affects infectivity of enveloped herpes viruses) to inhibit the herpes virus. It usually stops cold sores from progressing and it's great for calming redness and soothing inflammation.

Whilst the above study was carried out in a laboratory in 2008, Melissa essential oil has gained a good reputation for stopping the herpes simplex virus replicating and everyone I know who has tried the method below has had excellent results.

Whilst this method is extremely successfully you need to patch test yourself first as you will be applying an essential oil directly to your cold sore. You need to be able to see whether you are able to tolerate applying an undiluted essential oil. If you have sensitive skin you may not be able to use this method.

  • Use Melissa oil for best results but it is expensive. (Melissa oil is not recommended during pregnancy - if you are pregnant you should consult your Dr about any cold sores you have).

  • If you need to try other oils try Tea Tree, Lavender, Eucalyptus Radiata or Chamomile. Use chamomile roman (Anthemis nobilis) or german chamomile (Matricaria recitita), both of which are highly anti-inflammatory. Make sure you buy good quality oils - try Tisserand, Neal's Yard, NHR Organic or Aromantic but there are other good suppliers.

  • For the patch test place 1 drop of your chosen essential oil on in the crook of your elbow and let it dry. Do not wash it off for 24 hours. If no reaction occurs in 24 hours then you can use this method. If you have irritation then see the recipe for the homemade cold sore gel below.

  • To treat a cold sore AFTER doing the patch test with no reaction, put 1 drop of your chosen essential oil on a cotton wool bud and apply to the cold sore. Use a clean cotton bud for each application. Apply every couple of hours for the first 24 hours and then 4 times a day until healed. Try not to get the essential oil all over the skin surrounding the cold sore, just the cold sore (including the edges).

  • If your cold sore is large or needs further help to heal once it starts to dry out, move on to the How to Heal a Cold Sore section below.

If you are unable to tolerate an essential oil directly on your skin, you can easily make a cold sore gel.

Homemade cold sore gel

  • 1 UK teaspoon measure (approx 4ml) of Aloe Vera gel (preferably organic). I like Aloe Pura organic aloe vera gel from Holland & Barrett £6.49 200ml.

  • 6 drops Melissa officinalis (lemon balm) essential oil. (See comments above - you can select another essential oil from the suggested list).

Simply mix your chosen essential oil and the aloe vera gel together in a small pot (an old aluminium lip balm pot is ideal as long as it has been washed out thoroughly).

Apply the gel to the cold sore with a clean cotton bud 4 times a day. Use a clean cotton bud for each application.

To help stop a cold sore developing or to take the pain out of a cold sore and reduce inflammation, wrap an ice cube in a flannel or a thin towel and hold it against the cold sore for 10 minutes on and 5 minutes off. This usually works better during the early stages.

How to Heal a Cold Sore

You can use this method AFTER you have treated the cold sore with an essential oil or the cold sore gel as described above and your cold sore had dried up and needs to heal. Although I have mentioned previously that cold sores like to be wet and moist, argan oil is extremely healing.

  • 7ml argan oil (I love Neal's Yard Organic Argan Oil) which is also great for healing retinol skin burns.

  • Optional: 3ml Vitamin E. I prefer to use pure vitamin E for healing which is available from NHR Organic Oils but the smallest size you can buy is 100ml. You will also need to use a disposable plastic syringe to get it out of the bottle as it is thick and sticky. See list of equipment suppliers for stockists of disposable syringes. An alternative is to buy some good quality pure vitamin E capsules from a health food shop and use the contents from the capsules. The vitamin E is optional as a healing boost but you will still get good results with a good quality organic argan oil.

  • If the cold sore is very large or has large deep scabs you can add 4 drops of lavender and 4 drops of chamomile to the oil(s) for extra healing and anti-inflammatory power.

Either use the argan oil neat or mix the argan oil with the essential oils and/or vitamin E if using, and apply to the cold sore 4 times a day with a cotton wool bud. Use a clean cotton wool bud for each application. Clean residue off the cold sore with a clean tissue every time before applying a further application. Continue application until healed. Don't plaster the oil on thickly, just tap some over the cold sore with the cotton wool bud. It's better to apply less more frequently than lots at the same time.

Supplements to prevent cold sores

Cold sores can often appear when we are run down so take zinc and vitamin C to help boost your immune and healing systems. A food grade supplement is your best option, try for wholefood and food state supplements. Try their Wholefood Zinc and Cherry C vitamin C.

Many people also have low vitamin D levels which impacts the immune system so taking a vitamin D supplement can help enormously, especially during the months of October to March when we don't get much sunshine on our skin in the UK to make vitamin D naturally. Try vitamin D3 with added K2 liquid drops from or vitamin D3 and K2 capsules from

If you are female you may be low on iron which means you won't heal as well. Try supplementing with Spatone natural liquid iron supplement for maximum absorption without the gastric side effects. Available from Tesco and Holland and Barrett £12.49 for 28 x 20ml daily sachets. Take it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach with the juice of half a freshly squeezed orange (not orange juice from a bottle even if fresh) to increase absorption. Avoid eating or drinking for 45 minutes afterwards (many things can bind with iron to stop it being absorbed by the body).

Keep alcohol, sugar, processed carbohydrates and junk food to a minimum whilst you are treating or healing a cold sore for faster healing results.

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