How Effective Is Tea Tree Oil for a Cold Sore?

Applying certain types of mouthwash directly to a cold sore may promote faster healing of the lesion.
Tea tree oil can be used to treat cold sores.
Many people claim that tea tree oil for a cold sore is more effective than traditional medicine.
Tea tree oil is sometimes called melaleuca oil, as it is derived from the Melaleuca altemifolia plant.
Cotton balls may be used to apply tea tree oil to a cold sore.
In many people, the only effective treatment for a cold sore is a medication containing docosanol 10%, applied directly to the affected area.
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  • Originally Written By: N. Madison
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
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  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2015
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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.


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Discuss this Article

Post 9

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

Post 8

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

Post 7

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.

Post 6

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

Post 5

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.

Post 4

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.

Post 3

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


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.

Post 2

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.

Post 1

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.

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