Coconut oil is one of those powerful ingredients that has been widely used medicinally for thousands of years. One of coconut oil’s less commonly known uses is as a potential remedy for cold sores.

Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides that have strong antiviral, antifungal, and antibiotic properties, all of which can promote healing and help prevent secondary infections in wounds caused by viral infections.

Coconut oil also has antiseptic properties which can reduce discomfort. It’s also very moisturizing so it can soothe the area and decrease visible symptoms.

Cold sores, which are also called “fever blisters,” are tiny, fluid-filled blisters that appear clustered in groups on or around your lips. A crusted scab will form over the blisters after they break. Cold sores can be spread by person to person. They’re caused by the extremely common herpes simplex virus.

Coconut oil can be applied topically and taken internally to help treat cold sores. For best results, use organic, unprocessed coconut oil.

To apply it topically, start with a small amount of melted coconut oil. Apply it directly to the area with a cotton ball or cotton swab, rubbing it into the blisters gently. Wash your hands immediately after if you touched the blisters.

You can consume coconut oil internally by eating it straight or adding it to food. You can melt it into coffee, or use it as your cooking oil.

There’s limited research on coconut oil being used specifically for cold sores, but there are multiple studies that show different health benefits of coconut oil and how effective it can be in certain treatments.

Coconut oil contains both monolaurin and lauric acid, two ingredients that have powerful antiviral, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties. Studies have found that these ingredients are effective in fighting certain viruses, including herpes.

Virgin coconut oil’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties may also reduce swelling and improve healing.

Even when treating cold sores with coconut oil, it will take some time for them to heal. The first breakout typically lasts the longest, at around two weeks. Subsequent breakouts may last about one week, though the coconut oil and other treatments may shave one to three days off each.

Coconut oil is safe for most people to apply topically. Those with sensitive skin, however, may experience skin irritation or acne. Because of this, apply it to a small patch of skin to test it before applying it on a more widespread basis.

There are more risks associated with ingesting coconut oil. Coconut oil is a fat. It can cause digestive upset, especially if you aren’t used to consuming it straight or in large amounts. If you choose to consume it, do so in moderation, as with any fat.

Some evidence also shows that ingesting coconut oil may be bad for heart health due to its high number of saturated fats. Because of this, consume coconut oil only in small amounts on occasion. If you’re trying to reduce your cholesterol levels, choose heart healthy oils that are in liquid form at room temperature.

In addition to prescription medications and over-the-counter antiviral medications (which can both be effective), there are a number of other alternative “natural” remedies that can be used to heal and reduce cold sore symptoms.

Aloe vera gel is a prime example. Some early research has found evidence that pure aloe vera applied topically can soothe the discomfort caused by cold sores thanks to its anti-inflammatory and healing properties.

Lemon balm is another natural remedy that may help treat cold sores due to its antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects. A member of the mint family, lemon balm or a lemon balm infusion can reduce swelling and redness associated with cold sores, improving their appearance. If your cold sores are on your lips, you can use a lip balm containing this ingredient to keep your lips moisturized, too. Use a product containing at least 1% lemon balm and no irritating ingredients.

You can apply either of these ingredients topically to your cold sores along with the coconut oil.

Coconut oil’s antiviral, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties are what make it most effective as a potential cold sore remedy. Applying it topically several times a day is the best way to get the most immediate results, without the saturated fats you would get from ingesting it. You can combine it with over-the-counter antiviral treatments, or other natural remedies like aloe vera or lemon balm, to speed up healing as much as possible.