5 Natural Ways To Prevent And Heal Cold Sores

February 7, 2018
IAN HOOTON/getty

Nothing makes you want to hide from the world quite like a cold sore. The herpes simplex type 1 virus, which affects about half the U.S. population, can flare up at the most inopportune times in the most inopportune place—your lips. And attempting to cover up those unsightly red bumps with concealer, well, that somehow just makes everything a whole lot worse.

Lucky for you, there are plenty of simple and inexpensive ways to shorten the duration of cold sores (or prevent them altogether) that are seriously effective, from natural OTC creams to dietary changes to simple relaxation techniques. Here, we’ve rounded up some of our favorites.

1

Slash Stress Levels

Let’s start with a simple cold sore prevention technique: Calm down! If you've had one cold sore, the virus is still in your system and always will be, but you can stop it from rearing its head again by minimizing stress—which weakens your resistance to flare-ups. Of course, reducing stress is easier said than done. If you’re not sure where to start, try slotting in10 minutes of meditation per day. We recommend using an app like Calm or Headspace, which feature simple guided meditations to calm the mind and body, and keep you focused.

Related: This Is The Best Way To Heal Chapped Lips

2

Limit Sun Exposure

Similar to stress, excessive sunlight can trigger cold sore outbreaks because it weakens your immune system and makes you more susceptible to disease. That’s why you should always wear a lip balm with at least SPF 20 (like the Lip Clear Cold Stick). If you already have a sore, apply lip balm to the affected area separately with a cotton swab so you don't spread sore to the rest of your lips.

Here's how to make your own DIY lip balm with soothing peppermint oil:

3

Eat (And Apply) Zinc

Eating foods rich in zinc—grass-fed beef, turkey, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, eggs, mushrooms, and more—can help reduce inflammation and boost immunity, possibly helping to prevent cold sore outbreaks altogether. But if a cold sore has already reared its ugly head, zinc can still help! One study found that people who began using a zinc oxide cream within 24 hours of noticing symptoms (and applied it every 2 hours after that) reduced cold sore duration by nearly 2 days. One to try: Lip Clear Lysine+, which contains zinc, along with soothing ingredients such as menthol and calendula, and lysine, an amino acid that suppresses the activity of common cold sore triggers.

Related: 6 Signs You're Not Getting Enough Zinc

4

Use A Green Tea Compress

Turns out, green tea is rich in an antioxidant called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which has natural antiviral properties. In one lab study, researchers found that EGCG reduced the growth of the herpes type 1 virus by 92 percent. To reap the benefits, you can drink green tea daily (2 to 3 cups provide a decent amount of this antioxidant), but more immediate results can be achieved with a green tea compress—simply wet a green tea bag with warm water and apply to the affected area for a few minutes several times per day.

Related: 10 Foods That Fight Cold And Flu

5

Apply A Dab Of Honey

Sure, you’ve heard of honey for a sore throat, but cold sores? Hear us out. In one small study, researchers actually found that applying honey to cold sores healed them 35% faster than the active ingredient in prescription herpes antiviral treatments. Additionally, another study found that four types of honey were able to kill the herpes virus in test tubes, which suggests that any quality raw, unfiltered honey should do the trick. Try applying a small amount with a cotton swab directly to the affected area several times per day.

Related: 3 Natural Ways To Soothe A Sore Throat