- Tea tree oil is an essential oil with a wide variety of medicinal uses, including treating cold sores.
- This essential oil contains antiviral, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties shown to reduce the severity and duration of cold sores.
- Tea tree oil is a natural substance with no serious side effects.
- This oil has been shown to be a comparable treatment as conventional antiviral drugs prescribed to treat cold sores.
What Are Cold Sores?
Many people find using tea tree oil (TTO) for cold sores to be a genuinely effective treatment that reduces both the duration and intensity of these unsightly and at times, painful inflammations. Cold sores are common to many Americans and there is no effective cure or vaccine yet available.
Cold sores, also called fever blisters, are small lesions that typically appear on the lips, cheeks, chin, and under the nose or inside the nostrils. They cause an itching and/or burning sensation before bursting and eventually crusting over. When left untreated, they usually resolve within 7–10 days.
Fever blisters are most commonly caused by the herpes simplex type 1 virus (HSV-1), and is an affliction shared among an estimated 50–80% of Americans. Some people can carry the virus their entire lives but never develop an actual cold sore.
HSV-1 is highly contagious and can be transmitted through direct contact with an affected individual or through oral secretions or sores on the skin. It can also be spread through kissing, or sharing household items such as toothbrushes or eating utensils.
While there is no cure for, or reliable way to prevent the formation of cold sores, there are steps that can be taken to reduce their intensity, frequency and duration. One approach to reduce the severity of cold sore symptoms and hasten their healing is to TTO to the blisters.
Why use tea tree oil on cold sores?
TTO contains antiviral, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties, all valuable ingredients to treat inflammation caused by the HSV-1 virus. Studies conducted on TTO for skin disorders have shown it to have a potent antiviral effect on cold sore lesions.
There are many topical and oral prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) products claiming to treat the discomfort and inflammation associated with cold sores, although their efficacy is typically limited and often determined by how soon they’re consumed or applied after a sore first flares up.
To this end, recent studies concerning the health benefits of essential oils indicate that the organic compounds found in TTO may treat cold sores as effectively, or perhaps more so, than their pharmacological counterparts.
This may be partially due to some strains of the virus having developed a resistance to the drugs long used to treat it, whereas a naturally-sourced essential oil such as tea tree remains an effective antidote against these strains.
Many cold sore sufferers prefer using a natural substance such as TTO over other treatments, as it carries a far lower risk of producing any of the side effects that can potentially accompany pharmaceutical antiviral drugs such as Zovirax, Valtrex or Famvir.
Can Tea Tree Oil Treat Cold Sores?
TTO contains a number of medicinal qualities that render it a suitable treatment for inflammations stemming from a virus such as HSV-1, which is at the root of every cold sore.
How does it work?
The antiseptic, antiviral and antibacterial properties of TTO are what enable it to effectively reduce cold sore symptoms. Research shows TTO exhibits broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity in vitro, particularly as it pertains to the herpes simplex virus responsible for cold sores.
While scientific studies pertaining to this oils medicinal benefits remains limited, the oil’s antiseptic properties are understood to stimulate the natural healing process by drying out cold sores and preventing bacterial infection, which reduces both the severity and duration of the inflammation.
Does it work on any type of cold sore?
Yes. There are two types of herpes simplex viruses that lead to cold sores: HSV-1 and HSV-2, with most outbreaks stemming from the former. TTO is equally effective for both.
How Fast Will I See Results?
The soothing effect of applying TTO to a cold sore will be felt immediately upon application. Under most circumstances, primarily depending on how soon it’s been applied, the healing effects of this essential oil could be noticeable in as little as 24 hours.
TTO should be applied the moment you notice a cold sore forming – the sooner the better. If you treat it early enough, it’s sometimes possible to prevent the sore from fully developing and it may subside within a few days.
The ability of TTO—or any topical medication—to heal a cold sore is highly dependent on how developed the sore is when the treatment begins. Consequently, the results tend to be somewhat inconsistent, however, regardless of when the oil is first applied to a blister, most sufferers will experience a reduction of their symptoms. Both the severity and duration of the inflammation will be reduced by varying degrees.
How to Use Tea Tree Oil for Cold Sores
TTO is a powerful substance, and it is important to first dilute it with a carrier oil (such as coconut or jojoba oil) to avoid potentially burns or further irritating the inflammation. Combine two drops of pure 100% TTO with 12 drops of a carrier oil.
Using this essential oil to treat fever blisters is a very simple process. Simply add a few drops of diluted essential oil to a cotton swab and apply it directly to the sore.
TTO should be applied each morning and then throughout the day as needed, ideally whenever the sore becomes raw and uncomfortable or causes a burning sensation. This oil will help soothe any potential discomfort.
Risks and Side Effects
One of the attractive elements about using TTO for cold sores is that there are no significant risks or side effects involved. However, it is toxic when swallowed, and care should be taken to make sure it never gets in your eyes.
For most people, even those with sensitive skin, diluted TTO applied directly to their cold sore shouldn’t result in any negative side effects. However, it can occasionally cause skin irritation and swelling, and for some acne sufferers, skin dryness, itching, burning, stinging and redness. To reduce the risk of irritation, first conduct a patch test to rule out any potential allergic or negative reactions.
While instances are very rare, when TTO is combined with lavender oil, it can disrupt the normal production of hormones in prepubescent males, possibly leading to gynecomastia. Barring this unlikely event, this oil is understood to have no negative interactions with other medications, oils or supplements.
TTO is not safe for consumption in any quantity. It’s toxic when swallowed and can cause confusion, rashes, unsteadiness, an inability to walk, and in a worst-case scenario, lead to a coma.
Use during pregnancy
TTO is said to be possibly safe to apply topically when pregnant or breastfeeding, but some may choose not to, in order to avoid any potential adverse side effects.
Tea Tree Oil vs. Other Essential Oils for Cold Sores
There are several essential oils containing varying degrees of the same or similar antiviral and antimicrobial properties as TTO.
Peppermint oil is another essential oil containing compounds that can kill active viruses. Studies have demonstrated the oil’s ability to inhibit the activity of both HSV-1 and HSV-2, concluding it may be effective in treating herpes infections.
As with TTO, peppermint oil must first be diluted with a carrier oil prior to application – approximately 12 drops of carrier oil to every two drops of peppermint oil. It can then be applied to the affected area with a cotton swab several times a day, or as deemed necessary.
Lavender oil has a long history as an alternative treatment for a wide variety of ailments, including skin irritations such as cold sores. While lavender oil lacks the important antiviral compounds found in tea tree and other essential oils, it does contain substantial anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to decrease the pain and discomfort associated with cold sore outbreaks.
Lavender oil usually doesn’t irritate the skin so it can be applied either diluted or undiluted, applying one or two drops directly to the sore. That said, if using for the first time, conduct a patch test first to determine if there are any negative reactions.
Studies have confirmed clove oil contains antimicrobial, antiviral and pain-killing properties that can treat HSV-1 and other viruses.Consequently, clove oil should also decrease the discomfort associated with cold sores.
Clove oil is irritating when applied directly to the skin and must first be diluted with a carrier oil such as coconut, almond or jojoba oil as with peppermint and TTO.
Alternatives to Tea Tree Oil for Cold Sores
TTO is not the only available treatment for cold sores and there are other OTC and prescription options available as well.
There are numerous antiviral creams on the market that function similarly to TTO. As with essential oils, their efficacy is largely determined by how soon they are applied to an outbreak, but under most circumstances they can reduce the duration and severity of a cold sore.
Two commonly used prescription creams for this purpose include topical Acyclovir (Zovirax) and Penciclovir (Denavir).
In order to be fully effective, prescription medications need to be taken at the very first sign of a cold sore. When done so, oral antiviral drugs such as acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex) can hasten the healing time of cold sores relatively quickly.
Famvir is taken in one single dose, while Valtrex is first taken when the cold sore appears and once again 12 hours later. Zovirax is taken five times a day until the cold core resolves.
While there’s a clear lack of legitimate studies concerning TTO’s ability to treat cold sores, to date the research that has been conducted on the subject has typically concluded it to be a valid treatment to reduce both the severity and duration of these unsightly and uncomfortable inflammations.
The antiviral, antiseptic and antimicrobial properties of TTO have been shown to reduce the severity and duration of the inflammations as effectively as the antiviral drugs typically prescribed for these purposes.
Further, TTO is a naturally sourced product that has no significant side effects. As such, it’s a solution worth investigating if you are suffering from cold sores and seeking relief.
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