Tea Tree Oil for Cold Sore-Is it Good? How it Works, Reviews & Scabs Treatment

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Using tea tree oil for cold sores is one of the many natural home remedies for fever blisters. How effective is this method? Read on to find out if it good, how it works for the blisters, scabs treatment plus reviews and precautions

How Good is Tea Tree Oil for Cold Sores? How does it work

What properties makes it good for cold sore treatment

Adding tea tree oil to your cold sore is an important step to faster recovery. This oil is derived from a plant that is scientifically known as Melaleuca alternifolia.

The medicinal properties of this plant have been in use since centuries ago and in apothecaries. It was presumably exploited in traditional medicine by the Bundialung Aborgines or Northern New South Whales.

In this era, the crushed leaves of tea tree were inhaled to provide relief from coughs and flu. They would also be sprinkled on wounds then a poultice applied (Shemesh, A., and W. L. Mayo. 1991) as published in the Australian Pharm Journal.

It has been studies and approved for therapeutic use in herpes simplex and other microbial infections. Tea tree oil is beneficial when the treatment is started early.

The antimicrobial action of terpineol has received lots of attention being that it is responsible for many of its actions against microbes.

This article explores how the tea tree oil works on cold sores and how you can use it to treat you cold sores.

How does it work

The activity of tea tree oil has been established by Schnitzler et al in combination with eucalyptus oil for the treatment of cold sores. the study found that the number of plaques formed after subjects were treated with tea tree oil were much fewer in number.

tea tree oil for cold sore treatment

Tea tree oil and cold sores

To be precise, the concentration of the oil that could inhibit the formation of the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) was averagely 0.00085 for both types of HSV. Since it is the HSV-2 that causes cold sores, this oil is therefore very potent and beneficial in treatment.

Antiviral action

The action tea tree oil has against the HSV, is related to the terpineol. As mentioned earlier, this is the main constituent of the oil and is involved to some extent in all the benefits it has.

It has been shown by a number of studies that this principal inhibits the replication of viral cells in cold sores. This is basically the mechanism employed with antivirals indicated for cold sores.

Anti-inflammatory action

This action is mediated via the ability of terpinen-4-ol to inhibit the production of inflammatory mediators including tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and interleukins by monocytes.

It also exhibits action against prostaglandin E2.  Its anti-inflammatory effect is elicited 40 hours after treatment has been initiated. This has been elucidated by Hart PH et al, (2000)[1].

Reduces the swelling on cold sores

The presence of terpinen-4-ol and α-terpineol in tea tree oil has been shown to be involved in the modulation of vasodilation in inflammatory reactions.

cold sore home remedy tea tree oil

Cold sore

It therefore, reduces the blood flow and hence the swelling around the cold sores. there are also associations with anti-allergenic reactions that occur in the process of HSV invasion of cells in humans[2].

Secondary bacterial infections

A trauma on top of a blister could lead to a wound and scarring. However, before scarring takes place, the normal flora on the skin composed of bacteria could infect it. Such bacteria include staphylococcus aureus.

There have been cases in which the cold sore is at its 12th day of the healing process but unfortunately with the scabbing, a wound forms and bleeding occurs. This is especially evident in forceful removal of the scab.

Constituents implicated in this antibacterial activity include cineole, cymene, linalool, terpinen-4-ol and terpineol in order of least potent to the most (Penfold, A. R., and R. Grant. 1925)[3].

Benefits of using tea tree oil on cold sores

Benefits to using this oil for treatment of cold sores have been elucidated prior to this section. They are in brief:

Therefore, properties that make tea tree oil therapeutic in cold sores include;

  1. Anti-inflammatory action: Due to the presence of terpinen-4-ol and α-terpineol in tea tree oil.
  2. Anti-viral action: this could be effected by its component terpinen-4-ol too.
  3. Reduced probability for secondary bacterial infections: the cold sores could be secondarily infected by other pathogens including bacteria. The tea tree oil contains chemicals that elicit action against them.
  4. Tea tree oil reduces the viral replicative cycle at different stages and was found to have the best effect prior to infection.

Tea Tree Oil for Cold Sores Reviews

Tea tree oil has been approved for treatment of infections caused by Herpes Simplex Virus. It has proven therapeutic efficacy as show in several studies. It has been shown to reduce the healing time and provide relief from swelling.


Online platforms have yielded positive comments regarding its true efficacy. This is proof of its claims.

However, there have been concerns regarding the irritation it causes on the skin and potential toxicity when applied on inner sores.

The dilution factor is however not clearly elucidated and at times they have to do it instinctively at times.

People have particularly appreciated the large number of studies since decades ago in backing the indications of this oil.

How to use Tea Tree Oil on Cold Sores Inside & Around Mouth

There are two major ways through which you can apply tea tree oil to cold sores.

Dilution method:

Use this method if you think that you do not have a sensitive skin. Studies in which tea tree oil has been applied have shown that there is some degree of irritation from the oil.

In fact, this is one of the reasons you should not apply the oil to the inside of your mouth. This method is also indicated if the cold sore has progressed into and past the stage in which you get the tingling sensation.

According to the stages of the development of a cold sore, this is the first stage.

Non-diluted tea tree oil method

If you really insist on using this treatment for cold sores inside the mouth, then you really need to dilute it to a calculate factor.

Use this method if you think you have not relations to hypersensitivity. However, it is good to stay on the safe side with such herbal medications. You should probably ask yourself if you have reached or passed the blistering stage. If yes, then do not use an undiluted tea tree oil.

To dilute the oil, add 100% tea tree oil to a few drops of clean water. First make sure that you use a test does to apply. This may be well tolerated on your wrist before you can apply it to your face.

At least a hypersensitivity reaction to the wrist can be covered. If okay, then proceed to the lips.

Do this to apply:

  1. Measure out 2 or 3 drops of tea tree oil to an equal number of drops of water.
  2. Dip a cotton swab to the mixture then apply onto the cold sores.
  3. It is recommended that you dispose of the used cotton ball after each application. This will help you prevent re-infection or spread of HSV.
  4. Remove any crusting on the cold sores to make it penetrate better.
  5. Do this thrice a day until you notice positive changes to the cold sore. Each time you perform this, wash your hands afterwards.

How can Tea Tree Oil be used on Cold Sore Scabs?

You should consider prompt treatment of cold sores with tea tree oil once you discover its development. However, there could be benefits when the oil is applied to scabs in the last few days.

Once you see the jaundiced, yellow scab forming, you can continue to apply. This creates an antiseptic environment which is good for healing.

Tea tree oil and other ingredients for cold sores

Abreva and tea tree oil for cold sores

Abreva is a brand with docosanol, a drug indicated and approved by the FDA for treatment of cold sores. It is a humectant and an emulsifier. These are benefits of using Abreva to dryness that occurs in cold sores.

Its antiviral action is elicited within the first two days and it has been shown by Sacks et al to shorten the healing time of cold sores by 17.5 hours. It is therefore beneficial and synergistic when applied with tea tree oil an hour apart.

Alcohol or tea tree oil for cold sores

Alcohol is an antiseptic and also helps dry our blisters. Hence, there would be concerted efforts when treatment of cold sores involves the two. However, some of the components in the oil may be dehydrated by the alcohol reducing their efficacy. Decide to apply one at a time during the day.

Aloe vera and tea tree oil for cold sores

Aloe-vera is a known anti-microbial agent. It would elicit a synergistic action against microbes on and in the cold sore with tea tree oil. This can be mixed to form a applicable mixture.

Coconut oil and tea tree oil for cold sore

Coconut is an oil with oleic acid as one of its important components. This fatty acid helps the other ingredients in coconut oil penetrate the skin. This could be helpful in the cause of use with tea tree oil. It can also be used to dilute the tea tree oil before use of blistered fever sores.

coconut tea tree oil for fever blister recipe

Coconut oil

Lavender and tea tree oil for cold sores

Lavender contains menthol and its derivatives. Menthol has benefits related to anti-inflammatory action as with sprain balms with it. It is also an analgesic due to the cooling effect it leaves on the skin when it sublimes. This provides a window of relief from pain. Addition to tea tree oil would be a good choice.

Lysine and tea tree oil for cold sores

In cold sores, adequate arginine is essential for the survival of cold sores. lysine helps replace arginine so that it is less sufficient for HSV replication. Since lysine and tea tree oil work via different mechanisms, this is a good synergy especially when mixed.

Peppermint oil vs tea tree oil for cold sores

Peppermint oil is derived from Mentha piperita and also has menthol. It will provide similar action to lavender.

Which one is better? This will depend on convenience and aim. If it is pain relief you want, then go for the ones with menthol. If you want a shorter period of infection and reduced pain, then go for a mixture of Abreva, menthol and tea tree oil.

Safety & Precautions when using Tea Tree Oil for Cold sores

Despite the discovery of the importance of tea tree oil on cold sores, there are safety measures and precautions that you need to take. There is anecdotal evidence demonstrating the non-toxic effects on the skin though with minor and less significant side effects.

Take the following precautionary measures:

  1. Make sure your dilute the tea tree oil to be on the safe side.
  2. Mix the oil with other less abrasive or corrosive oils to make it less aggressive.
  3. Keep away from the reach of children. There are incidences of oral poisoning in children. This may be so in adults too but children are playful. Once such case is one reported by Del Beccaro MA[4] in 1995 in a 17 month old baby. In adults, it has been reported by Seawright in 1993[5]. Fortunately, no deaths have been reported.

References and Sources

[1] Hart PH, Brand C, Carson CF, Riley TV, Prager RH, Finlay-Jones JJ. Inflamm Res. 2000 Nov; 49(11):619-26.)

[2] Regulation of wheal and flare by tea tree oil: complementary human and rodent studies. Khalil Z, Pearce AL, Satkunanathan N, Storer E, Finlay-Jones JJ, Hart PH J Invest Dermatol. 2004 Oct; 123(4):683-90.

[3] (Penfold, A. R., and R. Grant. 1925. The germicidal values of some Australian essential oils and their pure constituents, together with those for some essential oil isolates, and synthetics. Part III. J. R. Soc. New South Wales 59:346-349.)

[4] Melaleuca oil poisoning in a 17-month-old. Del Beccaro MA Vet Hum Toxicol. 1995 Dec; 37(6):557-8.

[5] Seawright, A. 1993. Tea tree oil poisoning. Med. J. Aust.159:831.

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