Q. I am plagued with ugly cold sores. You wrote once that buttermilk might help. Do you drink it as a preventive measure? Or do you apply it topically on the cold sore to make it heal faster? I know that sounds odd, but people suggest the craziest things to get rid of these awful sores. I’d really like advice on preventing them.

A. Several years ago we received a letter from a man whose pharmacist told him to drink buttermilk to avoid cold sores on the lips. He reported that it worked very well.

Another popular approach is the dietary supplement L-lysine. Many readers report that 500 mg daily can prevent outbreaks. Unfortunately, there isn’t much recent research on this approach, so we don’t know whether it would hold up in a placebo-controlled trial.

One herbal remedy that is used in Europe is lemon balm, or Melissa officinalis. This is applied topically at the first hint of the tingle that accompanies cold sore formation.

One reader shared her experience with a very simple inexpensive remedy:

“I know that I’ve written on this subject before. The easiest solution for cold sores is one I’ve been using for years. As soon as I get that familiar tingling, I apply cold. Ice wrapped in a cloth or a package of frozen veggies for about an hour or so takes the problem away. My lips are sun sensitive so I also apply lip balm with sun protection to prevent outbreaks.”


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“Heartburn Symptoms Eased by Apple Cider Vinegar”

“Headaches: Chocolate Shake for Migraines”

“Headaches: Orange Pith Eases Pain”

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  1. susan

    I use and have used lysine for years for cold sores. I do off and on still get them but they are very tiny and nobody else notices them, and the duration of them is only a few days compared to weeks. I finally got my husband to take lysine, and he hasn’t had one since he started it.


    I got an ugly cold sore between my upper lip & nose. I put polysporium on it every day. It took a while but soon disappeared.

  3. Ld

    I agree with CR. The solution for me is also simple. At first tingle , I wrap one ice cube in a dish towel and hold it against the cold sore for exactly 5 minutes. Problem solved !

  4. DAB

    Sounds so much like migraines: different strokes for different folks! I’ve had cold sores since I can remember. I started taking vitamin C in 1970, which helped keep them at bay. Then for some reason I tried plain old zinc oxide ointment right on the new sores. It somehow dries them up and shrinks them within a few hours, possibly what alum does, John.

  5. WJR

    For me, the prescription anti-viral cream Zovirax (Acyclovir) works every time. I apply a tiny dab at the first tingle on my lip, and maybe another one or two a few hours later, and no sore ever develops. But I’m all in favor of the folk remedies if they work for you!

  6. Irene

    I have been using the high doses of L-Lysine for years. Whenever I first feel the tingling, I take 1000mg 3 or 4 times a day. After 3 or 4 days I cut it down by half. I NEVER have a cold sore come to bloom totally anymore and I have much fewer than I did before. It seems that walnuts cause them in me as well as sun exposure. Thank heavens for the L-Lysine

  7. JKB

    There is no need for anyone to suffer from fever blisters (cold sores). The cure is simple – upon feeling the itchy sensation on your lips, take 3 L-Lysine tablets (1200 mg.). Continue taking one tablet every hour until the itchy feeling goes away. This may take all day. You will get no blister. It will be gone. I used to get the sores on my lips all the time. I have been using this remedy for thirty years and have not had another blister. It is a shame doctors don’t know this or don’t shout it from the roof tops.

  8. Carol S.

    I was troubled with fever blisters on my lower lip when out in the sun. A friend told me to use, what was then called, frosted lipstick making sure I covered the edges of my lips. I started using that type of lipstick and haven’t had a problems since. That was over 30 years ago.

  9. abigail

    For many people who experience incidents of herpes viruses (for me it is shingles) eating peanut butter can bring on a herpes outbreak.

  10. alan

    jude – close to 30 yrs ago I was told by an instructor in a tech course I was taking that 2000mg of L-lysine right away. Then 500mg 2-3x per day should work. And it does – takes 2-3 days and never gets to any real discomfort.

  11. SR

    I’ve offered this info here before but here it is again: I had been tormented with ugly cold sores as a teenager until I discovered this little secret. Heat from the sun will cause it, and ice from the freezer will stop it in it’s tracks. The ice, or a bag of frozen veggies like peas, wrapped in a thin towel and held directly on the area as soon as that dreaded tingling begins, and applied for about an hour or until the tingling stops, always works for me and has for many years. Nary a cold sore for over 40 years.

  12. cpmt

    Sauerkraut also helps. Vicks vaporub (only outside the mouth/not internally) helps to minimized the sores.

  13. jude

    I have been using 500 mg of L-Lysine every day since I read about it on your site. Previously I also used buttermilk, but found it didn’t always work and worked more slowly than the L-Lysine. If I feel sores beginning to form (I usually only have them inside my mouth), I take an extra 500 mg. and by the next morning, my mouth feels better. I swear by it as it works great for me! It’s just an immune function booster.

  14. John

    My Grandfather was a Medical Doctor. His recommended cure for fever blisters and cold sores was to put powdered alumn directly on the sore.

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