Nothing can make you feel more untouchable than a cold sore. The herpes simplex type 1 virus, which affects just over half the U.S. population, can flare up at the most inopportune time in the most inopportune place—your face—practically screaming "I'M SICK!" The good news? Researchers are discovering that natural cold sore remedies can make those unsightly blemishes disappear before you can say "herpes simplex type 1" (almost).
• Lemon balm. A member of the mint family, this potent herb has been used for centuries to reduce anxiety and stress, common triggers for cold-sore flare-ups. The most convincing clinical evidence of its effectiveness, according to a recent issue of the journal Alternative and Complementary Therapies, was a study showing that a cream containing the herb reduced redness and swelling after only two days. You can buy lemon balm ointments at standard drugstores. Or steep 2 to 4 teaspoons of crushed lemon balm in 1 cup of boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. Allow the "tea" to cool and dab it on your cold sore with cotton balls throughout the day.
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• Green tea. Another tea that's shown to be effective at combating cold sores, green tea is rich in an antioxidant called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, which is thought to have antiviral properties. In a November 2012 study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, scientists from Georgia Health Sciences University discovered that EGCG reduced the proliferation of herpes type 1 cells by 92 percent. However, they also found that a modified, synthetic form of EGCG, p-EGCG, reduced infectious cells almost 100 percent. The authors of that study have since developed a p-EGCG-containing cream that's available over the counter called AverTeaX Topical Ointment. Two to 3 cups of green tea per day, or green tea compresses on a cold sore, will give you high levels of EGCG.
• Zinc. Though the jury's out as to whether zinc will do anything for your cold, it could make a cold sore go away faster. Test-tube studies have shown that zinc can kill up to 98 percent of herpes simplex type 1 cells, but real-world studies haven't been as conclusive. One study suggests that topical zinc oxide ointment reduced cold-sore duration by up to two days, and the authors of that study had their participants use the ointment every two hours as soon as they felt a cold sore coming on.
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• Honey. This treatment could be better than drugs, according to research from the United Arab Emirates. In a small study of 16 people, the researchers found that topical applications of honey shortened the duration of cold sores 35 percent better than acyclovir, the active ingredient in prescription herpes antiviral treatments. Research from New Zealand found that four different types of honey were able to kill the virus in test tubes, suggesting that any unprocessed, raw honey (which has the highest levels of antiviral compounds) might help treat a cold sore.
None of these treatments will prevent you from ever having another cold sore, and you can still shed, or transmit, the virus when cold sores are developing. But any one of these is certainly less expensive than a prescription or over-the-counter cold-sore medication—and will have you back to your smiling self as soon as possible.