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How Effective Is Tea Tree Oil for a Cold Sore?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Whether or not tea tree oil is an effective remedy for cold sores depends in large part on the individual and the seriousness of his or her condition. There isn’t much formal research on this point at all, which makes it somewhat difficult to make generalized claims. Tea tree oil is usually considered to be an “alternative” medicine or a home remedy, and these sorts of cures aren’t typically subjected to the sort of rigorous testing and trials that more streamlined pharmaceuticals are. Just the same, many people claim that tea tree oil for a cold sore is more effective than traditional medicine. This may be because of the oil’s antiseptic properties. Many people also use it as a preventative measure in the hopes that it can ward off cold sores before they even appear.

Lack of Research

It is difficult to assess how effective tea tree oil is for healing a cold sore. Unlike traditional medications there are very few scientific studies that back up its effectiveness, and there is also a disparity in terms of oil strength and actual concentration. Most governments set up regulatory bodies to oversee how pharmaceutical drugs are produced, manufactured, and sold; some even regulate advertising. In the majority of cases these rules don’t apply to dietary supplements or “all natural” remedies like tea tree oil, though.

On one hand this means that not much is known about the oil’s clinical healing potential, and on the other it opens the possibility for a wide disparity of products being sold under the “tea tree oil” name in the marketplace. Different brands might have different formulations, and how one product works to combat something like a cold sore might not hold true for another oil from a distinct brand.

Reasons it Might Work

Alternative medicine practitioners often recommend tea tree oil for a cold sore, and many people say that it works really well. It is important to note that tea tree oil probably won't get rid of a cold sore immediately upon use, though; it is more likely to speed up the natural healing process, but this can still be helpful. A lot of this probably has to do with the antiseptic and healing properties of the oil.

Tea tree oil, which is sometimes also called “melaleuca oil,” comes from the Melaleuca alternifolia plant, and is naturally astringent. This means that it may be capable of sterilizing wounds, killing bacteria, and preventing the colonization or spread of new bacteria at the site. Cold sores are usually caused by the herpes simplex virus, which spreads easily but can also be fairly easily defeated by medications or other remedies. Though the healing properties of tea tree oil may be weak, they may be enough for cold sores in some cases. Cold sores usually heal on their own within a week or two, but with the oil this may be shortened to just a few days.

Usage Tips

Tee tree oil is usually applied topically to cold sores, which means that it’s rubbed right onto the sore itself. People usually do this with a moistened cotton ball or cotton swab. Several applications throughout the day may help speed healing even further. It is important, however, to keep an eye out for skin irritation. If the skin exhibits signs of sensitivity — like redness or slight swelling — the oil should either be diluted or not used at all.

As a Preventative Measure

Some people also recommend using tea tree oil as a preventative measure rather than just to treat cold sores that have already formed. Regular use of a lip balm containing this compound, for example, may be an effective prophylaxis. While such a product is not guaranteed to work, many people attest to its effectiveness.

TheHealthBoard is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a TheHealthBoard writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

Discussion Comments

By anon998515 — On Jun 25, 2017

It works. It does cause redness and seems to dry the skin, but it helps the cold sore from evolving into a clump of blisters and usually helps it heal without the nasty yellow scab that appears when it is healing. I use 100% tea tree oil directly on it, without mixing it in to water. It is expensive, but cheaper than Abreva, and it will last a lot longer than Abreva's small solution. It is also more discreet, as Abreva may leave a white layer depending on how much you use.

By anon995088 — On Mar 31, 2016

I got a cold sore about a month ago and using Melaleuca oil (non-diluted tea tree oil) healed it pretty fast, but getting the oil on there right as it began had an incredible healing rate. This morning I felt the tingle and saw the red of an oncoming cold sore, but after I attacked it with the oil on two different occasions, the sucker was Gone! I warned my husband not to kiss me because I was fighting off a cold sore, and when he said he didn't know what I was talking about, I couldn't believe it--but sure enough, not even a hint was left. Holy. Freakin'. Llamas.

By anon994119 — On Jan 15, 2016

Stings like a bitch at first but does a great job drying up the sore in the "weeping" stage, making it look less noticeable. I use a combination of Abreva and pure tea tree oil (Equate brand, if anyone is interested) and dab it on with a Q-tip.

Also go see your doctor if you have reoccurring sores, I got a prescription that I don't think helped but next time I'll take it earlier and perhaps that will cut down the time. Only six days in and I think it's nearing the end now.

By anon993855 — On Dec 21, 2015

My first Christmas with the in laws is on Friday, and this last Sunday, I woke up with, you guessed it: a swollen top lip and a newly forming cold sore. My heart dropped when I looked in the mirror...seriously? Why now? My last one lasted over a month to heal because of it severity and size, so I had to think fast.

I've tried just about everything dealing with cold sores through high school and beyond, and nothing ever seemed to speed up the healing. I've lucked out once with nail polish and a sterile needle, but that was my one lucky shot. All the other times my lip exploded from it.

I stumbled upon an article mentioning tea tree oil and decided to give it a shot. At first I used a carrier oil and bergamot essential oil with it, and it was working phenomenally; it decreased in redness and size in hours. So, I decided to just use straight tea tree oil after cleaning the cold sore gently. I've never been more happy and at ease with this method, it almost brought me to tears.

My cold sore is diminished and barely visible! I'm sure it will be almost healed by Christmas and hey, I will take that! I will always use tea tree oil with my cold sores now.

By anon993643 — On Dec 01, 2015

I can't say for others, but tea tree oil works for me. I applied the A brand core sore treatment two days ago, but the sore has got even bigger. I switched back to tea tree oil next day and it's almost gone now.

The trick when I apply tea tree oil on cold sore: clean the surface of the sore with rubbing alcohol first with a Q-tip (it hurts a little). Then get another Q-tip, pull the cotton tip out until it fluffs, get a drop or two of tea tree oil on the fluffed cotton tip, and apply it straight on the sore. That way you will find the cold sore actually soaked with tea tree oil, not the Q-tip.

If you want it gone fast, do not use a carrier oil.

By anon993058 — On Oct 21, 2015

When I get that first tingle which indicates a cold sore is imminent, I double up on L-Lysine for the first day and grab the Abreva cream and apply three to five times a day until completely gone. This cuts the outbreak time in half. After the initial outbreak is done, I continue to apply Abreva and tea tree oil then cover with Lucas Paw Paw jelly (like Vaseline) to moisten and prevent anything from getting in or out. Lately I have been under extreme stress, got a cold sore and it was gone in less than a week. A lady friend of mine was shocked at how quick I got rid of it and asked me my secret as she suffers from them all the time.

Unfortunately, we can't get Abreva in Australia, so I ship two or three tubes just in case. Check the expiry, even though I've used an expired tube and that still seems to work as well as a new one. I have tried lots of different methods and creams but this seems to work for me best. Do not put nail polish remover or alcohol on it. That will dry it out and leave a scar and delay healing. I still have a minor scar from the first couple of times I tried nail polish remover. You want to keep it moist so it can heal. If the pain is bad, apply an ice cube and take a pain reliever.

If you believe the cold sore was brought on by stress, take a moment to reflect and see it for what it is and relax try to reduce or manage the stress in your life. Do not drink alcohol either. This only brings your immune system even lower and is a depressant. Drink lots of water and even sports drinks like Gatorade. Eat nutritious foods and green vegetables and stay away from fast foods. This is not a proven method or diet but you have to bring your immune system back up and your stress levels down so it can only help.

Good luck. I hope this helps.

By anon957726 — On Jun 22, 2014

Tea tree oil is the only thing that works to rapidly diminish my recurring cold sores.

By anon949188 — On May 04, 2014

I get cold sores on a regular basis. I have noticed when using the tea tree oil it heals faster and reduces redness and swelling. Some people apply it mixed with other things but I just apply it straight. -- Bree

By anon356375 — On Nov 24, 2013

I tried this for the first time on a cold sore I got two days ago. I found that it works best if you really rub it in there. I applied it several times a day.

I have also been using Argan Oil. I will apply Tea Tree Oil, allow it to soak in, then rub in the Argan Oil. The Argan Oil provides more of a lubricant so it doesn't crack open.

This was one of the worst cold sores I've had and it's almost completely healed.

Don't cheap out! Buy the good, pure, natural oils from a Whole Foods or similar store. It makes all the difference.

By anon321290 — On Feb 21, 2013

Works great. Cheaper then Abrevex at $21.00 for a small small tube and heals faster.

By anon319270 — On Feb 11, 2013

I concur. Even though I have zovirax and lysine kicking around, nothing works better for me than tea tree oil. It seems once I feel the tingle/red bump, forget it; it's coming no matter what I do, but if I apply tea tree oil often, it cuts the healing stages down and it's gone faster.

So by the second day the ulcer has already ruptured and by the third day it's already scabbing over. Everyone is different but this works for me. I haven't looked into the lip balm oil yet.

By SarahSon — On Jul 05, 2012

I hate getting cold sores and it seems like they always come at the worst possible times. One time when I was scheduled to give a presentation in front of a large group of people, I found myself getting a cold sore.

I think stress is one thing that can bring these on, so it makes sense that I got one because I was really stressed about this.

I have been trying to find safer skin care products to use on my face and have made several changes in the last few months. Since I started using a lip balm that contains tea tree oil, I have not had one cold sore. I have also noticed that my lips seem softer and not as dry.

It would be hard for me to remember to apply the tea tree oil every day, but when it is already in the lip balm, I get the best of both.

By John57 — On Jul 04, 2012

I have found two different essential oils that work on cold sores. Tea tree oil is one of them, and clove oil is the other one. Both of them are effective for me, but the tea tree oil is a little bit more mild.

The clove oil is a hot oil and really stings when you put it on. The tea tree oil doesn't sting and doesn't have a bad flavor to it.

I really enjoy using something like tea tree oil for one of my cold sore home remedies. I have found cold sores to be difficult to treat in the past. Just when you think it has cleared up, it comes back in a day or two.

If I use tea tree oil on a consistent basis, and continue to use it for a day or so after the cold sore has gone away, it doesn't come back again. I also feel better about using a natural product to treat something like this.

By sunshined — On Jul 04, 2012

I haven't had the best results using tea tree oil for a cold sore. A friend of mine recommended it to me when she said it helped her with her cold sores.

This was the first time I had ever used an essential oil for anything and I had high hopes it would be an effective cold sore treatment.

I did find that the tea tree oil worked for other things like insect bites and burns, but for me, it didn't seem to work any better than other products for my cold sore.

By andee — On Jul 03, 2012

If you have ever had a cold sore you know how annoying they can be. Whenever possible I like to use alternative remedies for problems, and using essential oils is one thing I have had good results with.

Tea tree oil is one of those that can be used for many things and I always keep a bottle of it on hand. I have found this to be an effective treatment for cold sores.

As soon as I see a cold sore coming on I start applying a few drops of the tea tree oil. Some people might mix this with a carrier oil like olive oil, but I apply it straight.

I do this several times a day until the cold sore has disappeared which usually takes 3-4 days. I have noticed when using the tea tree oil, the cold sore goes away faster, and also does not get as big.

It is nice to know I don't have to run to the store to buy a specific product to get rid of cold sores. I know I always have a bottle of tea tree oil around and know that it will work.

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a TheHealthBoard writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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