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17 Cold Sore Remedies You Didn’t Know You Could Make at Home

Read on to learn how to quickly heal a cold sore and prevent future outbreaks from occurring.

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Apply lemon balm essential oil

You already know that lemons can clean almost everything in your house, but recent studies have proven that lemon balm essential oil effectively kills the herpes virus. Since all cold sores are caused by the herpes virus, any treatment that directly targets the virus is automatically one of the most effective cold sore remedies. As you feel the tingle of a cold sore forming, put a drop of two of lemon balm essential oil to the area, then hold an ice cube on top of the area for ten minutes. After icing, spread a thin layer of petroleum jelly to protect the sore from bacteria and prevent it from cracking. Repeat the whole process several times a day. Note: Sometimes if you react quickly enough, a cold sore won’t emerge or its severity can be greatly reduced.

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cold sore remedies
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Take an aspirin

Besides offering pain relief, research shows that 125 milligrams of aspirin a day can cut the time a herpes infection remains active by 50 percent.

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Make a cornstarch paste

A traditional home remedy calls for making a cornmeal poultice for a cold sore, but an easier adaptation is to make a paste of a little cornstarch and water and dab it on the sore a few times a day. Cornstarch neutralizes the pH of the sore (cold sores thrive in acidic environments), which will soothe pain and inflammation. Once your sore is healed, you can use that cornstarch as a quick DIY carpet stain remover.

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Try a teabag poultice

At the first twinge of a cold sore, apply a damp, cooled tea bag to the area where you expect the outbreak to occur and keep it on for 10 minutes. Repeat three or four times a day to reduce the duration and severity of an outbreak. It’s been said that Earl Grey tea bags seem to be the most effective; here are the health benefits you can get of other popular teas.

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Treat with hydrogen peroxide

An open blister on your face is vulnerable to infection, especially if you touch it often. Frequently disinfect the sore with hydrogen peroxide to prevent bacterial infection. The cleaner the sore is, the more likely it will heal quickly without spreading or worsening.

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Make a licorice paste

Licorice contains anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties, and an acid found in licorice root has been shown in studies to stop the cold sore virus cells from spreading and counteract symptoms. Although drinking licorice tea may help, this is more effective as a canker sore remedy. Applying licorice powder topically works best for cold sores. Mix 1 tablespoon of licorice root powder with 1 teaspoon of petroleum jelly, and leave the cream on the sore for several hours or overnight. Find out if your canker sore is actually something more serious, and take a look at some more canker sore remedies you can find at home, too.

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Dab on some aloe

Swab the cold sore with pure aloe vera gel three to four times a day until the sore goes away. Aloe will soothe your sensitive, blistered skin and help protect it from bacteria, which is why it’s also a proven remedy for eczema and psoriasis relief.

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Apply tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is anti-fungal, antiseptic, and antibiotic, and can help heal your cold sore. (Witch hazel can similarly help.) Apply tea tree essential oil directly on the cold sore three or four times a day. Check out these other ways tea tree oil can improve your skin.

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Dab on vanilla extract

Vanilla extract can do more than make your home smell fresh. Some people believe the alcohol in pure vanilla extract makes it difficult for a cold sore virus to thrive, which would lessening the severity of an outbreak. As soon as you feel a cold sore forming, you can try dabbing on pure vanilla extract.

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Try red wine

If you have an opened bottle of red wine handy, try one of the more folky cold sore remedies: Put a little bit in a saucer and let it sit until the liquid evaporates. Slather the sore with the solidified dregs and it should ease the pain on contact. The theory is that resveratrol, red wine’s potent antioxidant, can relieve the inflammation. This anti-inflammatory property is just another reason why you should drink a glass of red wine every night.

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Toss your toothbrush

Cold sores are contagious and easily spread. Avoid worsening an outbreak and accidentally causing another by throwing out your toothbrush when the blister forms and again after it has cleared. Also throw away any other products that might have come into contact with the sore, especially lip balm or lipstick.

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Beef up your B12 intake

Studies have show that people who tend to get cold sores also tend to have low levels of vitamin B12. These are the signs you have a vitamin B12 deficiency. Taking a daily B12 supplement might lessen your chances for developing the sores. Natural ways to get more B12 would be to eat more shellfish, crab, beef, dairy, and eggs, all of which are high in B12.

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Take lysine supplements

This amino acid emerges as a hands-down best healer out of all the cold sore remedies; research shows it thwarts the replication of the virus by interfering with the absorption of arginine, an amino acid that is suspected of being necessary for the herpes virus to replicate. Interfering with replication can prevent a cold sore from emerging or reduce the duration of an outbreak. Along with taking a lysine supplement (it’s advised to take 3,000 milligrams daily until the sore goes away), you can also consider upping your intake of poultry, eggs, dairy, and turkey, all of which are natural sources of lysine. Check with your doctor before taking any supplements.

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Avoid foods with an unfavorable arginine-to-lysine ratio

Scientists believe that the amino acid arginine is necessary for the replication of the herpes virus. If you feel a cold sore developing, stop eating foods with an unfavorable lysine-to-arginine ratio, which can include chocolate, peanuts, almonds, seeds, cereal grains, gelatin, beer, and raisins.

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Eat to boost your immune system

Cold sores often occur when your immune system is weakened. To keep it strong, eat foods rich in vitamin C and zinc, both of which possess antioxidant powers that increase the immune system’s ability to help fight off the virus that causes cold sores. Berries, kiwis, citrus fruits, and melons are all high in vitamin C—in fact, these foods have more vitamin C than oranges—and beans, poultry, shellfish, and whole grains are good sources of zinc. Drinking echinacea tea can also boost your immune system and protect collagen, the basis of skin and mucous membranes, from breakdown by viral enzymes such as the cold sore virus.

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Stop touching it

Resist the urge to pick at or touch a sore, even after it has crusted over. Your hands can introduce bacteria to the sore, preventing it from healing. Cold sores are also very contagious, and touching one can spread the virus to your eyes or genitals, which means you’ll need to apply even more cold sore remedies. Always wash your hands immediately after you touch the sore when applying any medicinal remedies. Throw away any cotton swabs or tissues you use to apply medicine, too.

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Know what triggers an outbreak

Cold sores are an outbreak of the herpes simplex virus, and learning what most often triggers your outbreak can help reduce how long they last and how severe they are. Common triggers include emotional stress, exhaustion, a weakened immune system (sometimes caused by medications), infections, hormonal changes, and exposure to ultra-violet radiation (ie, too much sun exposure). Avoid repeated outbreaks by incorporating these habits that boost your immune system into your daily routine.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest