Do’s and Don’ts for fighting cold sores

You know the signs, that tell-tale little tingling sensation that signals you’re in for a real treat, a cold sore is on the way. Zovirax and Abreva are widely used as a first line of defence and can be successful at keeping cold sores at bay, but need to be applied at the tingling stage. Not so useful if they appear in the morning as most of mine do. When you wake at night to that itching niggling feeling do you always leap out of bed and hunt for the cold sore cream? No, you don’t, you roll over and go back to sleep and pray for a miracle.

When you wake up the next day with the beginnings of one of these little lovelies you know it’s time to take action. Once a cold sore has erupted and begun its blistery miserable life it’s no fun at all and they can be really painful, but there are lots of things you can do to shorten its life span, and to prevent them coming back.

Herstat propolis cold sore care

Buy Herstat propolis treatment

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and once contracted can lie dormant in nerve cells for years. Triggers include being run down, getting stressed, menstrual cycle, exposure to direct sunlight and even certain foods. There is no cure for cold sores. If you’ve had one, chances are you’ll get them again, but there are loads of natural remedies and actions you can take to minimise attacks.

Here are my Do’s and Don’ts for surviving, minimising and banishing those cold sores for good!


  • Eat food that’s rich in Lysine e.g. Dairy products, potatoes, legumes (peas, lentils, beans) meat (specifically red meat, pork, and poultry), cheese (particularly parmesan), certain fish (such as cod and sardines), nuts, eggs, soyabeans (particularly tofu, isolated soy protein, and defatted soyabean flour), spirulina, and fenugreek seed and brewer’s yeast all contain lysine.
  • Take L-Lysine supplements – This amino acid supplement hinders the growth of the virus so can really aid healing and stop spreading.
  • Use a separate towel and face cloth – For the simple reason that cold sores spread so easily, if you or anyone else in the family has a cold sore, make sure everyone else knows not to use their towel to prevent contamination.
  • Use an anaesthetic ointment to numb – It will help to alleviate the pain if you have a particularly bad bout
  • Take painkillers – They will just take the edge off the pain of your cold sore.
  • Get lots of rest – One of the key triggers is being run down so make sure you get good and regular sleep. Cold sores don’t like that!
  • Take vitamin supplements – Vitamin supplements such as zinc, vitamin E, B to help heal your skin.
  • Boost your immune system – Take Echinacea or other immune boosting supplements to help knock cold sore attacks on the head
  • Keep it moisturised – Simple vaseline or petroleum jelly will do the trick, but there are loads of cold sore and chapped lip creams. Keeping your cold sore moisturised will aid healing, but make sure you always wash your hands after application
  • Get plenty of exercise – Exercise bolsters the immune system so don’t hide away. Get out there and get some fresh air; it’s a really effective way to fight off stress.
  • Try a cold pack – Ice can help dull the pain so try a cold pack or compress to numb the discomfort.
  • Learn to combat and cope with stress – Try yoga, pilates or meditation as great stress busters to keep you on an even keel.
  • Protect your lips – Make sure you wear a good sun-screen lip balm in direct sunlight as this can trigger cold sores. In winter make sure you keep lips moist, use a lip balm. If lips do become chapped or sore it can be easier for the virus to take hold. Healthy lips will be less prone as they skin is stronger and more supple.


  • Eat foods rich in Arginine e.g. Chocolate, Cola, beer and peanuts
  • Eat salty acidic food – Crisps, lemon and similar foods will aggravate your cold sore.
  • Kiss or perform oral sex – Cold sores are extremely easy to spread and pass on through physical contact so don’t feel tempted.
  • Touch, scratch or pick it – Physical contact with these little blighters can encourage them to spread very easily so when you do treat it, wash your hands and then avoid contact.
  • Get it wet! – Cold sore scabs can be very fragile, so avoid licking it or getting it wet if you can. Don’t go swimming and try to keep it out of the water when you shower. This is almost impossible to acheive and is very frustrating.
  • Let it get you down – Cold sores can be really painful and miserable, so take it easy and be kind to yourself. Ignore them and pretend they aren’t there!
  • Wear make-up Avoid using lipstick as you could contaminate it with the virus.
  • Keep your toothbrush in the bathroom – Moisture prolongs the life of the cold sore virus to make sure you dry it out, keep it in the bedroom instead so any virus cells won’t survive and spread back onto your lips before it’s fully healed.

Herstat propolis cold sore care

Herstat propolis cold sore care

It’s good to see far more Do’s than Don’ts here, and as if that’s not enough for you to be going on with, here are some other natural remedies that I’ve gleaned from friends, family and fellow cold sore sufferers.

  • Zovirax – Available in most chemists this is the first line of defence when you feel tingling. It contains aciclovir which helps prevent the cold sore taking hold. Boots, Lloyds and other pharmacies often do their own brand which is much cheaper than Zovirax. Careful when you open these little tubes as you can end up with the half the contents spewing out when you only want a tiny bit. Abreva is also widely used to treat cold sores.
  • Propolis – Use a propolis based cold sore remedy such as Herstat, regular users report much faster healing and a reduction in pain. It tastes almost good enough to eat too.
  • Toothpaste – Dab some directly onto the cold sore. It dries them out!
  • Witch Hazel – Using cotton wool dab some onto the cold sore. Witch Hazel has natural healing qualities.
  • Corsodyl gel – Also available at the chemists. Not tried this one out yet.
  • Whisky – I didn’t discover whether this remedy involved application to the cold sore or drinking, or perhaps both. I’ll leave that up to you…
  • Colloidal Silver – Can also be dabbed onto the cold sore to aid healing. You can get this in most health food shops in liquid form and you can keep it in the fridge.
  • Eue de toillete – The alcohol dries up the cold sore but also stings!
  • Licorice – Make sure it’s real licorice and not flavoured.
  • Milk – Soak cotton wool in milk and dab onto the cold sore

Cold sores can also be triggered by food allergies so if you do keep getting recurrent cold sores start a food and symptoms diary and try to pin point what foods are causing it.

What are your cold sore remedies? What works for you to banish these little horrors? I usually give mine a name like Colin or Clary – bring in a bit of humour. Let em know I’m not bovvered. It usually does the trick!

Buy cold sore treatments online

If you want to see what LLysine looks like or check the names of cold sore treatments mentioned here, and even buy them online, visit the Buy Allergy Stuff page for some ideas.

Other cold sore blogs

There are about ten blogs here about cold sores. To see them all visit What allergy blogs about cold sores

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About Ruth

Ruth works freelance as a copywriter and writes the What Allergy blog to share information with people who have allergies, eczema, asthma and food intolerances. was voted in the top 5 allergy blogs and Ruth also judges regularly for the FreeFrom Food Awards and FreeFrom Skincare Awards. She also won the Foods You Can People's choice Best FreeFrom blogger award 2014.


  1. Christopher says:

    One should not take aspirin products during or following a HSV outbreak. This is because a rare, but life threatening condition (Reyes syndrome)is linked to recovering from a viral infection or who have a metabolic disorder are most at risk, especially if they’ve been taking aspirin. Thanks for the blog though I recently wanted a refresher on some tips on dealing these little buggers.

  2. bob hunter says:

    there are a few common mistakes here.
    1. A person cannot spread the virus to himself after primary infection. During primary infection it can spread anywhere so at that point it’s important to be very careful. After primary infection people have antibodies built up so they cannot spread it to a different location. If one has HSV-1 on their lips, they still can get HSV-2 on their lips or genitals from a partner, but not HSV-1 again. Numerous recent peer reviewed studies have shown this, so after primary infection touching the sore doesn’t risk spreading it around your body, and your toothbrush can’t reinfect yourself.

    2. I’d mention valocyclovir as the best medicine for cold sores. It’s a level up from Zovirax and far more effective.

    It’s a good article. I’m sure some of those other methods can help, but in general for making it heal faster valocyclovir (valtrex) or zovirax, or abreva, outside of those nothing is clinically proven to work.

    • That maybe but I don’t find Zovirax very effective for me at all. Either it doesn’t work or it’s stopped being effective so I now use tea tree, propolis and llysine. Work much better. For me anyway. And yes I totally agree about stopping the spread of this horrible virus. Very important.

  3. Any advice for when they’re in the scabbing stage? This is my first one and it’s resulted in a nasty looking scab on my bottom lip (HUGE). I’ve been applying the abreva, but I’ve noticed that the scab sometimes starts to slough off/move. Is it okay to remove the scab at this stage if you continue to apply the abreva religiously? Desperate to have my face back. Thanks

  4. @Everyone/Ruth. πŸ™‚

    Hello. This is my first time posting here, but definitely not my first cold sore. My first one was eleven years ago in my late 20’s. I freaked out. I felt sorry for myself. I was in total disbelief. I had NEVER had it happen before. Well. I confess, after all this time, my reactions haven’t improved much, lol. Oh I’ve accepted the fact that I will have this virus til the end of my days, but, man, it hasn’t gotten easier with time. I obsess when they appear, cancel all social appointments, and wish I could take two weeks off of work and hide in a cave and die. (Not realistic, nor incredibly mature, I know).

    When a outbreak does happen, I throw everything I’ve collected in my arsenal over the years. Can’t say I’m too ahead of the curve. I do know that I’m very careful/considerate when I have one. (Wish I wasn’t as ashamed, but, what can I say? They’re just horrible, evil things. I do not go to restaurants to eat and in the rare case I do, I take plastic ware to eat with). I never touch them. Always use cotton swabs to apply any ointments. I spray Lysol on my office phone when I have one. Do not underestimate how contagious these things are, and never touch them and touch another part of your body, even when they’re “almost gone”. Doesn’t matter. (Especially your eyes). Scary stuff. Anyway…these are some of the things I’ve tried over the years to varying degrees of success. As always, the best idea is PREVENTION (nutrition/sleep/diet/exercise). After that, when the virus rears its head (it’s a clever one, really) ATTACK IT AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE. THE VERY EARLIER, THE BETTER.

    – ICE. (Ice, Baby). This tip is a keeper. It’s great and inexpensive. A bit messy, but hey. Grab a washcloth, wrap it up and keep holding a bit of ice on the blister til you can’t stand it. And just reapply and reapply over the course of a few hours. You’ll reduce swelling and with any luck shock that virus to retreat back to remission. (It likes moist, warm environments not chilly, icy dry lips). Now, it doesn’t always work, but it’s definitely worth a shot.

    – LYSINE. I take daily Lysine tablets. I have the 1000 mg tabs. I take one first thing in the morning, every day, on an empty stomach. When I have an active outbreak [like now, mine started on Dec 6th πŸ™ ] I increase it to 3 x a day. Lysine tabs are inexpensive, so, go to town.

    – Acyclovir 400 mg – I keep these *always* on hand. Take one at the very first sign. I do not get the tale-tell tingle. I’m one of those that wakes up and finds that the damn herpes fairy visited me during the night. HOWEVER….I did find a lip balm that I apply every night before I go to bed for that purpose and I’ve had good luck with not waking up with one in a while now. It’s called ColdSoresBeGone. You can buy it on their website or Health Food Stores like Sprouts.

    I also have Acylovir Cream. It’s very thick. When you first apply it, it doesn’t spread/dissipate very well (like say, Abreva), but after being on the warmth of your skin, it begins to dissolve and not look so white (after say about five minutes). I wouldn’t use it alone, as I’ve had next to zero results from just that. But I don’t mind using a combo of the two. If I had to pick between having either the pills or the cream though, it’s the pills hands-down.

    – A 9 Volt Battery – Okay. I know this one sounds weird. But when you’re desperate, you’ll try anything. I saw a YouTube tutorial about this one. You get a 9 Volt (has to be that one cause it has the prongs). You wet your lip where the sore is at. Then you take the battery (I know, sounds scary) and you put the battery at the site of the sore and keep zapping it. Flip the battery around and just keep going at it. Check out the video. This worked for me last time! Not soooo much this time. I only stuck with it the first day or so this time.

    – Tea Tree Oil. So last time the battery worked better and not so much the tea tree. This time, the tea tree worked to dry the buggers out. It’s very potent. With a strong smell. So be careful and depending on where your lesions are located, take good care to not get any in your mouth. So, yes, Tea Tree or Campho-Phenique does a good job of drying them out. But now…

    I’m at that strange stage where I have to decide “Do I keep drying these dudes out? Or, do I now apply my Acyclovir cream/Vitamin E oil/lysine ointment from a OTC tube to moisten them?”

    I’ve always been a fan of completely drying/starving these things.
    This time around, I’ve dried them and am going to moisten them as they’re getting to that scab stage. I’m on day 6.

    Things that I’ve tried that haven’t really helped: Abreva/Zovirax Cream/Toothpaste/mixed results with placing a Tea Bag on the sores. I was desperate enough to try the needle bit, but I think it just made it worse. So, I didn’t try it again. If there’s anything else that’s out there I’ve probably done it.

    Each outbreak is a bit different than the last. Similar but subtle differences. Like what it responds to/healing time. Last year, the sores didn’t take long to heal but by golly, the redness on the skin from where it was located took FOREVERRR to heal. πŸ™

    My current boyfriend says he accepts me even with these things. I’ve only had one outbreak this year (this current one). And that’s nice that he does – – although, I think he’s really just trying to be polite. I’ve had other partners who uh…wanted no part of that. πŸ™ It hurts, but, there’s little we can do. Once we’re infected with this mess, that’s that. I worry that I’m like a Komodo Dragon, shedding asymptomatically throughout the year. When I’m kissing, it’s always in the back of my mind. πŸ™ Bummer, I know. But I guess life goes on….

    I don’t have a real-life support group. Wish I did. These message boards will have to do and I hope I imparted some wisdom for any first-time sufferers.

    Next Up: I’m going to try to purchase the Virulite Device. Heck, i’ve done just about everything else.

    Good Luck and Good Health to All of My Fellow Sufferers…. You Are Not Alone!

    Hugs and Holiday Health,


  5. Mine started Christmas morning. By Monday it was huge, my entire bottom lip and part of my chin were swollen. Went to the doctor and started on Acylovir pills. A week later and still have it. The doctor said to take 2 pills 3x a day for 5 days and save the rest if the pills for next time. But since it’s still there, should I just take the rest of the pills?

  6. Okay I’m a little confused maybe someone can help me it says keep moisturising it but it also says dry it out with toothpaste???????

    • What I mean is try not to get it wet if you can. But many healing ointments can help reduce the life span, like llysine paste, tea tree, aloe vera, propolis etc.

  7. Christiana says:

    I’ve read some of you guy’s tips and I have one. I learned that bleach helps to dry it. I know, weird- but I was desperate to have it gone! I just take a tissue, dip it in bleach and dab the cold sore. It automatically starts drying the cold sore, but it does have a little burning sensations. When I wake up the next day, I find it a scab.


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