Toothpaste Can Help Heal Cold Sores, But Don’t Expect Miracles
As a culture, we love to solve problems with home remedies. It’s even better when these remedies involve unlikely products hidden deep within our pantries or medicine cabinets. A pillowcase to clean a ceiling fan? Vinegar to fight hard water stains? Who knew?!
It turns out your toothpaste may also provide a few unexpected solutions, especially if you frequently experience cold sore outbreaks. Toothpaste is a simple, affordable and safe cold sore remedy when used the right way.
What Is a Cold Sore and How Did You Get One?
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, usually type 1 (HSV-1). This condition is so common that it’s estimated at least 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 have HSV-1 infection worldwide.
The herpes simplex virus is highly contagious, especially when oozing blisters exist. Once it enters your body, HSV-1 spreads easily to trigger cold sores around the lips and mouth. After your first outbreak, the virus remains dormant in your nerve cells, lying inactive for weeks, months or even years.
Many different triggers risk causing cold sores by reactivating the virus, including stress, fatigue, illness and sun exposure. During each outbreak, cold sores progress through five distinct phases:
- Tingling — Itching and burning develops under the skin to indicate a cold sore is forming.
- Blistering — Fluid-filled cold sore blisters develop.
- Weeping — Blisters burst or “weep” and release their fluids.
- Crusting — Cold sores dry into yellow and brown crusts.
- Healing — Cold sore scabs heal and the skin looks healthy.
Assess your symptoms to confirm your blisters are indeed cold sores. Some other conditions are often confused with cold sores, such as angular cheilitis, canker sores and pimples.
Does Toothpaste Help Cold Sores?
Though there’s no clinical research to prove toothpaste works on cold sores, plenty of anecdotal evidence supports its use to control outbreaks.
Cold sores love warm, moist environments, so the key early on is to dry out the infected area. Toothpaste helps keep your cold sores dry thanks to an ingredient called sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). According to the Infectious Disease Research Center, SLS suppresses the activity of HSV-1.
If you apply toothpaste to your skin at the earliest signs of a cold sore outbreak, your sores may not erupt so aggressively. Even if you already have active blisters, toothpaste may help dry them out and prevent them from getting larger.
How To Apply Toothpaste to Your Cold Sore
It’s quick and simple to apply toothpaste to your cold sore. If you want to try this method, follow these steps:
- Apply a thin layer of white, non-gel toothpaste to each cold sore.
- Apply before bed to allow maximum time for results.
- Combine toothpaste with salt for additional healing power.
Make sure you don’t apply toothpaste to cold scores that have already scabbed over. It’s important to keep cold sores moist during the scabbing process in order to prevent drying, cracking and scarring. Vaseline offers a safe and gentle way to protect scabs until they’re ready to fall off.
Don’t Infect the Toothpaste Tube!
It’s important to consider health and sanitation when dealing with cold sores. The herpes virus that causes cold sores is highly contagious, especially during an active outbreak. As you apply toothpaste to your cold sores, follow these precautions to make sure you don’t infect the toothpaste tube:
- Never apply toothpaste directly from the tube.
- If you apply toothpaste with your finger, wash your hands well immediately.
- If you apply toothpaste with a Q-tip, throw the Q-tip away immediately.
Research suggests that the herpes simplex virus dies quickly after leaving the body and settling on another surface, but it’s still important to take precautions. According to the book Managing Herpes by the American Sexual Health Association, herpes transmission through objects is possible, though not likely. The life of the virus on an inanimate object is estimated to be a few hours. After that, the virus weakens and loses its ability to invade new cells.
What’s the Best Toothpaste for Cold Sores?
Toothpaste is available in every flavor, size and type imaginable, but not all of them work well to help heal cold sores. When selecting a toothpaste to treat your outbreak, be sure to follow these guidelines:
- Make sure SLS is listed as an ingredient.
- Avoid novelty and unusual kinds of toothpastes with herbal or charcoal ingredients.
- Avoid brands that may irritate sensitive skin.
- Select a toothpaste, not a gel.
Other Natural Cold Sore Remedies
In addition to toothpaste, you can explore the effectiveness of other popular natural cold sore remedies like these.
Lysine is an essential amino acid. It helps the body produce antibodies that fight infections, including the herpes virus. Lysine supplements, also known as L-lysine, are popular natural treatments for cold sores.
Research suggests that lysine works against cold sores by interfering with the absorption of arginine. With the help of enough lysine, arginine becomes unavailable to the herpes virus and shortens the duration of an outbreak.
You can take lysine capsules as a supplement or apply lysine powder directly to your skin for best results.
Salt helps alleviate cold sore discomfort by drawing out the extra moisture that the herpes simplex virus needs to thrive.
To use, just moisten your index finger and apply salt directly onto bothersome cold sores. Gently press the salt against each sore for 30 seconds. If this burns too much, blend the salt with toothpaste for a gentler method of application.
Fresh garlic has long been used as a natural remedy for a variety of ailments. In ancient Chinese medicine, garlic was prescribed to aid digestion and respiration.
Today, thanks to garlic’s antiviral and antiseptic properties, it’s an easy and affordable home remedy for cold sores. Use this routine to apply raw garlic to cold sore blisters for best results:
- Crush or cut raw garlic to release garlic juice.
- Place the garlic directly on the area where a cold sore is forming.
- Rub garlic on the affected area for about 15 seconds.
- Let the garlic dry on your skin.
- Repeat twice a day.
The Luminance RED
The Luminance RED is an FDA-registered device designed to help manage cold sores with medically-optimized light. Light treatment is a proven therapy for shortening cold sore healing time and decreasing the frequency of new cold sore outbreaks.
The Luminance RED Lip Treatment Device uses high-powered light treatment to shine wavelengths of red light over cold sores. Red light is metabolized by the skin and converted into cellular energy used to accelerate healing and stop cold sores from coming back.
It’s still worth it to keep your toothpaste nearby, but the Luminance RED is an excellent addition to your cold sore treatment kit.