What is the best home remedy for cold sores?

Why do people take witch hazel?

Today, you can find witch hazel in your local drugstore. People often use it as an astringent, which draws tissue together and constricts blood vessels.

People apply witch hazel to the skin for a variety of problems, such as:

  • Itching
  • Inflammation
  • Injury
  • Insect bites
  • Bruises and minor burns
  • Varicose veins
  • Hemorrhoids

Applying witch hazel to the skin is the most common way it is used — and the safest.

People sometimes take witch hazel by mouth. When taken that way it is used to try to treat conditions as varied as:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting or coughing up blood
  • Colitis
  • Colds and fevers
  • Tuberculosis
  • Tumors
  • Cancer

There is no proof that taking witch hazel by mouth helps with these or any other conditions.

Witch hazel may bring some relief from hemorrhoids or skin irritations and lessen minor bleeding. Witch hazel extracts contain antioxidant compounds that may protect against sunburn and aging from the sun.

But the evidence is thin on its use for other conditions. Researchers have more work to do to demonstrate its effectiveness.

These are typical dosages of witch hazel:

  • By mouth: 2 grams of dried leaves three times daily or as a tea
  • On the skin: 5 to 10 grams of leaf and bark simmered in 250 milliliters of water or undiluted
  • As an alcohol extract (commonly available in pharmacies): Saturate a piece of cloth and apply to the affected area.
  • Rectal area. By suppository,use 0.1 to 1 gram leaf and bark applied one to three times daily. When applied to anal area, witch hazel water may be applied up to six times a day or after bowel movements.

How To Use Witch Hazel As Toner, Because You’ve Probably Been Using It Wrong

Witch hazel is set to be a hot ingredient for 2019. A longtime staple of the beauty industry, witch hazel has gone in and out of favour with the experts, but reports from Pinterest have shown searches are up 305 percent, meaning there’s a growing interest at the moment. Here’s everything you need to know about the ingredient, from what it is, how it works, and how to use witch hazel as a toner.

So first up — what is it? Well, witch hazel is derived from a flowering plant (Latin name Hammamelis virginiana) native to North America and Japan. The leaves, bark and twigs of the shrub are used to create a liquid that’s marketed as witch hazel in medicine and skincare.

The benefits are pretty numerous too. “The of preparations made from its leaves and bark have been used for ages, and it has a number of skin benefits,” Erin Gilbert, director of Gilbert Dermatology in Brooklyn, New York told Allure. ” being soothing, acting as an anti-inflammatory, and having antioxidant properties.”

In terms of skincare, witch hazel can help with everything from tightening pores to firming the skin (in higher concentrations) thanks to its astringent nature. Witch hazel is commonly used in skincare products targeting oily or combination skin, as it can help to balance and manage oil. Witch hazel doesn’t just help in skincare, however. It has a number of other uses, from diminishing dandruff to soothing sunburn and bug bites.

Skincare pioneers Simple describe witch hazel as “an excellent natural toner that helps to tighten pores.” Indeed, the ingredient has been known to be a brilliant toner, especially for skin on the oily side. Formulas containing witch hazel can be applied to skin with a cotton pad, following cleansing and before serums and moisturisers.

However, witch hazel can be drying and is astringent, so it’s important to be wary. “Witch hazel can indeed help skin when used as a short-term remedy, but long-term use is a problem, no matter your skin type or concern,” warns beauty website Paula’s Choice.

With this in mind, I would recommend using witch hazel up to four times a week rather than every day, in order to give skin a break in-between. I’d also suggest finding a product that features other soothing, moisturising ingredients so as not to dry out the skin. Instead of opting for a straight up witch hazel formula, try one of the following, which feature things like rose, aloe vera, and tea tree.

Why Witch Hazel is a Problem for Skin

In the world of natural ingredients, witch hazel has a somewhat exaggerated reputation as the solution to an endless list of problems. Applied to skin, it’s said to fix everything from acne to oily skin, puffy eyes, and sunburn; for the body, witch hazel is said to lessen varicose veins and hemorrhoids. But just how effective is witch hazel for skin and other problems?

Aside from the anecdotal information you may have read, the research is mixed. Witch hazel can indeed help skin when used as a short-term remedy, but long-term use is a problem, no matter your skin type or concern.

What is Witch Hazel?

The witch hazel plant, Latin name Hammamelis virginiana, is a flowering shrub that grows wild throughout a good portion of North America and Asia. The leaves, bark, and twigs are processed to create a clear liquid that’s sold commercially as witch hazel. The plant extract itself is also used in topical ointments, although the toner-like liquid form is far more common for skincare and home remedies.

Like many plant-derived substances, witch hazel is a source of several antioxidants, many of which benefit skin; however, one main antioxidant is a group of chemicals known as tannins. Applied to skin, tannins have a constricting and drying effect. They compress proteins in skin, creating an invisible “film” that can, to a minor degree, temporarily de-grease skin and minimize the look of enlarged pores. While that’s good for the short term, the long term is another story, and it doesn’t have a happy ending!

The tannins in witch hazel are sensitizing. Depending on the part of the witch hazel plant used to make it, witch hazel naturally contains between 8% and 12% tannins.

In addition to the tannins, almost all types of witch hazel are distilled using denatured alcohol (ethanol), with the extract containing about 14% to 15% alcohol. Although the distillation process destroys some of the tannins (which ironically is a good thing, given that the tannins are irritants), applying alcohol to your skin is always a bad thing because it generates free-radical damage and impairs the skin’s surface.

By the way, while a 14% to 15% alcohol content might seem low, research has shown that even lower amounts of alcohol can damage skin.

Another concern related to long-term use of witch hazel is the volatile oil it naturally contains. This oil is a source of the potent fragrant sensitizer eugenol, which is definitely not good for skin. Taking the best care of your skin requires using ingredients that contain only the good stuff, and none of the bad stuff.

Witch Hazel for Acne and Blemishes

A lot of people wonder if witch hazel can clear up acne on the face or body. It’s commonly thought that because witch hazel has “astringent” properties, it can “dry up” acne. However, acne isn’t about skin being wet, so drying it with astringent ingredients won’t help. In truth, the irritation caused by the witch hazel can make blemishes worse.

You may have also read that witch hazel’s astringent action can help control the microbes on skin that play a role in causing acne, but research hasn’t shown that to be true. For certain, witch hazel is not a replacement for benzoyl peroxide, one of the gold standard anti-acne ingredients. Stick with what years of research has shown what really works to get acne under control.

Witch Hazel for Oily Skin

Witch hazel for oily skin also receives a lot of interest. We understand how tempting a witch hazel toner sounds, as it’s readily available, inexpensive, natural, and seems to be a smart choice for keeping oily skin in check. Witch hazel can remove oil from the skin, but that’s due to the denatured alcohol (ethanol) it contains.

As we mentioned above, most of the witch hazel preparations contain between 14% and 15% alcohol, an amount that can significantly irritate skin. Even if you don’t see or feel that happening on the surface of skin, the irritation is still taking place, below the surface.

It comes down to this: Using witch hazel to control oily skin can end up making it worse! Find out what research has shown works to get oily skin under control.

Witch Hazel as a Makeup Remover or Cleanser

Should you use witch hazel as a makeup remover or cleanser? No! That’s a really bad idea, as the trace amounts of tannins and the alcohol content are just too sensitizing for skin, to say nothing of using witch hazel to remove eye makeup. Please don’t do this.

There’s also the fact that witch hazel isn’t really that effective at removing most types of makeup, especially today’s long-wearing formulas. This poor performance might lead to you pull and tug at your skin, unlike how a gentle, efficient makeup remover works. All that extra pulling can hasten skin sagging.

Witch hazel as face wash? Well, it doesn’t have much cleansing ability for skin, not when compared to a well-formulated water-soluble cleanser. Using a witch hazel face wash shortchanges your skin of all the benefits a gentle facial cleanser can provide—and such products are much easier to use!

Does Witch Hazel Get Rid of Puffy Eyes?

If you’re curious about how to get rid of puffy eyes, there’s some truth to this recommendation if your undereye puffiness is due to fluid retention beneath the eyes. Witch hazel’s astringent and soothing properties can reduce this type of puffiness.

However, witch hazel cannot reduce or eliminate undereye bags that occur with age. In either case, it isn’t something we recommend doing on a regular basis because the resulting daily irritation will be pro-aging, not anti-aging.

Witch Hazel Home Remedies

Keeping a bottle of witch hazel around the house for occasional use can make sense. Research has shown that the calming components and antioxidants in witch hazel can help ease discomfort from:

  • Bug bites and stings
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Bruises
  • Diaper rash (witch hazel ointment, not the toner-like liquid)
  • Poison oak and poison ivy

Keep in mind: Just because something is good for acute short-term situations doesn’t necessarily make it good for long-term use. The claims for witch hazel’s skincare benefits are misleading; you might see short-term results, but ongoing use is likely to cause problems.

To sum up, witch hazel has its place, but it’s not the skincare solution it’s often touted to be.

Herpes viruses are known to cause cold sores, genital herpes, herpes zoster (shingles), post-herpetic neuralgia and, in many cases, canker sores (aphthous ulcers). One type, known as herpes simplex virus type one (HSV-1), commonly affects the mouth and throat.

Herpes simplex virus type two (HSV-2) usually affects the genital areas. The herpes virus that causes shingles is the same herpes virus that causes chicken pox in younger individuals. Once a person is infected through skin contact, the herpes virus travels up the nerve until it reaches the ganglion in the spinal cord. It remains there in a dormant state, but on occasion, the virus starts replicating again and produces skin eruptions on the areas of the skin innervated by the affected nerve.

The number of outbreaks can vary widely from one individual to the next, but the virus is thought to be a permanent fixture that resides within the ganglion for a lifetime, even though it might remain dormant for long periods. In the case of canker sores, not all problems are due to herpes infections. However, some of the nutrition and lifestyle information that appears in this article is useful for all canker-sore sufferers, regardless of the cause.

Prevention and Management

There are a number of antiviral drugs that physicians prescribe to prevent and/or manage herpes outbreaks. However, these drugs often do not suppress herpes outbreaks to a satisfactory degree. Thus, many afflicted individuals look to lifestyle, nutrition and supplementation practices to further reduce the number and severity of herpes outbreaks. The following considerations involve known trigger factors and natural remedies to help manage herpes conditions.

Factors That Cause Outbreaks

Fever, cold, flu, a weakened immune system, stress – Herpes attacks often occur when a person is run down, sleep-deprived or experiencing excessive stress, all of which weaken the immune system. This enables the virus to replicate more easily.

Ultraviolet light exposure (sun and tanning beds) – Ultraviolet light is a known trigger factor for herpes viruses. Encourage patients not to overexpose themselves to UV light.

Trauma to the skin – Cold sores and canker sores often are triggered by trauma or abrasion to the lips or inside of the mouth, including the tongue.

Dietary Considerations

Avoid foods rich in arginine – Arginine is required for the herpes virus to replicate. As such, eating foods high in arginine, especially peanuts, chocolate and almonds, is associated with more frequent herpes outbreaks. The same holds true for dietary supplements containing arginine. These often include oral growth-hormone secretagogues and supplements designed to correct erectile dysfunction or enhance sexual potency.

Consume foods rich in the amino acid lysine – Studies indicate that herpes viruses extract lysine from the bloodstream, thinking it is arginine, as both have very similar chemical structures. Once inside, the virus attempts to use lysine to make protein VII (an arginine-rich protein that is at the viral core), but the attempt fails. Thus, the virus is unable to replicate. As such, lysine acts like an arginine substitute, which fools the virus and prevents it from replicating and causing outbreaks. Foods that contain high levels of lysine include most vegetables, legumes, fish, turkey and chicken.

Avoid alcohol – Alcohol weakens the immune system and is a known trigger for herpes outbreaks.

Reduce intake of refined sugars and aspartame – Anecdotal reports suggest consuming refined sugar increases the frequency of herpes outbreaks. Other reports suggest the same holds true for aspartame-sweetened soft drinks.

Vegan diet – Some individuals report success controlling herpes outbreaks by avoiding the consumption of all animal-based foods. Overall, it certainly makes sense to eat a largely plant-based diet and only eat fish, chicken, turkey and low-fat plain yogurt, if animal foods are to be consumed at all.

Consume broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables daily – Broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and bok choy contain an active ingredient known as the indole-3-carbinol, which has been shown to inhibit replication of herpes viruses. Individuals consuming these foods daily and supplementing with indole-3-carbinol have reported decreased frequency of herpes outbreaks.

Dietary Supplements

High-potency multivitamins – The levels of vitamin C, selenium, zinc, vitamin A, beta-carotene and vitamin E in a high-potency multivitamin can enhance immune function, which has been reported to suppress herpes outbreaks.

Detoxifiers and immune support – A specific protein-bound polysaccharide component of reishi mushroom extract known as GLhw-02 has been shown to possess potent antiviral properties against HSV-1 and HSV-2 under experimental conditions. A small human trial demonstrated that reishi mushroom extract reduced pain dramatically in two patients with post-herpetic neuralgia and in two other patients with severe pain due to herpes zoster. Anecdotal evidence suggests daily ingestion of 60 mg of reishi mushroom extract can reduce the frequency of canker-sore and cold-sore outbreaks. Indole-3-carbinol also has been shown to inhibit replication of herpes viruses. Astragalus can help to strengthen the immune system, and milk thistle raises levels of glutathione, an important antioxidant and detoxifying agent associated with optimal health. Individuals have reported fewer canker sores and other herpes outbreaks with supplementation of these nutrients.

Additional reishi mushroom extract – To help stop a pending herpes outbreak of any kind, use additional reishi mushroom extract supplementation totaling 250 mg, four times per day (standardized to 10-12.5 percent polysaccharide content) at the first sign of a recurrence.

L-lysine – Taking L-lysine supplements each day has been shown to reduce herpes outbreaks and decrease the duration and severity of outbreaks, according to human clinical trials. The amount of lysine required to control herpes varied from case to case, but a typical dose to maintain remission was 500-1,000 mg daily. Active herpes required 1-6 g, in divided doses, between meals to induce healing and reduce the severity of the outbreak.1-3

DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) – The use of DGL has been effective in speeding the healing of canker sores. A mixture of DGL and warm water applied to the inside of the mouth has been shown to shorten the healing time for canker sores. This DGL mixture is made by combining 200 mg of powdered DGL and 200 ml of warm water. It then can be swished in the mouth for two to three minutes and spit out. This procedure may be repeated each morning and evening for one week. Chewable DGL tablets might be an acceptable substitute.

Probiotics (acidophilus) – Anecdotal reports suggest supplementing with probiotics (acidophilus) might help to reduce outbreaks of canker sores and cold sores.

Other anecdotal reports – The interventions listed above have the strongest research support and should be used as the first line of natural management for herpes. The following interventions represent additional effective treatments for herpes, as reported by herpes sufferers who have posted their advice on various Internet sites.

  • Gigartina red marine algae – 1,000 mg capsules, taken four times daily. Several individuals have reported good success with this supplement in reducing the number of outbreaks.
  • Virgin coconut oil – One tablespoon per day. A number of reports suggest this can reduce frequency of outbreaks. It also can be topically applied to the lips after exposure to ultraviolet light to inhibit development of cold sores.
  • Witch hazel oil – Using a cotton ball to dab witch hazel on to lesions at the first sign of tingling has been reported to block herpes outbreaks from advancing. Apply several times per day.
  • Hydrogen peroxide and L-lysine – Crush some lysine into hydrogen peroxide and apply to lesions at the first sign of tingling. This also has been reported to block herpes outbreaks from advancing.
  • DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide) – Topical application of DMSO to lesions at the first sign of tingling has been reported to block herpes outbreak from advancing.
  • Neem oil – Derived from an evergreen tree native to India, neem oil is used for many purposes, including antiseptic use. Some herpes sufferers report good success by topically applying neem oil to lesions at the first sign of tingling. Some people also report good success with blocking a herpes outbreak by ingesting up to 10 neem-leaf capsules (400 mg per capsule) at the first sign of tingling.
  • Apple cider vinegar – Using a cotton ball to dab apple cider vinegar on lesions at the first sign of tingling has been reported to block herpes outbreaks from advancing.
  • Ear wax – Believe it or not, some people report that applying ear wax to herpes lesions (lips or genitalia) at the first sign of tingling blocks the herpes outbreak from advancing.


About 80 percent of American adults have oral herpes (cold sores) and an estimated 25 percent of American adults have genital herpes. Since the late 1970s, the number of Americans with genital herpes infection has increased 30 percent. Many patients report that pharmaceutical drugs to control herpes outbreaks are not completely effective. Thus, afflicted patients often seek additional advice from alternative-health practitioners to help further reduce herpes outbreaks and/or reduce the severity and duration of outbreaks.

This article contains the best-studied, evidence-based natural interventions shown to be useful in this regard, as well as interventions with the strongest anecdotal support. This should serve as a guideline from which to counsel patients about this common health challenge.

  1. Kagan C. Lysine therapy for herpes simplex. Lancet, Jan. 1974;1:137.
  2. Griffith RS. A multicentered study of lysine therapy in herpes simplex infection. Dermatologica, 1978;156:257-67.
  3. Griffith RS. Success of L-lysine therapy in frequently recurrent herpes simplex infection. Dermatologica, 1987;175:183-90.

Resources on Herpes Statistics

  1. American Social Health Association. Sexually Transmitted Diseases in America: How Many Cases and at What Cost? Menlo Park, Calif: Kaiser Family Foundation, 1998.
  2. Fleming DT, et al. Herpes simplex virus type 2 in the United States, 1976 to 1994. N Engl J Med, 1997;337:1105-11.
  3. Institute of Medicine. Committee on Prevention and Control of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. The Hidden Epidemic: Confronting Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Eng TR, Butler WT, eds. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1997.

Click here for more information about James P. Meschino, DC, MS.

After 12 years of winter cold sores I’ve finally found a cure

Anyone who has suffered from a cold sore will tell you they are grim, painful, near impossible to get rid of and feel like a big, red, house-alarm alerting everyone to your herpes ridden face. Unfortunately I’m not here to tell you the secret to getting rid of them (if you’re a scientist looking for a project, here’s an idea) but what I can tell you is about everything that I’ve tried and how helpful each has been, or not.

I started getting cold sores when I was 18. I went to the chemist, bought cold sore cream, and hoped for the best. No luck. These topically applied, over-the-counter creams haven’t worked for anyone I know.

Fast-forward a year, to the next winter and my new “yearly friend”. I tried a little circular patch. Placed right on top of the cold sore it soothed the pain, and disguised the little monster for nearly 12 hours. But you also have a sticker on your face in college. So there’s that.

Sticker face

A few more years went by and I could no longer live my life as sticker face. I was getting desperate. I tried ice (slobbery), witch hazel (painful) and vanilla (tasty but no dice). I tried hydrogen peroxide, which turned my lips white; and then milk, which surprising helped with the pain, but didn’t get rid of the cold sore.

I started regularly taking L-Lysine each winter and that helped reduce the size of the mouth goblins, but didn’t stop them.

This year it’s been different. A combination of voodoo and plain old sense seems to be helping. When I feel a tingle I drink gallons of water, apply tea tree oil, take lots of vitamins, sleep with a chicken feather under my pillow and get my repeat prescription for cold sore tablets.

None of these work on their own, but together, so far, they seem to do the trick. Go forth and (do not) blister. (I’m joking about the feather, mostly).

Apple Cider Vinegar for Cold Sores: Fact or Fiction?

Apple cider vinegar (or ACV) is a popular folk remedy that has a variety of purported benefits, from its ability to prevent indigestion to suppressing the appetite and acting as a simple, cheap and effective homemade diet aide. Like most other folk remedies, the evidence to support apple cider vinegar’s health benefits is mixed. Despite this, it has a lot of supporters, many of whom note that apple cider vinegar can be used as a natural cure for a huge variety of health ailments and conditions. Apple cider vinegar for cold sores is just one of these conditions.

Search online for information about apple cider vinegar and herpes and you’ll find thread after thread on discussion boards talking about apple cider vinegar as a herpes treatment. Some of these threads even feature anecdotal reports of apple cider vinegar helping to control herpes sores.

So, is apple cider vinegar the miracle herpes treatment the “mainstream” pharmaceutical world hasn’t caught onto? Not quite. In this guide, we’ll look at the evidence for apple cider vinegar for herpes, as well as alternatives to apple cider vinegar that are likely to be more effective.

Is There Any Proof Apple Cider Vinegar Treats Herpes?

Apple cider vinegar has taken on an almost mythical status in the natural health world, acting as a “go-to” cure for almost any digestion, skin or immune system condition. While there are studies that suggest apple cider vinegar contains antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, there’s literally zero evidence that it can help cure or treat herpes

There’s no cure for herpes, meaning that apple cider vinegar definitely can’t rid your body of the virus. Despite this, apple cider vinegar enthusiasts claim that its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities make it a helpful tool for controlling the symptoms of a herpes outbreak.

ACV proponents recommend a variety of protocols for fighting back against herpes. Some users recommend ingesting apple cider vinegar orally, usually with a squeezed lemon and warm water to mute the strong taste. Others recommend putting apple cider vinegar on cold sores to areas with herpes sores. There are others who even go as far as to suggest ketchup on a cold sore, because if its vinegar content (even though the vinegar in ketchup is nothing similar to apple cider vinegar—but we digress).

None of these anti-herpes protocols are supported by any scientific evidence. In fact, there’s no scientific evidence at all to support the theory that apple cider vinegar is an antiviral substance, which would allow it to target and suppress the herpes virus in the body.

As such, it’s best think of apple cider vinegar as a health supplement, but not as a proven treatment option for HSV-1 or HSV-2.

Guides using apple cider vinegar for cold sores are sometimes accompanied by other claims about the health benefits of ACV, ranging from reasonable but unproven claims about digestive health, to claims that apple cider vinegar can cure cancer and diabetes.

When reading this content, it’s important to remember that there is no scientific evidence to support apple cider vinegar as a treatment for herpes, let alone other serious diseases and conditions. Any and all “miracle cure” grains are best treated with skepticism.

If you’re concerned that you might have oral or genital herpes and would like to take action, the best approach is to talk to your doctor about real, tested and proven treatments.

Instead of Apple Cider Vinegar, Focus Proven Treatments

While apple cider vinegar might be a favorite of the natural health community, it isn’t proven to have any positive effects for treating and managing herpes.

However, there are numerous safe, FDA-approved medications on the market that actively fight back against the herpes virus, helping you control the symptoms of outbreaks and reduce your risk of spreading the virus to other people.

Currently, the most popular herpes medications are antiviral drugs such as valacyclovir (Valtrex) and acyclovir (Zovirax). Our valacyclovir 101 guide explains how this class of drug works, why it’s effective for treating the herpes virus, and how you can use it to control oral or genital herpes.

If you have herpes or feel worried you might have been exposed to the virus, your doctor will be able to provide advice and assistance. They may recommend that you take a herpes test to see if the virus is present in your tissue. If it is, you might be prescribed an antiviral medication.

Herpes is a common virus, and controlling an infection is easy through the use of modern, safe medication. As for apple cider vinegar, while it may have some health benefits, there’s currently no scientific evidence to suggest it has any benefits for treating either oral or genital herpes.

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *