How to Treat a Cold Sore

Home Remedies for Cold Sores

It doesn't matter whether you're the type of person used to using over-the-counter treatments from the local pharmacy or you prefer to find natural treatments or home remedies, prevention is still an essential component in treating your cold sores. In addition to taking care of your health, keeping stress at bay and protecting your skin from the sun, you should also do the following when you are in contact with someone who has or has recently had an outbreak of cold sores:

  • Do not share personal items such as lip balm or lipstick, makeup, straws, utensils, scarves, toothpaste or towels.
  • Do not directly share beverages or food items.
  • Refrain from kissing.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly, and avoid touching your face or your eyes while near that person.

While it's not exactly possible to reinfect yourself, since technically once you have the herpes virus, you'll always have it, you can instigate more cold sores. For example, the herpes virus can "live" on your toothbrush for seven days, meaning if you repeatedly use that toothbrush during an outbreak, you could develop more sores. The solution: Throw your toothbrush away and replace it with a new one when you first notice you're getting a cold sore and do that again after your sore heals [source: Mother Nature]. Also, do not attempt to pick or pop your cold sore; releasing any liquid from inside the sore can cause it to spread.

Now that we have prevention covered, let's discuss home remedies and natural treatments. Although most of these are not backed by scientific research, they are believed by some to be helpful in combating cold sores:

  • Cold compresses
  • Warm compresses
  • Lysine, taken as a supplement
  • Vitamin C, taken as a supplement
  • Vitamin E, taken as a supplement
  • Vitamin B-12, taken as a supplement
  • Tea tree oil, applied as a topical treatment
  • Zinc, applied as a topical treatment

[sources: Mother Nature, MedicineNet and Roberts].

To learn more about cold sores and other lip-related conditions, visit the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Coffman, Alicia. "Fact or Fiction: Is a cold sore an STD?" May 12, 2008 (Accessed 11/5/09)
  • "Abreva." (Accessed 11/04/09)
  • Hunt, Dr. Richard. "Virology - Chapter Eleven: Herpes Viruses." Microbilogy and Immunology On-line University of South Carolina School of Medicine. May 5, 2009 (Accessed 11/5/09)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Cold Sore." 3/13/2008 (Accessed 9/30/09)
  • MedicineNet. "Herpes Simplex Infections (Non-Genital)." (Accessed 9/30/09)
  • Mother Nature. "Cold Sores: 17 Hints to Heal Herpes Simplex." (Accessed 9/30/09)
  • Roberts, Theresa. "ABC's of Bumps & Bruises: A Guide to Home & Herbal Remedies for Children." (Accessed 9/30/09)
  • WebMD. "Cold Sores -- Home Treatment." 3/13/2008 (Accessed 9/30/09)
  • WebMD. "Cold Sores -- Topic Overview." 3/13/2008 (Accessed 9/20/09)