Woman with cold sore touching lips

Cold Sore alert: natural ways to manage cold sores

A drop in temperature at this time of year is a common trigger for cold sores. Other triggers include a bout of flu, tiredness and stress.

Editor Jane Garton looks at some soothing herbs that might help to bring relief.

If you suffer from recurrent cold sores, caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), the secret is to apply a soothing remedy at the first sign of a tingle to help stop it firmly in its tracks. And the good news is if you don’t want to go down the over-the-counter (OTC) route there are some herbs that can help.


The first that springs to mind is lovely lemon balm and studies suggest that topical ointments containing lemon balm may help the healing process. For example, in one study of 116 people with HSV, those who applied lemon balm cream to their sores experienced significant improvement in redness and swelling after only two days[i].

Look out for creams containing extracts of this essential oil or make your own. Simply add a teaspoonful of lemon balm tincture or a few drops of the essential oil to some aqueous cream available at your local chemist and apply it directly to the cold sore.


The other remedy that may help reduce the duration and discomfort of a cold sore is tea tree essential oil. The reason? It is rich in antiviral and antibacterial properties. Apply oil to the affected area with a cotton swab at the first sign of a tingling or itching sensation. It can be used at full-strength, but if you have sensitive skin it is better to dilute it at one part water, one part tea tree oil.

Re-apply tea tree oil to the area several times a day and just before bed until the scabs disappear and new skin grows. Keep your lips moist with lip balm, as tea tree oil can be drying to other parts of the mouth.


Aloe vera gel is another useful herb for cold sores. It too can be applied to the sores several times each day, and the juice can be beneficial too.


  • Use a good lip balm with SPF and if possible tea tree oil
  • Avoid too much sun and tanning booths
  • Make sure you get enough sleep
  • Manage your stress levels
  • Remember cold sores are contagious, so avoid contact with babies and anyone who has a weakened immune system until the area is completely healed

[i] 1: Schnitzler P, Reichling J. [Efficacy of plant products against herpetic infections]. HNO. 2011 Dec;59(12):1176-84. doi: 10.1007/s00106-010-2253-0. German. PubMed PMID: 21607799