Medically reviewed by Emina Ribic (MD). Written by Linda White (MD).
6 Min Read
- Why Put Salt on a Cold Sore?
- How Long To Leave Salt on a Cold Sore?
- Should You Dry Out a Cold Sore Blister with Salt?
- Is a Salt Water Rinse Better than Applying Dry Salt?
- Does Salt Work Better With Toothpaste?
- Can the Salt in Food Cause Cold Sores?
Salt (sodium chloride) can heal cold sores faster due to its ability to dry out the fluid-filled blisters. It removes all of the moisture from a cold sore and minimizesviral shedding. Unfortunately, the drying process introduces the possibility of cracking, which could prolong the recovery process.
Knowing when to put salt on a cold sore overnight can be the difference between healing and intense burning or skin damage.
In this guide, you will find out how to apply salt to a cold sore. You’ll also discover other ingredients that can be added to sale to optimize the effectiveness. We’ll also take a close look at whether salt is a good or bad part of your day-to-day diet.
Why Put Salt on a Cold Sore?
Salt orsodium chloride can be an effective cold sore healer because it serves as an antiseptic.While it can potentially harm your skin, it is also a sound home remedy. It halts the sore’s development and dries out the site of the cold sore. This process is what transpires when you pour salt over ice.
- Example: Salt being poured over a snowy and icy road during extreme winter weather conditions. The salt suppresses the moisture and dries out the surface area. Salt serves the same function when drying out a thriving cold sore. It can put an end to viral replication thus snuffing out the lifespan of the blister itself. Without warm moisture, a cold sore will not survive.
Although salt can lead to some troublesome side effects, burning and potential skin damage being two, it is safer than most alternative treatments.
How Long To Leave Salt on a Cold Sore?
The duration of a cold sore salt treatment is a matter of personal preference. Some remedies can last hours while others just seconds. So much will depend on your tolerance for any discomfort (burning) and the extent (coverage area) of your blisters.
The use of powdered salt will make the session more comfortable. The finer the texture, the easier it will be to apply. Large salt crystals are NOT a good treatment option.
Below is an overview of the application process and what to expect during treatment:
- Using powdered salt, gently apply it to a cotton swab. You can either moisten the swab with a drop of water or wet your index finger with water. It is critical that you wash your hands before dabbing a small amount of salt. Any bacteria that lives on your hands will contaminate the salt.
- Once the salt has been applied to the swab, gently dab the cotton on the problematic area. Be sure to avoid a rubbing or scrubbing motion. This can irritate the blister. If you are in the midst of the scab stage, any rubbing could cause the scab to peel off. Be gentle with the application. Moistened powdered salt will stick to your blister, so you don’t need to be overly aggressive.
- How long it remains in place is up to you. If you can avoid touching the area, you can let the salt absorb the moisture of the sore for hours. This would be the definition of an overnight cold sore treatment. On the other hand, salt is rather potent. Keeping the salt in place for only 60 seconds can be beneficial. If this is your plan,apply the salt, wait one minute, and then rinse the area with warm water.
You can repeat the process several times per day. You’ll observe visual cues that it is losing moisture. At that time you can stop treatment.
Should You Dry Out a Cold Sore Blister with Salt?
While using salt to dry out your cold soresshould never be your first option. Although salt can be beneficial, it is just an alternative to proven over-the-counter medications.
Always use caution when using an alternative remedy. Salt can cause pain if used on an open wound, so it should be avoided.
If you have dealt with years of recurring cold sores, the use of salt is worthy of your consideration. However, if you are in the midst of your first outbreak, we do not recommend this treatment. FDA approved OTC treatments should always be your first plan of action. This is critical if you are dealing with your initial blisters.
Is a Salt Water Rinse Better than Applying Dry Salt?
Using a salt water rinse rather than dry salt is a personal preference. There is no right or wrong answer.
The only distinction is that a rinse will be less abrasive. Because the salt is mixed with water, the application will be less harsh.
Unless extremely diluted, a salt water rinse will still introduce antiseptic properties and positive benefits. The final results should be similar to that of dry saltsince the primary objective is drying up the fluid in the blister.
If you are concerned about the potential for pain with a dry salt application, a rinse could be a better option.
- Applying a salt water rinse rather than dry salt is less abrasive. This will likely reduce any threat of burning.
- While diluting the salt is wise you want to avoid using too much water. Salt is the dominant player in this treatment plan. Diluting the salt too much will diminish the potency of the remedy. It is essential that you have enough salt content in the rinse.
Does Salt Work Better With Toothpaste?
The combination of salt and toothpaste can be beneficial as an overnight cold sore healer.
While it is understood that salt can serve as an antiseptic that can dry out cold sores, toothpaste has a similar quality. Courtesy of sodium lauryl sulfate, an active ingredient in toothpaste, your daily teeth cleaner can also heal your fever blisters.
Sodium lauryl sulfate not only can dry out sores but also numb any pain while preventing virus replication. Combined with salt, a remedy can be formed to help heal your fever blisters.
Noted below is a brief explanation of the application process.
- Mix a small amount of powdered salt with toothpaste. Used just enough paste to cover the problem area. It is vital that you wash your hands before mixing/applying this treatment.
- By using a cotton swab or a clean finger, gently apply the salt/paste remedy to your blister. Do not rub the area but instead lightly dab. Thin layer application is best.
- This mixture is ideal for an overnight treatment. If the layer is thin enough, it should be able to last during the overnight hours. This will allow you to receive quality treatment while you sleep.
- Rinse away the application with warm water the following morning.
Can the Salt in Food Cause Cold Sores?
While salt can be used to treat cold sores, it can also be a cold sore trigger. This is one of the reasons why salt can be problematic.
- Important: Concerning food consumption, salt can halt the natural healing process of a cold sore. Salt ingested acts differently than salt on contact with the skin. Salt placed on a sore can dry it out while salt in your diet can serve to trigger HSV-1.
From a general health standpoint, you should always strive to limit your salt intake. Too much salt in your diet can lead to increased blood pressure as well as a host of other health issues.
Having good health can help you to fend off a cold sore outbreak. Weak immune health can trigger an outbreak while a healthy and robust system can prevent fever blisters.
You should make it a point to manage your salt intake. Not only as a means to prevent cold sores but as a good plan for healthy living.
- A diet that is high in sodium can trigger the herpes simplex virus and also harm the natural healing process of existing sores.
- While salt used as a cold sore treatment can dry out blisters, a diet high in salt can be counterproductive.
- It is always important to keep your immune system and general health in top working order. This can help to prevent fever blister outbreaks. Introducing a diet that is low in salt will be beneficial in the big picture.
Salt can provide relief. If applied responsibly, salt can heal your cold sore days earlier than would otherwise be the case.
Although there is a risk of burning (upon application) as well as skin damage, these side effects can be remedied. Once your sore has been diminished, it is vital that you rejuvenate your lip with a moisturizing balm. This will help return your lip and skin to a healthy state.
- Utsunomiya H, Ichinose M, Tsujimoto K, et al. Co-operative thermal inactivation of herpes simplex virus and influenza virus by arginine and NaCl. International Journal of Pharmaceutics. 2009;366(1-2):99–102.
- Piret J, Lamontagne J, Désormeaux A, Bergeron MG. Efficacies of Gel Formulations Containing Foscarnet, Alone or Combined with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, against Establishment and Reactivation of Latent Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. 2001;45(4):1030-1036. doi:10.1128/AAC.45.4.1030-1036.2001.
What happens if you put salt on a cold sore? ›
Salt. Salt helps alleviate cold sore discomfort by drawing out the extra moisture that the herpes simplex virus needs to thrive but may be painful when applied. It's simple to apply salt on cold sore outbreaks. Just moisten your index finger and apply salt directly onto bothersome cold sores.What kills cold sores the fastest? ›
The key is to treat the cold sore promptly. Creams that contain aciclovir, for example, can speed the healing of a cold sore by 1 day , on average. The antiviral medications aciclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir are also available as tablets. For severe cases, a doctor may recommend IV treatment.Does salt Make sores worse? ›
Putting salt on a wound can lead to severe complications. The sharp and jagged structure of salt crystals may irritate the already sensitive injured area even more. In addition, putting salt on a wound directly will raise the pain.Does putting salt on sores help? ›
Saltwater Rinse: Although salt may aggravate the pain, a saltwater rinse can help speed up the healing process by drying out the sores. Combine a ½ cup of warm water with a teaspoon of salt.Should cold sores be moist or dry? ›
It's important to keep your cold sore dry during phases one through four. Cold sores love warm, moist environments, so adding moisture in the early stages only makes symptoms worse. Give your cold sore time and space to dry out.How can I shorten the life of a cold sore? ›
The over-the-counter cold sore ointment docosanol (Abreva) may shorten the healing time of a cold sore. At the first sign of symptoms, apply it to the affected skin as directed on the package. Use a cotton-tipped swab to put medicine on a cold sore.Can you remove a cold sore overnight? ›
Unfortunately, nothing can clear up a cold sore overnight — but some medications and treatments can shorten the life span of a cold sore and make you feel better, too.Is salt water good for cold sores? ›
As an astringent, it may dry out - but not heal - a cold sore. Just like rubbing alcohol or witch hazel. Salt water affects the environment around the virus so it can't thrive, which might help dry up the cold sore, but it can also be painful on your skin.What natural remedy kills cold sores? ›
- Kanuka honey.
- lip balms containing lemon balm.
- peppermint oil.
- licorice root , because it contains glycyrrhizic acid.
- milk, applied in a compress.
- vanilla extract.
- rhubarb and sage.
Hydrogen peroxide¹ is a potent antiseptic used to treat cold sores and may also treat minor burns, scrapes, and cuts, making it an excellent treatment option for most cold sore victims. It kills bacteria by drying out and sterilizing the area.
How can I speed up the healing of sores? ›
- Get Some Rest. Getting a lot of sleep can help wounds heal more quickly. ...
- Eat Your Veggies. Healthy food and nutritional supplements are said to boost your immune response and prompt the wound healing process. ...
- Don't Stop the Exercise. ...
- Quit Smoking.
Salt Water and Sodium Bicarbonate
It may sting at first. Putting salt directly on a canker sore can make it worse. Instead, make a saltwater solution and gently rinse your mouth with it. Mix a little baking soda with a small amount of water until it thickens.
There is scientific evidence to support saltwater's purported medicinal benefits. It won't cure a sore throat—only time can do that—but its hypertonic properties (a biological term indicating the osmotic pressure is higher than that in the surrounding fluid) can help relieve pain and inflammation.What kind of salt do you use for mouth sores? ›
Saline is a mixture of water and sodium chloride (salt). What are the benefits of using a saline solution? Saline solution has many uses. People use it to soothe mouth sores and bleeding gums, heal sore throats, loosen food stuck between teeth, freshen breath, and relieve toothaches.Does salt draw out infection? ›
Researchers at Vanderbilt University and in Germany have found that sodium — salt — accumulates in the skin and tissue in humans and mice to help control infection.Should I lick my cold sore? ›
Cold Sore Treatment
Applying an over-the-counter treatment such as Abreva or other lip creams daily can ease symptoms and shorten the duration of the outbreak. You can also apply ice or take anti-inflammatory drugs. Always remember to avoid touching or licking your lips when you have a cold sore outbreak.
Rubbing alcohol and witch hazel are astringents, which might help dry out the cold sore. 1,3 Using one or both of these, however, has not been chemically proven to heal the cold sore itself.Should you cover a cold sore or let it breathe? ›
You should probably skip covering it up if you have an open cold sore because that could cause it to get infected. It's best to wait for a cold sore to become partially healed and scabbed over before trying to cover it up.Can a cold sore go away in 3 days? ›
Cold sores are small blisters that develop on the lips or around the mouth. They're caused by the herpes simplex virus and usually clear up without treatment within 7 to 10 days.How long do cold sores last when u let it go away naturally? ›
Cold sores are common and usually clear up on their own within 10 days. But there are things you can do to help ease the pain.
What is the lifespan of a cold sore? ›
An untreated cold sore usually lasts 7-10 days, but can remain for up to two weeks.What is the shortest time a cold sore can last? ›
Cold sores are small blisters caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). An individual cold sore will last 1–2 weeks before it heals. However, while the cold sore may disappear, the virus that causes cold sores will remain in the body.Can cold sores heal in a day? ›
Cold sores take about 1 to 3 weeks to heal. The first time they appear, they can take up to 3 weeks to heal. But, when cold sores return, they usually take a week to heal if no medicines are used. Antiviral medications may help, but they need to be started before day 3 or 4 of the blister formation.What causes cold sores to flare up? ›
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. Once this virus is in you, it can cause outbreaks of cold sores. Cold sore outbreaks are often triggered by exposure to hot sun, cold wind, a cold or other illness, a weak immune system, changing hormone levels, or even stress.Does salt water help lip sores? ›
Add some salt to warm water and rinse for about 30 seconds. This tried and true trick is so effective at healing mouth sores because the sodium chloride works to take water from the surrounding healthy tissues in your mouth and redirect the water to the mouth sore.Does lemon and salt get rid of cold sores? ›
Witch hazel, lemon juice, salt water, tea tree oil, and vanilla extract can all act as an astringent, which helps to dry out the sore, reduce redness and irritation, and promote healing. Wear lip balm that has SPF 20 or higher in it to prevent triggering a sore.Does salt and toothpaste get rid of cold sores? ›
Unfortunately, there isn't enough research to suggest that toothpaste is effective for cold sore treatment. According to anecdotes from users who believe toothpaste can help soothe cold sores, the ingredient known as sodium lauryl sulfate present in some toothpastes may help dry the sores.What stops cold sores in their tracks? ›
Cold sores respond to medications called antivirals, which work by stopping the herpes virus from replicating. Using the medication as soon as symptoms develop can stop the cold sore from developing or reduce its size and healing time. Antiviral medications are only available via prescription.What to drink to get rid of cold sores? ›
Vitamin C and vitamin E. Both of these vitamins have been shown to fight cold sores. Studies have shown that vitamin C can inactivate the herpes simplex virus, the virus that causes cold sores. Other research has shown that vitamin E can help heal cold sores.What drink is good for cold sores? ›
Drink Whole Milk or Eat Whole Milk Yogurt
Due to its high immunoglobulin and lysine content, milk is surprisingly effective as a treatment for cold sores. To get the benefits, drink whole milk or eat whole milk yogurt.
How do you stop a cold sore from getting worse? ›
To reduce your chance of a major outbreak, it's important to start antiviral therapy medication as soon as you feel a cold sore coming on, even if blisters haven't formed yet. Some prescription antivirals are: acyclovir (Zovirax) famciclovir (Famvir)Does toothpaste cure cold sores? ›
There is no scientific evidence showing that toothpaste cures cold sores.Can I put rubbing alcohol on my cold sore? ›
Dabbing rubbing alcohol on a cold sore can also dry it out and promote healing.How do you dry out a cold sore? ›
Calamine lotion, though best known for relieving itchy insect bites, is also a drying agent that can dry up cold sore blisters. Apply two to three times a day for best results. Witch hazel is another popular natural astringent that can help dry out and heal cold sores.What brings out a cold sore? ›
What causes cold sores? Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. Once the herpes simplex virus is in you, it can cause outbreaks of cold sores. Cold sore outbreaks are often triggered by exposure to hot sun, cold wind, a cold or other illness, a weak immune system, or even stress.Does rinsing with salt water help cold sores? ›
Sometimes the simplest remedy is the best. Add some salt to warm water and rinse for about 30 seconds. This tried and true trick is so effective at healing mouth sores because the sodium chloride works to take water from the surrounding healthy tissues in your mouth and redirect the water to the mouth sore.Is it OK to put alcohol on cold sore? ›
Avoid Rubbing Alcohol
The belief is that because alcohol is a drying agent found in some over-the-counter cold sore preparations, pure rubbing alcohol will dry the sore and promote healing. However, rubbing alcohol is known to cause contact dermatitis, producing a slight burning sensation and inflamed red skin.
You're best to let it dry out to the point where it is no longer painful, and then begin applying cream or lip balm to minimize splitting. As the cold sore resolves itself, keep your lips moist to prevent bleeding, which also aids in the healing at this stage.How do you shorten a cold sore? ›
The over-the-counter cold sore ointment docosanol (Abreva) may shorten the healing time of a cold sore. At the first sign of symptoms, apply it to the affected skin as directed on the package. Use a cotton-tipped swab to put medicine on a cold sore.What are the 5 stages of a cold sore? ›
Typically, cold sores present in five major stages — telltale tingling, blistering, ulcer eruption, scab formation, and healing. Each of the cold sore stages has varying signs.
When is a cold sore fully healed? ›
Cold sores are common and usually clear up on their own within 10 days. But there are things you can do to help ease the pain.Does lack of sleep cause cold sores? ›
Common triggers for cold sores include stress, sleep deprivation, and sunlight. While most cold sores go away on their own within a few weeks, some cases may require medical attention.Does rubbing alcohol dry out cold sores? ›
Dabbing rubbing alcohol on a cold sore can also dry it out and promote healing.