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
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
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.
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?
John Su describes himself as eccentric—you might find him having a conversation with himself. He’s a stickler for accuracy, so you might find him correcting one thing or another! His goal is to answer questions and provide unbiased, meaningful, and insightful information when it comes to skin care. His underlying motivations stem from a need to inform people who have doubts, questions, or even prayers for solutions to their problems. He has his own skin care blog, The Triple Helixian.View all John Su posts.
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