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If you’ve been around for awhile, there’s a good chance that you, or someone you love, has had to deal with a pesky cold sore at some point or another. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that just under half of the US population between the ages of 14 and 49 carries herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1), the virus that causes cold sores, with that number growing to a whopping 60 percent by age 49. Since there is no cure for these painful, unsightly sores, your best bet for treatment is to give the best cold sore remedy a go.
What is a cold sore?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, cold sores are defined as fluid-filled blisters (or a cluster of fluid-filled blisters) that appear on the lips and around the mouth. Caused by the virus HSV-1, these sores are highly contagious and can be spread from person to person through saliva or close contact.
Frequency varies from person to person, though they can be triggered by hormonal changes, sunburn, stress, fatigue, and extreme temperatures, to name a few. Most tend to clear up on their own in one to two weeks, though symptoms, which include redness, swelling, painful rupturing, oozing, cracking, and bleeding, can be rather unpleasant without treatment.
Cold Sore Vs. Canker Sore
Not every sore you find around your mouth can be identified as a cold sore. Canker sores can also appear as small, painful bumps or clusters that may burst, leaving behind a white or yellowish appearance. They can also be triggered stress, hormone changes, and infections (among other things), and tend to disappear within one to two weeks.
Unlike cold sores, however, cankers, the cause of which is unknown, are not contagious. These sores are also only found inside your lip or cheek or under your tongue. Cold sores, on the other hand, can develop both inside or outside the mouth, though they are often seen at the corner of the lips.
Best Cold Sore Remedy
Unfortunately, there is no cure for cold sores. The best cold sore remedy, rather, will work to relieve your discomfort by lessening symptoms and shortening their length. Your doctor can prescribe an anesthetic gel or antiviral oral medication, but if you prefer a more natural route or want to treat them in the comfort of your own home, we’ve got you covered. Keep scrolling for FIRST for Women’s picks for the best cold sore remedy.
1. NaturSense Organic Aloe Vera
Where to buy: $13.89, Amazon
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Dentistry showed that gel from the stemless aloe vera plant, which has more than 75 active ingredients with anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and immune-improving properties, had a “significant inhibitory effect” on HSV-1 cells from a single patient’s lip lesions. Not only did the aloe vera gel suppress the growth of cells, it also showed promise as an antiviral agent, lowering the “infectivity and duration of herpetic ulcers, especially in refractory lesions.”
This 99.75 percent organic version from NaturSense comes from cold-pressed aloe grown in the US and is available in a large 12-ounce bottle.
One buyer assured its effectiveness, writing, “Very nice product!! Overall it it works nicely to calm my irritations. … This has saved me a few times, and actually helped me reduce that horrible red mark after a cold sore!”
2. ViruLite Cold Sore Treatment Device
Where to buy: $250 (Originally $299.99), Amazon
This home device (the only one of its kind to be cleared by the FDA), uses innovative light technology to lessen the healing time of your cold sore. When used for just three minutes, three times a day for two days of your outbreak, the ViruLite is clinically-proven to reduce your cold sore’s lifespan by as much as three days.
Raved one happy customer: “I can’t believe I’m actually writing this positive of a review of something I never thought would reaaaaally work. I got a cluster of cold sores on Thursday and by Friday, it was horribly painful and I wasn’t able to treat it early to prevent it. I got the ViruLite Friday night. … By Tuesday morning, [my cold sore] was gone! … This cutting my healing time by 75 percent saved me.”
3. Organic Coconut Oil
Where to buy: $5.99, Amazon
Forget spending a fortune on medication! Coconut oil, which contains antiviral and antibacterial monolaurin (a byproduct of coconut fat) and lauric acid, may be an effective means of fighting viruses such as herpes, according to a 2006 study published in Alternative and Complementary Therapies — and it costs less than $6 a bottle!
Where to buy: $31.62 (Originally $34.99, Amazon)
If there’s one product cold sore sufferers are sure to have heard of, it’s Abreva. This topical, FDA-approved cream claims to heal cold sores in just two and a half days by penetrating skin to get to the source of the HSV-1 virus. According to a 2001 clinical study, it effectively reduced the median healing time of 370 patients by nearly five days when administered five times daily.
More than 1,000 Amazon reviewers experienced similar results, with one writing, “I think anyone that uses anything else is just wasting their money. I used to (!) have severe breakouts of cold sores and they were painful and nasty. I put this on at the first tingle and indication, and for me, this stops the virus before forming into nasty blisters.I have never (!) had a bad break out since I started using this product. This stuff was a GODSEND for me.”
5. Urban ReLeaf Lemon Balm
Where to buy: $18.98, Amazon
While lemon balm, which has natural anti-viral properties, may not improve pain, Penn State reports that a study of 116 people with HSV who applied lemon balm cream to affected areas saw a noticeable decrease in redness and swelling in just two days. Furthermore, the university cites a large study involving German hospitals in which the use of lemon balm eradicated the recurrence of HSV in patients.
This blister-soothing salve, which is made with a natural, vegan formula, has a similar effect, according to buyers, with one going so far as to call it “miraculous.” I’ve been struggling with back to back cold sores and have been using acyclovir, Valcyclovir, Abreva, Herpecin, you name it,” the customer wrote. “This is hands down the MOST effective of the lot. I’ve been using it every day and night and no cold sores! I felt the dreaded tingle a few times and just slathered myself in this stuff and it never surfaced! … I feel like this is a godsend.”
6. Pure Encapsulations L-Lysine Tablets
Where to buy: $29.50, Amazon
Lysine tablets have been touted as an effective agent for the reduction of cold sores since 1987, when a study proving its benefits was published in Dermotologica. 27 patients who were given given L-Lysine tablets three times a day for six months exhibited fewer HSV infections, significantly lessened symptoms, and faster healing time.