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Home remedy – cold sores

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

A cold sore is a small blister on the face (often on or around the lips) caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The blister tends to burst and then forms a crust over the top of it. Some people experience tingling or burning before the blister appears, and it can be painful. They are very common, with around 1 in 5 people suffering from repeated cold sores. They usually heal by themselves between 7 and 10 days.

Most people are infected with the virus when they are young, but they may not get a cold sore until many years later. Once infected, the virus stays within you and can be reactivated and cause other cold sores at future points. This is usually around times of stress, tiredness, menstruation, illness, or some people find the sun can cause outbreaks.

There are some over-the-counter treatments available from your pharmacist, but if you are looking for some things to try at home – Healthwords's pharmacists have you covered.

Doctor’s advice


Applying ice to the cold sore won't speed up the healing process, but it can provide some much-needed relief from pain and discomfort. We recommend not putting ice directly onto the skin, so you can try wrapping it in something like a kitchen towel or a small cloth so as not to damage the lining of the mouth. Like having a muscular injury, the ice is thought to help reduce pain and swelling due to its effects on constricting blood vessels in the area.

Lemon balm

There are some small studies that show lemon balm may have antiviral properties that reduce swelling and redness with the cold sore blister. It's a small study and rather old, but it could be worth a try. You should use a product containing a minimum of 1% lemon balm.

Aloe vera

Like other natural products, aloe vera products are a home remedy cure for many different ailments due to their anti-inflammatory effects. There have been small studies showing a small inhibitory effect on the virus causing cold sores. This could be enough (given the lack of risk with aloe vera) to consider giving aloe vera gel a go and see whether it helps you.

So which one is right for you?

As always, what works for one person won't necessarily work for someone else. If you're looking for a home remedy rather than a product like Abreva that can be found in your local pharmacy – these should all be safe to try, and you can see if they work for your symptoms.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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