What are the best essential oils for cold sores?
In this post, we'll take a look at the best essential oils for cold sores. This is to help you get that pesky sore on your lip or inside your mouth under control as quickly as possible! For those of us who are health nuts, it's important to try and do everything in our power to avoid getting sick even though there's no way of guaranteeing that will happen.
Essential oils like peppermint, eucalyptus, tea tree and thyme oils have been shown to be effective at cold sore prevention and treatment. You can try these oils individually or as mixed essential oil blend of peppermint, eucalyptus and tea tree as found in our MOXĒ Breathe Essential Oil.
This blog will go over what cold sores are and how essential oils could help as well as talk about any risks and precautions you should take before trying one out on your cold sore!
What are cold sores?
Herpes is a common and contagious viral infection that affects the mouth area. The type of herpes we're talking about here is oral herpes, which usually manifests as cold sores or fever blisters on your lips. This happens when HSV type I or herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) invades skin cells in your upper respiratory tract (mouth) resulting in a sore or blister. They are also referred to as fever blisters or oral herpes.
Cold sores or fever blisters usually appear in groups or clusters of small blisters and are often accompanied by redness, pain, or itching around the affected areas. When a blister breaks open it leaves behind a scab which can last several days until completely healed.
Once the blister is opened or exposed, the virus is highly contagious and can be passed from person to person through casual contact with an infected area of the skin. But you can spread the virus even if you don't have blisters.
Cold sores and HVS are highly prevalent in North America and worldwide. According to estimates from the WHO, about 3.7 billion people under age 50 have HSV-1 infection globally.
Most people who are infected with the virus are asymptomatic or never develop signs and symptoms. Those who do present with symptoms often go away within a week or two without treatment.
However, cold sores can be very painful and it is best to treat them as soon as you notice them appear.
How do cold sores form and why do they happen?
Cold sores often develop as a result of cold or flu symptoms or by environmental stress like ultraviolet (UV) light rays from direct sun exposure.
When a cold sore appears, it is because the immune system has been activated. Once this happens, the body starts to produce more mucous membranes and cells in an attempt to fight off any potential infections that might damage your skin further. The stimulation of new cell production in the area of infection results in a protruding sore or blister.
Cold sores are often seen among older children and teenagers, as they have not yet developed adequate immunity against the cold sores virus. However, adults can also develop cold sores when their immune systems become weakened for other reasons such as stress or fatigue.
Cold sores can result in complications for individuals with a weakened immune system but are generally not life-threatening for the majority of the population. Nonetheless, cold sores are unpleasant and may have a psychosocial impact on the individual.
Signs and symptoms of a cold sore
The first time you get a cold sore, it might be the worst according to Dr. Allison Arthur, a Florida board-certified dermatologist.
The American Academy of Dermatology noted first-time symptoms can vary from person to person but on average may include:
- Painful gums
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
Treatment options for cold sores
Currently, there is no cure for HSV-1 or HSV-2 viruses. This means that the only available treatments are those which act to treat symptoms like cold sores and other types of herpes lesions.
There are a few common treatment options for cold sores. These include antiviral medications, cold compresses, or cold sore creams. However, the best option you have for treating cold sores is to prevent them in the first place!
You can significantly reduce your chances of developing cold sores through various means including:
- Avoiding kissing others when you are infected with HSV-I.
- Avoiding sharing utensils and cups with others.
- Practicing good oral hygiene, such as brushing your teeth after meals or at least twice a day — more if you have cold sores in your mouth.
Sometimes avoiding cold sores is out of your control! So what can you do if you find yourself with one?
Antiviral medication (prescription medicine)
Valacyclovir is an FDA-approved antiviral prescription medication that reduces the severity of cold sores and flare-ups, as well as preventing herpes from transferring to other hosts. This drug works by blocking off the virus' polymerase enzyme which stops DNA replication.
Although valacyclovir is generally well-tolerated, it may cause side effects such as
- Nausea or stomach pain.
In order to avoid these side effects, you should remain hydrated and contact your doctor if they persist.
Cold Sore Creams (non-prescription)
Cold sore creams with active ingredients like acyclovir, penciclovir or docosanol are over-the-counter cold sore pain relief products that are available to purchase, although these aren’t designed specifically to treat the herpes virus.
Docosahexaenoic acid, a fatty alcohol known as docosanol, is often sold in a over-the-counter cream form known in the US market as Abreva®. Docosanol works by fighting the HSV-1 virus locally to shorten cold sore outbreaks and help your lips heal faster from them.
Scientific studies show that docosanol has been shown to work well for healing cold sores, and maybe as effective as oral antiviral drugs. A 2001 study found that it speeds up the healing process by approximately 18 hours on average.
Essential oils have been shown to be effective at cold sore prevention and cold sore treatment. Many studies show that cold sore sufferers can benefit from using essential oils.
The most effective cold-sore treatments are those which contain natural ingredients like tea tree and peppermint oil. These oils all have antiviral properties that make them the best for cold sores in particular.
Which essential oils can help treat cold sores?
Tea Tree Oil
A 2009 study found that tea tree oil had an antiviral effect on herpes simplex virus (HSV). However, the research was conducted in vitro and it wasn't determined if the oil would have been potent enough to work very effectively.
To treat your cold sore with diluted tea tree oil, first, dilute it using a gentler carrier oil so you don't hurt your skin too much. Also, be sure not to use more than two drops of this solution twice per day as overuse could damage or irritate sensitive areas.
Peppermint oil is another essential oil that helps with herpes outbreaks. The in vitro study showed the calming effect of peppermint on HSV-1 when it's activated, even if other drugs wouldn't help.
Even though there aren’t many human studies to back up the claim, applying diluted mint directly at first signs can be effective for soothing symptoms and reducing irritation during an outbreak.
A 2003 lab experiment found that Peppermint was able to reduce pain caused by cold sores (HSV-2) due to its antiseptic properties.
A 2020 study from the American Society for Microbiology examined the antiviral effects of thyme oil on HSV. Researchers suggested Thyme oil as a potent agent that can help fight herpes.
In a 2017 study, eucalyptus oil was shown to reduce the duration and severity of cold sores. Be sure to dilute it well before applying- you can use up to four applications per day.
How to safely use essential oils for cold sores
Essential oils can be a great way to treat cold sores, but it is important that you use the right method and ingredients.
Essential oils are meant to be applied topically or diffused in the air for aromatherapy. Always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil, like sweet almond oil, coconut oil, or jojoba before applying them to your skin. A 3-5 drop ratio of essential oils to 1 ounce of carrier is typical when making an aromatic blend at home.
Additionally, make sure you do not have an allergy/sensitivity before using essential oils as they could further damage your skin if used incorrectly.
Essential oil treatments can provide great relief from cold sores, but there are some possible side effects that range from moderate burning or stinging to bleeding on the skin. If you feel like your skin is having a negative reaction stop using the treatment immediately.
We hope this blog has been helpful in educating you about cold sores and their cause. Essential oils like tea tree, peppermint, eucalyptus, and thyme oils have been shown to be effective at cold sore prevention and treatment, but the research on essential oils and cold sores is limited and not necessarily evaluated or approved by the FDA.
If you are interested in giving essential oils a try, we recommend that you do your research on what type of oil is best for your needs before purchasing anything from the store. It’s also important to note that there are some risks involved with using these products so it is always wise to consult with a medical professional before applying any topical treatments or taking supplements!