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Essential Oils

Best Essential Oils for Cold Sores

Cold sores, most often caused by herpes simplex virus type 1, can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. Luckily, essential oils can be a safe, soothing way to not only ease the pain of cold sores but also speed up the healing process.

The Science of a Cold Sore

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost 70 percent of people have been exposed to herpes simplex type 1, but only 30 percent of those with the virus will ever show active symptoms. 1

However, in individuals who do not have the dormant form of the virus, the infection reveals itself through cold sores. These are in the same family as genital herpes (herpes simplex virus type 2) but present themselves differently.

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, can be triggered by stress, cold weather, excessive exposure to sunlight, a lack of sleep, a weakened immune system (due to illness or a diet that misses out on essential vitamins), and changes in hormones. They usually last about a week before clearing up.

There is no cure for cold sores, and once an infection has been contracted, it is there for life. Additionally, cold sores are very contagious, which is why members of the same family often share herpes simplex virus 1. However, that doesn’t mean that those who suffer from cold sores have to tough it out until the outbreak clears up on its own or rely on over-the-counter products that tend to dry out skin, potentially exacerbating the problem during the initial stages of treatment.

The active compounds in essential oils can help ease symptoms, speed up healing, and decrease the frequency of outbreaks, making them a superior option for addressing pesky, problematic cold sores.

Best Essential Oils for Cold Sores

Nature provides many gifts, and essential oils, which are packed with nutrients that act as antibacterials, are among them. Oils that contain beta-pinene and limonene—makrut lime, orange, and other citrus-based essential oils have both—are especially effective at easing the effects of cold sores, according to a 2014 study that appeared in the Iranian Journal of Microbiology. 2

Many other essential oils have also been studied for their benefits in easing the symptoms of cold sores and decreasing the duration of an outbreak. Here are the oils that came out on top:

tea tree twig and oil in a bottle Tea Tree Essential Oil

A 2001 study from researchers at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, where much of the research regarding essential oils and herpes simplex virus 1 is focused, found that tea tree oil is an effective remedy for cold sores. The antiviral benefits of tea tree oil help protect against herpes simplex virus 1, speeding up the healing process. 3

Eucalyptus Essential Oil

The same 2001 study that looked at the benefits of tea tree oil in treating cold sores triggered by the herpes simplex virus found that eucalyptus essential oil also offers cold sore-blasting benefits.

Additionally, a 2015 study appearing in the Journal of Acute Medicine found that the antibacterial benefits of the compounds in eucalyptus oil—including tannic acid, quercetin, and hyperoside—included protection against the herpes simplex virus. While this oil cannot eradicate the virus, it can speed healing, especially when applied during the first stages of a cold sore outbreak. 4

peppermint leaf and oil in a bottle Peppermint Essential Oil

A 2003 study from German researchers at the University of Heidelberg that appeared in the journal Phytomedicine found that peppermint essential oil is an effective topical remedy for the herpes simplex viruses type 1 and type 2. 5 The study also suggested that peppermint oil could prevent recurring episodes.

Star Anise Essential Oil

A 2011 study that appeared in Evidence-Based Complementary Alternative Medicine found that compounds in star anise essential oil made the oil an effective remedy for herpes simplex virus type 1. 6

The most important compound, the sesquiterpene anethole,—which gives star anise its licorice scent—is an effective antimicrobial, although shikimic acid, a natural antibiotic, also helps star anise battle the virus.

lemon balm leaf with oil in a bottle Lemon Balm Essential Oil

Also known as Melissa, lemon balm essential oil contains humulene, an anti-inflammatory that eases pain and acts as an antibacterial. A 2014 study from researchers in Germany and Iran that appeared in the journal Phytotherapy Research found that lemon balm essential oil helped prevent the herpes simplex 1 virus from penetrating skin cells, preventing the spread of the virus and speeding up recovery. 7

According to another 2008 study published in Phytomedicine, lemon balm nearly erased the virus that causes cold sores in studies, suggesting that Melissa oil helps minimize the severity of cold sores while reducing the time that they last.

Clove Essential Oil

Clove oil contains thymol, an antibacterial that helps protect against the herpes simplex 1 virus, and caryophyllene, which acts as an anti-inflammatory to relieve pain. Additionally, it contains the powerful compound eugenol, which offers both benefits.

Primarily because of its high eugenol content, clove oil has long been used to provide relief from dental pain, and it also helps ease the pain associated with cold sores.

chamomile oil on wooden background Chamomile Essential Oil

A 2008 study from German researchers that appeared in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology found that chamomile essential oil was an effective remedy for the herpes simplex virus 1 because it promotes faster healing. 8 Chamomile is rich in bisabolol, which helps encourage healing by stimulating the production of collagen and elastin, the proteins that make up the skin’s structural layer.

Thyme Essential Oil

The monoterpenes in thyme oil were shown to significantly reduce the activity of herpes simplex virus type 1, based on the results of 2010 research from the University of Heidelberg. 9

hyssop flower with oil in a bottle Hyssop Essential Oil

Researchers from the University of Heidelberg also looked at the benefits of hyssop essential oil—along with ginger, thyme, and sandalwood oils—in treating drug-resistant strains of the herpes 1 virus. They found that the compounds in hyssop essential oil were effective for speeding up a cold sore's recovery time. 10


While a few oils are generally mild enough to be used topically without dilution, most essential oils should be used with a carrier oil to prevent irritation. Some skin-friendly carrier oils include olive, sweet almond, evening primrose, apricot seed, and Argan oils. Carrier oils also help essential oils stay in place longer, since many of them are quickly absorbed into the skin. That allows them to work harder at the application site, where healing is most needed.

Once you've chosen an essential oil from the list above and a carrier oil, you're on your way to using essential oils as a natural remedy for cold sores.

Photo credits: AmyLv/, catalina.m/, MadeleineSteinbach/, AfricaStudio/

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