How to kill a cold sore: 11 remedies to bring back luscious lips.

I once had a job that made me so stressed I had cold sores for four months. Four. Whole. Months. That’s a long time to openly advertise that you’ve got herpes (albeit herpes simplex).

They’d simmer down by the end of every second Sunday night. But back in the office, by Monday lunchtime, I’d be biting at an annoying itch on my lip, waiting for the tingle that proved they were back. By Tuesday, with a regularity you could bank on, the blisters would appear at the corner of my mouth. It hurt to eat; if I laughed they’d bleed (not that I had a lot to laugh about at that particular time). I couldn’t kiss my partner, and anything more, ummm, intimate was well off the menu. Lipstick was out. Eating a burger? Impossible.

Cold sores are embarrassing. They’re in your face because they’re on your face. They scab and weep and you feel diseased. What’s worse, there’s no way to get rid of them. Once they’re in your system, they’re there forever. I’ve tried creams and lotions and even dabbed them with metho (the sting was so, so gratifying).

So in my book, anything that gives them a shorter life span has to be a very, very good thing.

Cold sores, like clockwork, tend to turn up at the most inopportune times. Not surprising really, given they are often triggered by stress or a lowered immune system.

An outbreak can be set off by (among other things):

1. Fever
2. Infection, colds and flu
3. Ultraviolet radiation, such as a sunburn
4. Stress
5. Fatigue
6. Changes in the immune system
7. Trauma
8. Food allergies
9. Menstruation
10. Dental work.

cold sore remedies
“Cold sores are embarrassing. They’re in your face because they’re on your face” (Image via iStock)

The best thing you can do is pay attention to that ‘tingling feeling’ just before an outbreak so you can act – fast. Early action is critical when it comes to stopping or shortening a cold sore’s duration, and the following 11 remedies can help eliminate the suckers sooner rather than later.

1. Liquorice

Studies show that glycyrrhizic acid, an ingredient in liquorice, stops cold sore virus cells dead in their tracks. Be sure it’s real liquorice, and not just flavoured with anise. If the ingredient list reads ‘liquorice mass’, the product contains real liquorice. You could also try buying liquorice powder and sprinkling it on the sore, or mix up a cream with a pinch of liquorice power and a smidgen of pure vegetable shortening, then apply to the sore. Just don’t go overboard.

“Just don’t go overboard.” Image via Pinterest.

2. Zinc

Zinc enhances immunity and can reduce the frequency and severity of cold sore outbreaks. It can be taken as a vitamin supplement or by eating zinc-rich foods such as fish, dairy, egg yolks and legumes daily.

3. Milk

When it comes to cold sores, you don’t actually drink the milk. Instead, soak a cotton ball in it and apply to the sore to relieve pain. Even better, if you feel that tell-tale tingling before the cold sore surfaces, apply milk immediately – it could speed the healing right from the start.

When it comes to cold sores, you don’t actually drink the milk – or the donuts. Image via Pinterest.

4. Vaseline.

Covering a cold sore with petroleum jelly will speed healing and help protect it from secondary infection from bacteria. And don’t try to camouflage a cold sore with makeup; it often aggravates it and can actually make it worse.

5. Icepacks

If you place ice on a cold sore immediately, you can cut down the amount of time it hangs around. This is only achieved with pure water ice. Fruit juice popsicles (although delicious) are too acidic and will have the opposite effect.

An easy way to cut down the amount of time it hangs around. Image via Pinterest.

6. Avoid the sun.

Applying sunscreen to your lips could help prevent sun-induced recurrences of cold sores. Look for a sunscreen designed especially for the lips that has an SPF of 15 or higher.

7. Leave it alone.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? The easiest way to lessen the exposure is JUST DON’T TOUCH IT. Don’t squeeze, pinch or pick a cold sore – it can cause a bacterial infection. And, because cold sores are very contagious, avoid kissing, sharing cups, towels or similar items. Wash your hands frequently, especially after touching the cold sore. And take care not to touch your eyes or genitals immediately after touching the sore.

Tip: keep hand sanitiser with you in case you accidentally touch your cold sore.


8. Change your toothbrush

You can prolong the outbreak by using the same toothbrush (which will have particles of the virus on the brushes). The simple solution is to get a new toothbrush after the blister has formed, and again after the attack has cleared up.

cold sore remedies
“You can prolong the outbreak by using the same toothbrush.” Image via iStock.

9. Vanilla

For this to work, you need pure vanilla extract. Because it’s alcohol based, it makes it hard for the virus to thrive and either wipes it out or lessens the severity and length of the outbreak. If you use vanilla, buy organic, and start using it the second you feel the tingling set in.

10. Peppermint oil.

Peppermint oil is thought to have properties that directly kill virus particles outside your cells, like the ones floating around an erupted cold sore. Herpes simplex virus usually resides beneath the skin, lurking and waiting for a trigger to make it rear its ugly head. As soon as it erupts or you feel the tingle, apply the oil directly to the area.

Peppermint is one of many medicinal herbs. Image via Pinterest.

11. Lysine

The amino acid lysine helps prevent cold-sore outbreaks, so eat plenty of lysine-rich foods such as legumes, fish, lamb and dairy, or take the recommended daily vitamin supplement.

There are, of course, over-the-counter and prescription medications that your doctor can recommend. And make sure you get professional medical advice when necessary.

A version of this post was originally published on Debrief Daily.

Have we missed anything? What are your cold sore remedies?