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When you have a cold sore, you want to act on it quickly. You might be tempted to try home remedies for cold sores recommended to you by friends, family or health websites—but you may find that these aren’t clinically proven.

One natural remedy may offer only temporary relief for your symptoms, while another may have the potential to actually make cold sores worse. With lots of anecdotal evidence out there, let’s unpack what some common natural & home remedies for cold sores can do to help with symptoms, and whether or not they may be effective.

9 Home Remedies for Cold Sores, Reviewed

Lemon slice icon

Lemon Juice1.

While some studies have investigated lemon balm as a cold sore remedy,1,2 there is not enough research on the effects of lemon juice. Although some believe that lemon juice has antibacterial properties, applying lemon juice to your cold sore probably won’t help against the virus.

Tea bag icon

Tea Bags2.

Using a tea bag as a cool compress may cool down any redness around the cold sore, similar to its use for other inflammation of the skin. It likely cannot, however, fight the full infection.1

Alcohol/witch hazel icon

Alcohol/Witch Hazel3.

Rubbing alcohol and witch hazel are astringents, which might help dry out the cold sore.1,3 Using one or both of these, however, has not been proven to heal the cold sore itself, and may cause excessive drying.

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Using ice as a cold compress is an easy cold sore home remedy that can be used to provide temporary pain relief and help reduce redness and swelling of your cold sore.1 Consider using it (with a towel or cloth covering) on or near the affected area as necessary for relief.

Tea tree oil icon

Tea Tree Oil5.

Tea tree oil is known to have antiseptic properties, but it’s not clinically proven to treat cold sores.4

Vanilla extract icon

Vanilla Extract6.

Pure vanilla extract is alcohol based. As an astringent, it may function in the same way as rubbing alcohol or witch hazel.

Salt water icon

Salt Water7.

Salt may help change the environment around the virus so it can’t thrive. While it might dry up the cold sore, it can also be painful to your skin.3

Petroleum jelly icon

Petroleum Jelly8.

Petroleum jelly may help soften the skin on or around the lips and provide a protective layer against infection. It will not necessarily shorten the healing time of the cold sore, though.

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Hot Compress9.

Using a warm or hot compress (a clean towel soaked with warm-to-hot water) may help ease pain.1 It can be applied over the sores in intervals of 20 minutes.

Although these remedies may help with temporary symptom relief, or minimize the risk of bacterial infection, they are not clinically proven to heal cold sores like Abreva Cream is. In clinical testing, Abreva has been proven to reduce healing time of cold sores when used at the first sign of a cold sore (median healing time: 4.1 days). If you have any questions regarding cold sore treatments and remedies, your healthcare professional is the best person to offer advice.

Cold sores can definitely be challenging to live with, but there are plenty of resources available to help you deal with them. For more information on various cold sore topics, be sure to browse our site.