Cold sores, sometimes called “fever blisters,” are inflamed open sores that form around the mouth. These sores are almost always caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).
There’s no cure for HSV, though research is making progress on a potential future cure or vaccine.
Once a person has had one cold sore, stress, sunlight, or hormonal changes can trigger the virus to activate again.
There are over-the-counter and prescription remedies that claim to treat the pain and inflammation that cold sores cause. But researchers are beginning to find that the organic compounds found in some essential oils could treat cold sores as well.
Some strains of herpes have developed resistance to the drugs used to treat them, but essential oils could potentially be effective against these strains.
The evidence that essential oils could have a significant effect on cold sores is limited and still being researched. Use them with caution and keep your doctor informed if you choose to try one out.
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Peppermint oil is an essential oil, according to research, that has antiseptic properties.
A lab studyTrusted Source from 2003 on HSV demonstrated that peppermint oil had the potential to calm the symptoms of an activated herpes strain — even if the strain is resistant.
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Here are some other essential oils that may help your loved one with cold sores:
Which essential oils can help treat cold sores?
1. Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil has antiviral, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties that can come in handy when you need to treat a cold sore.
One 2009 study found tea tree oil had a potentially antiviral effect on HSV. However, it was an in vitro study, meaning it was done on isolated samples, and it wasn’t determined if the oil was potent enough to prove very effective.
You can apply diluted tea tree oil directly to your cold sore using a clean cotton swab, but make sure you dilute it with a gentler carrier oil so you don’t hurt your skin.
Don’t use tea tree oil more than twice per day, or your skin may become irritated.
2. Peppermint oil
Peppermint oil is another essential oil with antiseptic properties.
Peppermint oil was also included in the in vitro study for tea tree oil with similar results.
An older lab studyTrusted Source from 2003 on HSV demonstrated that peppermint oil had the potential to calm the symptoms of an activated herpes strain — even if the strain is resistant to other kinds of drugs.
Apply diluted peppermint oil directly to the cold sore at the first sign to see if it helps symptoms.
3. Anise oil
Oil from the anise plant has been shown in an older studyTrusted Source from 2008 to help inhibit cold sores.
A bovine study found that anise oil could inhibit growth and development of the virus. Another in vitro studyTrusted Source showed antiviral properties, potentially from β-caryophyllene, a chemical present in many essential oils.
4. Oregano oil
Oregano oil is one of the most popular home remedies for cold sores, and for good reason. Back in 1996, oregano oil’s effects on HSV was found to be substantial.
A more recent studyTrusted Source showed similar antiviral properties in oregano oil, potentially due to its high amounts of carvacrol, a compound found in many aromatic plants.
Rubbing diluted oregano oil on the site of your cold sore with a sterile piece of cotton may help diminish the size and inflammation of your cold sore.
5. Lemon balm oil
Lemon balm oil has been determined to inhibit herpes viruses’ penetration of cells by 96 percent for drug-resistant strains, according to a 2014 lab studyTrusted Source. Further research is examining how lemon balm works on the herpes cells.
Since lemon balm oil can penetrate the skin layer and treat the herpes virus directly, you can apply the diluted oil directly to your cold sore up to four times per day.
6. Thyme oil
Thyme oil is a potent agent. It has antiviral effects on HSV, according to a lab study. Of course, if the trigger of the virus is still present — be it stress, a fever, or extended sun exposure — the virus could reactivate even after treatment.
7. Ginger oil
Ginger oil’s components have been found to reduce cold sore symptoms in a 2014 lab studyTrusted Source.
Ginger oil feels warm on your skin and may soothe the irritation from your cold sore. Applying the diluted mixture topically may help your cold sore heal.
Consider mixing ginger oil with some of the other oils on this list in a carrier oil.
8. Chamomile oil
One studyTrusted Source found chamomile oil to be a potential antiviral agent against HSV. It also proved potentially effective in helping to treat drug-resistant strains.
Chamomile oil also soothes the skin when applied. Applying diluted chamomile oil directly to a cold sore as soon as you feel the sore forming is the most effective way to use it.
9. Sandalwood oil
Sandalwood oil is known for its distinct and powerful scent, but its components may also fight the cold sore virus, according to a lab study.
You can apply diluted sandalwood oil directly to a cold sore when it appears. The strong scent of sandalwood might be irritating to your nose or sensitizing to your skin, so mix it with one of the other oils on this list, as well as a carrier oil, if you choose to use this remedy.
10. Eucalyptus oil
Cell structure tests done in a lab revealedTrusted Source that eucalyptus oil might be able to reduce the duration and severity of cold sores.
Always dilute eucalyptus oil well before applying, and limit it to four applications per day.