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Natural remedies for cold sores

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I suffer a lot from cold sores. I’d rather not have to keep using antiviral creams. Are there any natural remedies that can prevent cold sores or help get rid of them when they occur?

L.B., via email

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are fluid-filled blisters that form on the lips or around the mouth, caused by the herpes simplex virus. The painful blisters, which are contagious, are typically preceded by a tingling, itching or burning sensation around the lips, and later burst and turn into scabs that last several days. 

Usually, a cold sore will clear up on its own within one to two weeks, but unfortunately, once you have the virus, it stays in your body. In some people, the virus stays dormant and they will never have another cold sore. But in others it gets reactivated—by factors such as stress, fatigue or skin injury for example—and they can experience frequent outbreaks. 

People with compromised immune systems are more prone to cold sores, so one of the best things you can do to help prevent future outbreaks is to strengthen your immune system. See our Special Report on page 26 for a comprehensive guide. Also consider getting tested for food allergies or intolerances, which could be putting strain on your immune system and reducing its capacity to keep the herpes simplex virus in check.1 And if you think stress could be a potential trigger for you, incorporate stress reduction techniques into your everyday routine such as mediation, yoga or tai chi. 

With that groundwork done, here are some top tried-and-tested natural remedies to heal cold sores and keep them from coming back.

Drug side-effects

The usual treatment for cold sores is aciclovir, available as a cream or oral drug. It can be effective, but can cause side-effects such as burning and itching skin (cream) as well as renal failure and anaphylaxis (oral).1

Load up on lysine

Several studies suggest that supplementing with the amino acid lysine can be helpful if you suffer from cold sores.2 In one, those taking daily doses of lysine for six months had fewer cold sore infections, less severe symptoms and faster healing times than those taking a placebo.3

Eating lysine-rich foods might also be beneficial (see right), but try not to grill, broil or fry these foods as it may reduce their lysine content.1

Suggested dosage: 1–3 g/day as a supplement

Lysine-rich foods

  • Tuna
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Halibut
  • Salmon
  • Pork
  • Cheese
  • Navy beans
  • Red beans
  • Oatmeal
  • Peanuts
  • Cashews
  • Avocado
  • Eggs

Try vitamin C

Vitamin C can inactivate the herpes simplex virus in test tube studies.4 And in a clinical trial, those taking vitamin C along with flavonoids saw their cold sores heal significantly faster than the placebo group. The treatment was most effective when taken at the first sign of a cold sore starting.5

Suggested dosage: For prevention, try 1–3 mg/day (look for a vitamin C plus bioflavonoids supplement); for an active infection, take vitamin C to bowel tolerance for 5–10 days

Apply kanuka honey

A natural topical cold sore treatment made from 90 percent pharmaceutical-grade kanuka honey from New Zealand and 10 percent glycerin was just as effective as a standard antiviral cream containing aciclovir in one study.6 Sold as Honevo Cold Sore, the treatment is available via, or if you can get hold of some kanuka honey and glycerin (available online), you could try making your own. 

Look for lemon balm

Extracts of the leaves of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) appear to be effective for cold sores when used topically. Using a lemon balm cream eased symptoms and led to faster healing times in one study.7

Try Lipq Liquorice & Melissa Lip Gel (available from, which also contains licorice, another helpful herb for fighting off cold sores according to test tube evidence.8

Try vitamin E

Applying vitamin E oil directly to a cold sore may ease the pain and speed healing.11 To try it for yourself, saturate a cotton ball with the oil from a pierced vitamin E capsule and hold it on your cold sore for 15 minutes. Repeat every three hours on the first day, then three times daily for the next two days.

Zone in on zinc

Research in frequent cold sore sufferers suggests that the lower your zinc level, the longer your recovery time when a cold sore strikes.9 And a preliminary trial found that taking zinc supplements can reduce recovery time as well as the number of cold sore attacks.10

Suggested dosage: It’s best to consult with a practitioner who can check your zinc levels and recommend a suitable dosage for you personally, but the dosage used in the study was 45 mg/day (in two doses). And bear in mind that long-term zinc supplementation should be accompanied by a copper supplement (2 mg/day) to prevent a deficiency




Altern Med Rev, 2006; 11: 93–101


Integr Med (Encinitas), 2017; 16: 42–6


Dermatologica, 1987; 175: 183–90


J Immunol, 1937; 33: 251–7


Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol, 1978; 45: 56–62


BMJ Open, 2019; 9: e026201


Phytomedicine, 1999; 6: 225–30


 Jundishapur J Microbiol, 2014; 7: e11616


J Oral Pathol Med, 2005; 34: 423–5


BMC Oral Health, 2020; 20: 296


N Y State Dent J, 1978; 44: 382–3, Dent Surv, 1976; 52: 50–1

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