A Natural Way to Treat Cold Sores

Uh, I don't think I want to kiss you right now...

Uh, I don’t think I want to kiss you right now…

I hope everyone’s Valentine’s Day is going swell so far! I will personally be having a single’s dinner with a few of my close friends (who may or may not be coupled). And as a “sore” loser (get it?) on this fine day, I thought it’d be appropriate to discuss a more “natural” way to treat cold sores, because there’s bound to a be a bit of lip smacking today.

Now, you all know how I feel about “natural” remedies: unless there’s documented proof that suggest efficacy, these types of remedies are a no-no in my book. But then again, I treat every ingredient like this. Natural ones just tend to fail more often under closer scrutiny.

Traditional Treatments for Cold Sores

Herpes simplex virus

Herpes simplex virus

Colds sores otherwise known as herpes labialis, is caused by the herpes simplex viruses (HSV-1 and HSV-2). While primary infection can occur from sexual contact, HSV is historically and more commonly acquired from non-sexual contact during childhood and adolescent years. As the pathological source is a type of virus, once it enters the body, it will forever remain.

Like with the common cold however, hosts with herpes labialis will typically be asymptomatic most of the time, with occasional bouts of eruptions. Therefore, most of the available treatment protocols—usually high dose, short-term courses, attack the problem when it is symptomatic; they possess varying degrees of efficacy in terms of reducing healing time, preventing further eruptions, and resolving discomfort.

Unfortunately, most of the options available are only accessible with a prescription. These include oral and topical antivirals (aciclovir, famciclovir, and valaciclovir), which can be combined with topical steroids (anti-inflammatories) such as hydrocortisone.  The only two topical OTC medications are docosanol (Abreva) and benzalkonium chloride (Viroxyn); the latter appears to be more effective than the former in all three “terms.” See above.

The biggest drawback of these treatments is is a need for early action. In order to be efficacious, treatment has to begin within 24-48 hours after initial manifestation. And seeing as you can’t just run to the pharmacy and buy these medications OTC, they are a hassle to acquire.

Another drawback of these more traditional protocols is that they are not designed to (and should not) be used long-term; not to mention that most of them can result in drug resistance, though the likelihood of that occurring is rare. Therefore, if you’re prone to cold sores, what can you do to help prevent or at least reduce future outbreaks; something that’s preemptive?

Alternative or Complementary Treatment: Melissa Officinalis—An Essential Oil

Lemon balm plant

Lemon balm plant

Yep, here I am about to recommend an essential oil… But like I said, I follow the research. While several essential oils have demonstrated in vitro antiviral abilities against HSV, Melissa Officinalis or lemon balm also has in vivo clinical studies to support its antiviral capacity.

For example, this double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study demonstrated that 1% lemon balm extract has some activity against HSV and may reduce lesion healing time, in addition to feelings of discomfort. And while lemon balm was not shown to prevent additional ulcerative lesions from forming, unlike some of the prescription antivirals, its unique mechanism of action does prevent any chance for HSV to develop a drug resistance, making it an excellent candidate for safe prolonged treatment.

Cold Sores Conclusion

If you’re prone to dealing with cold sores (say >4 outbreaks per year), it may be prudent to find a lip balm or something similar that contains a lot of lemon balm extract, and use it as a long-term treatment option. But keep some Abreva or Viroxyn in your medicine cabinet for more aggressive therapy if deemed necessary. And of course, you can see your dermatologist.

Christine from Pink So Foxy! I kind of adore her. :)

Christine from Pink So Foxy! I kind of adore her. :)

From a quick search, I could not find any pre-made commercially-available lip balm that contains a lot of Melissa Officinalis. It may be easier to simply buy the essential oil itself and infuse it into your favorite lip product, preferably one that allows for easy mixing. I’m sure there are plenty of DIY recipes out there. And if all fails, just melt down a bar of shea butter, pour in some Melissa Officinalis, and wait for the mixture to solidify. My good friend Christine from Pink So Foxy, has experience with DIY skin care involving essential oils. Feel free to ask her questions, follow her on Twitter, and tell her I sent you!

*** A few hours after I wrote this article, Christine (coincidentally?) decided to upload a super fun DIY lip balm video, which is a fitting match to this post! In addition to following her recipe, made sure to add some Melissa Officinalis essential oil instead or in addition to the  sweet orange essential oil that she uses.

On a final note, I do need to stress that unfortunately, all of these treatment and combinations won’t dramatically reduce the lesion outbreaks in terms of size, duration, or manifestation. You do have to be patient.

And as this study suggests, stress is a known risk factor when it comes to cold sore outbreaks, as with most conditions. So go out, relax, and have some (safe) fun!  What do you plan to do (or have already done) for Valentine’s Day?

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Fabulous Eyelashes Over 40: Does Brush Shape Matter in the Same Formulation?

mascara want shape
In my 20s (which doesn’t seem that long ago until my 25-year old interrupts me with a text message) I had eyelashes that were hands-down, awesome.  I was born with naturally thick, honey-blonde hair and the dark brown eyes of my great-grandmother. My eyebrows and eyelashes were thick and dark, and while I learned to do battle with the uni-brow I inherited from someone else in my family (name withheld to protect the not-so-innocent), I took those thick, long eyelashes for granted.

Like many women, I realized late in the game that there were a number of pretty important things that were left out of all those talks about growing up and I’m not referring to birds, bees, boys, and babies. We all figure out the 4-B’s sooner or later, with help or on our own.

No, the joys of growing up beyond those years come later when we begin to discover that individual eyebrow hairs can, without provocation, migrate southward and appear on our chin (usually overnight and without prior warning); that shiny silver looks GREAT on the funky, bold ring we pick out for our pre-mid-life jewelry crisis, but is shockingly uncool when we catch a glimpse of silver hair in the side mirror of a friend’s car; and that the mascara that served us well for the past decade or so now falls flat, leaving us with lashes that say, “blah” instead of “Ooh-La-La!.”

A Bit on Eyelashes and Aging

Aging Eyelashes

The same process that hair undergoes happens to eyelashes and eyebrows as well.

Eyelashes are hair, and like the hair that appears in various forms on the human body, eyelashes progress through stages of growth known as anagen, catagen, and telogen. The active phase of hair is known as anagen and features new hair formation and the displacement of old, non-growing hairs.  This active phase for eyelashes lasts around 30 to 45 days. During the catagen phase, growth stops. This phase lasts about 2 to 3 weeks and then is followed by the telogen phase, which is the transitional or resting phase, and lasts about 100 days for hair on our heads, and slightly longer for eyebrows and lashes. This phase hosts most of the shedding activity, in preparation for a new round of new growth.

This cyclical process begins early and continues unnoticed by most of us until the aging process catches up with our lashes and we begin to see the manifestation of the law of diminishing returns in the mirror. Normal aging brings thinning eyelashes. We lose length, width and we even see a decrease in the number of lashes due to the fact that some eyelash follicles will slow, or stop producing hair altogether (Healthy Women). It is usually somewhere around this point that we begin to become obsessed with mascara and finding “the one” that will return our lashes to their former glory.

What Does this Mean for Mascara Brush Shape?

In my last article, I reviewed a number of mascara products and commented on the role that the brush/wand shape played in their performance. It was an easy research project since I had a drawer full of many different mascaras; the result of my own mascara odyssey.  I realized mid-research that the things that I found worthwhile for my lashes just might have more to do with the fact that I was seeing fewer and thinner lashes in the mirror and less to do with the mascara, brush, or moon cycle at the time of application.

To do more meaningful research on the impact of the brush shape or size, I would need to compare a formulation that already worked for me, and comes with different brush types. I chose the Bare Escentuals’ Buxom formulation, which I have used and like a lot, and tested their Sculpted Lash Mascara ($19, amazon.com), their Amplified Lash Mascara with Innovative Expandable Brush ($22, amazon.com) and my traditional mascara, Buxom Lash Mascara ($19, amazon.com). I was perfectly happy with the Buxom Lash Mascara I have been using but admit I was intrigued to see the difference between these 3 mascara wands.

Putting Bare Escentuals Buxom Brushes to the Test

buxom_S-shaped_MascaraThe brush on the Sculpted Lash Mascara sports the S-shape common to many mascara brands. The bristles are fine in gauge and generous and do a good job at teasing apart thin lashes and depositing mascara to each.  The impact is very much like that of the Buxom Lash Mascara in the way that it goes on and appears after application.

Buxom_adjustable_brushThe Amplified Lash Mascara with Innovative Expandable Brush, which I was not expecting to be impressed with, was a pleasant surprise. The wand/brush is able to be ‘dialed’ (using end of cap) to extend more space between each row of bristles, or back to position bristles much closer together, as user preference dictates.  The bristles are not as long, or as fine as those in the Lash or Sculpted Lash formulations, but I found that the initial application was quite thorough and gave my 49-year old lashes nice definition and what seemed — at application — to be more ‘bulk,’ or width to each lash. After several hours of wear, however; there was no distinguishable difference between the two (I wore one on each eye for a real-time comparison).

Buxom_Lash_MascaraAt the end of the day, I will probably return to using my old favorite, Buxom Lash Mascara, because I like the thin bristles that are closely packed on the cylindrical (not curved) brush. I also find that the mechanics I use to apply mascara work better with a straight brush than an S-shaped one and with no significant difference in the impact. While I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the Amplified Lash Mascara with Innovative Expandable Brush, I don‘t see myself replacing my preferred mascara (formulation and wand) with this wand variation but I can give it “2-thumbs-up” in terms of performance and results.

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, makeup preference is as individual as each of us. When it comes to mascara, our preferences are influenced by many things, including the companies that we feel good about (I admit to being a big fan of the Bare Escentuals brand), and the current state of our lashes. I realize now that as a young woman with all kinds of lashes, just getting some mascara to stick to the end of them was all I needed to look great.

This changed significantly as my lash numbers and volume began to shrink in my 40s. Other than turning to the growing number of preparations for thinning lashes and hair, such as the prescription, Latisse or cosmeceutical preparations like RapidLash ($54.97 for two, amazon.com, the quality and character of the mascara, the size and shape of the wand (and how easily we can maneuver it) all become  considerations when our lashes begin to reflect the impact of the aging process.

I’d love to hear your experiences on aging eyelashes, comparing different mascaras, and your thoughts on wand size and shape — I look forward to hearing from you!

Post by Rebecca Harmon

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How Often Should You Change Your Pillowcase?

Girl holding pillow

If you didn’t change your pillowcase this week, your skin could be in trouble.

One of my friends gets terrible bouts of acne. He washes his skin twice a day, eats well, and has even cut some of the sugar from his diet to try to help the acne — but it simply won’t go away. After doing some research, I realized that one of the many downfalls people have when it comes to taking care of their skin is taking care of the things that touch your skin.

What may be one of the big secret contributors behind many people’s acne, skin oiliness, and even allergies is their bedding.

Contributor 1: Detergent and Fabric Softener

Alongside germs from the outside world, our detergents and cleaners contribute a great deal to our skin misfortunes. Many of us use fabric softener when cleaning our clothes, which contain oily, non- water dissolvable ingredients like fragrances, emulsifiers, colors and preservatives that will gladly seep into facial pores (Bellevue Acne Clinic). While the small  residue on clothing and pillowcases shouldn’t cause too much of a problem, this coupled with the germs encountered throughout the day and the skin’s natural oils has a high potential of causing skin outbreaks, depending on your skin’s individual sensitivity (Bellevue  Clinic).

Contributor 2: Dust Mites

Dust mite allergies may be causing some of your skin issues. Be sure to check with you doctor.

Dust mite allergies may be causing some of your skin issues. Be sure to check with you doctor.

Along with spiders and flies scurrying throughout your house yearlong, you now have another type of bug to fret over: the dust mite (University of Nebraska – Lincoln). Though they are not parasitic (they won’t try to burrow inside you), the microscopic dust mites do so love to eat dead human skin, bacteria, and animal dander, and will develop colonies in carpet, couches, and pillows.

While they seem relatively harmless, the dust mites are not the most polite of guests: they often cause allergies in humans, with repercussions ranging from itchy eyes, runny noses, congested ears, breathing problems, and even itchy skin or rashes.  Being that they are so tiny, dust mites frequently lose limbs that fall into the recesses of your cotton or down pillow, along with their feces — these also make up dust that you may find on your countertop or fan blades.

Yet worst of all, dust mites breed rather frequently and leave behind  microscopic white eggs — adding a more repulsive meaning to “having egg on your face”… or hair or limbs. Plus, you may want to be cautious about going around with a wet face or wet hair, or if you sweat profusely in the night: dust mites cannot drink water, but will absorb it from the air and its surroundings (i.e. your skin and sheets) (University of Nebraska – Lincoln).

Contributor 3: The Pillowcase and the Body

While you slumber peacefully, your skin is pressed up against your pillow and if it's not clean, it could mean trouble.

While you slumber peacefully, your skin is pressed up against your pillow and if it’s not clean, it could mean trouble.

The next time that you go linen shopping, you may want to reconsider buying high thread count sheets – the higher the thread count, the more your sheets will irritate your skin (Emax Health). Your skin needs oxygen so that the pores can be opened, allowing harmful bacteria and sweat to exit the pores and helpful cleansers to enter them.

However, the tight threading allows little oxygen to pass through the pillow while creating a shelf for sweat, dead skin cells, oils, pet dander, and dust mites. Additionally, oxygen deprivation makes the skin produce more oil, sweat, and swell, creating more debris to collect on the pillow and agitate your skin (Emax Health).

Plus, hair sebum and oils from products (conditioners, mousse, styling gel) will streak onto your pillow and in turn leak into the pores (The Mayo Clinic).

How Often Should You Change Your Pillowcase?

Dermatologists recommend changing your pillowcase and bedding at least once a week, they suggest you do it even more if you have acne, oily-prone skin. Some even suggest using a fresh pillowcase everyday, particularly for bad acne. And if you’ve been itchy or getting allergies, you may also need to try changing your bedsheets more and see your doctor about dust mites.

What Type of Material Should My Pillowcase Be?

It is best to avoid having a pillow case made out of a coarse, sweaty material, or one that does not breathe or dry easily, such as synthetic fibers (rayon, polyester). Fibers which do not allow the skin to “breathe” and sweat cause sweat retention, which in turn causes pore clogging.

The dyes Disperse Blue 106 and 124 are frequently used in colors for polyester clothing and have been known to cause skin irritation. Additional studies have noted that some dyes do not strongly adhere to an item’s fibers, and can rub onto the skin ( Clothing Dermatitis and Clothing-Related Skin Conditions).

Some companies, like Natural Allergy Supply, have created anti-dust mite covers for pillows and blankets (Natural Allergy Supply) solving part of the allergy/skin irritation problem. For those with sensitive skin, cotton is a nice lightweight fabric that will keep the skin cool and not irritated, while silk not only cools the skin but draws moisture away from one’s body (Disabled Living Foundation).  Cotton, silk, or blends of these fibers are probably the best choices for bedding.

More Ways to Change It


Change or get rid of your fabric softener and wash your sheets regularly.

If you have sensitive skin, here are some things that you may want to consider:

  • Try new brands of fabric softener which explicitly say that they are designed for sensitive skin or that are hypo-allergenic (Bellevue Acne Clinic).
  • The Acne Treatment Center, however, says that you should totally skip using fabric softeners since they are prone to pore-clogging, and use dryer balls instead. They also recommend changing your pillowcase nightly, to avoid oil/bacteria build up (The Acne Treatment Center).
  • For those of you who, after reading this article, have developed a fear of dust mites and have unexplained allergies, visit a doctor to see if dust mites have the sources of your allergies (University of Nebraska – Lincoln).
  • Sweep and dust at least twice a week, and frequently brush your pets to minimize pet dander around your house.
  • Studies have shown that keeping the house temperature at 60 degrees of humidity or lower will wipe out dust mites, as they prefer to breed in temperatures of 75-80 degrees (University of Nebraska – Lincoln).
  • Perhaps put your hair in a loose top knot, so that it has minimal contact with your pillowcase and leaves fewer oils
  • Try to not go to bed with wet hair or a wet face – the repeated moisture on your pillow will not only welcome dust mites,  but also could lead to mold growing within the pillow
  • Avoid pillowcases made from coarse and synthetic fibers, or those with high thread counts

Bottom Line

Your pillowcases, bedsheets, and even your couch cushions retain a great deal of bacteria, dead skin cells, dust mites, and a variety of other unsavory things.

While some recommend changing your pillowcases at least once a week, there are others who champion daily washings. Personally, I think although your pillow isn’t the only culprit of acne and allergies, it would seem that changing your pillowcase and sheets daily, along with sweeping and dusting at least twice a week and maintain good hygiene would ensure the best care for your skin.

Additionally, I’m not quite sure I feel comfortable with dust mites and bacteria backlogging my pores, or the mites setting up camp on my new bedspread. You can never be too clean.

Bellevue Acne Clinic

Emax Health

University of Nebraska – Lincoln

The Acne Treatment Center

Clothing Dermatitis and Clothing Related Skin Conditions

Natural Allergy Supply

Disabled Living Foundation

The Mayo Clinic

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