We dug into the research around which home remedies for herpes might offer some relief and help you manage symptoms.

The herpes simplex virus (HSV) results in an infection that can cause oral or genital herpes.

  • Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is the virus that typically causes oral herpes and is transmitted through contact with the sores and saliva. In some cases, oral sex can pass oral herpes to your genitals.
  • Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) is the virus that typically causes genital herpes. It’s transmitted through sexual contact. Note that it can be transferred even when sores are not present.

Both types of herpes are common, with nearly half of U.S. adults living with HSV-1, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that nearly 4 billion people are living with HSV-2 worldwide.

For people with a herpes lesion outbreak, symptoms can be uncomfortable. Herpes simplex is a virus that remains in your body long term, though often in a dormant state without symptoms. There is currently no known cure, but there are things you can do to relieve symptoms during an HSV-1 or HSV-2 outbreak.

Affordable oral antiviral medications that most people have tolerated well are sometimes prescribed to help minimize outbreaks and shorten their duration.

They’re the mainstay treatment for HSV. Less severe outbreaks may not require prescription treatment.

If you’re experiencing your first outbreak, oral antivirals can significantly lessen your discomfort and the length of the outbreak.

Some people opt to use home remedies to supplement their prescribed recommended treatment plan.

You may be able to reduce inflammation, irritation, and other symptoms through a mix of home remedies, lifestyle changes, and dietary supplements.

However, these remedies are not a replacement for a clinical treatment plan. Many of them are only supported by in-vitro studies, meaning they were not tested in humans.

It’s important to always talk with a doctor or another healthcare professional before you try any alternative treatment. They can discuss possible dosages, side effects, and interactions.

These home remedies may help ease outbreak-related swelling, itching, and stinging. You probably already have what you need for these remedies in your kitchen cabinet or medication chest.

Cool compress

It may be helpful to use a cold compress to reduce swelling. Apply an ice pack or a clean, soft washcloth filled with ice to the affected area. Repeat as needed every 4 hours. Be sure to never place ice directly on the skin.

Topical garlic

Research published in 2020 suggests that garlic may have antiviral properties against both strains of herpes. You can crush up a fresh clove of garlic and mix it with olive oil to dilute. Fresh, undiluted garlic will burn, so make sure you dilute it well.

Topical apple cider vinegar (ACV)

ACV is known for its anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. To reap some of these benefits, mix one part ACV with three parts warm water (again, it’s very important to dilute) and apply it to the affected area.

There is clinical evidence to suggest that changing your diet could help prevent outbreaks and speed up the healing process. That’s because eating certain foods and avoiding others may boost your immune system and, in turn, help your body respond to the herpes virus.

Antioxidant-rich veggies

A 2018 study indicated that oxidative stress, an imbalance in antioxidant defenses, may lead to a herpes outbreak. Study authors note that more research is needed to determine specifically if oxidative stress is a contributor to the outbreak or a symptom of the body’s immune response to the herpes-related inflammation.

An antioxidant-rich diet can help reduce oxidative stress and return the body to a state of balance.

Vegetables rich in antioxidants include cauliflower, spinach, kale, and tomatoes. They also contain more lysine than arginine, an amino acid ratio that’s important for suppressing herpes.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Clinical evidence presented in 2018 points to the use of omega 3-chain fatty acids as a potentially effective way to help your immune system manage chronic inflammatory conditions, which may exacerbate herpes outbreaks. Salmon, mackerel, flaxseed, and chia seeds are rich in these fatty acids.

Vitamin C

Research has indicated that vitamin C can efficiently speed the healing of herpes outbreaks, especially when combined with antiviral medications. It may also help prolong the time between outbreaks.

Colorful fruits and veggies like bell peppers, oranges, and strawberries are rich in vitamin C. Mango and papaya fruits also contain the vitamin.


Two small studies indicate that zinc may reduce the number of herpes outbreaks you have while also giving you a longer time between outbreaks. You can increase the zinc in your diet by eating eggs, chickpeas, oats, and beef.

Taking zinc supplements may also help with a herpes outbreak.

Vitamin B12

A study published in 2021 suggests that a vitamin B12 deficiency may increase the risk of reactivating the herpes virus.

B12, one of eight B vitamins, may boost your immune system to keep the herpes virus at bay, and it also supports healthy cell growth essential for healing during an active outbreak.

You can get B12 from beef, tuna, fortified cereal, eggs, dairy products, or supplementation.

Avoid acid

Acidic foods may irritate cold sores before they’re healed. Fruit juice, beer, sodas, and processed foods all tend to be more acidic. Consider limiting these foods and substituting water or sparkling seltzer instead.

Avoid L-arginine

Some research suggests avoiding foods that contain high levels of arginine whenever you can, as it may trigger herpes and other viral diseases. Almonds, peanuts, spinach, and chocolate are particularly rich in this amino acid. If you’re looking for alternate ways to satisfy your sweet tooth, you might consider a vitamin-dense option like dried mango or apricots.

Avoid or limit processed or preservative-heavy foods

A 2021 research review suggests that processed food containing synthetic preservatives may contribute to oxidative stress. Keeping oxidative stress levels low has been shown to promote healing during outbreaks.

To avoid highly processed foods, consider limiting or removing freezer meals, refined grain products, and candy from your eating plan.

Try out these products

  • Thorne Zinc Picolinate 30 mg capsules: Thorne supplements are made in a lab that meets regulations and standards of the National Science Foundation and the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Because of its high quality standards and purity of ingredients, Thorne’s Zinc Picolinate capsules are considered some of the best zinc supplements on the market.
  • Nordic Naturals Vitamin B Complex capsules: Nordic Naturals is another brand name known for their high quality products that have undergone specific testing to make sure their products meet the standards and specifications of labs. This capsule in particular contains all eight B vitamins.
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Supplements may help in supporting your immune system and helping your body suppress outbreaks.

But it’s important to note that the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements like drugs. It’s important that you always talk with a healthcare professional before taking any supplement. Some supplements may interact with over-the-counter and prescription medications.


Lysine is an amino acid that supports digestion and healthy cell growth. Research into lysine’s potential to prevent herpes simplex outbreaks is ongoing.

A 2017 review of research indicated that supplementary doses of lysine may help decrease the length of outbreaks and recurrence, which suggests a lysine-rich diet may help. Lysine can be found in many foods, including avocados, quinoa, beans, and some nuts and seeds.


Older in vitro research indicated that certain strains of probiotic bacteria can help generate an immune response against herpes infections. Probiotic supplements containing strains of Lactobacillus rhamnosus have shown promise in improving immune function. Taking probiotics may also strengthen your immune system in other ways.

Try this supplement

  • Culturelle Daily Digestive Probiotic (contains Lactobacillus rhamnosus): This probiotic is one of the best overall probiotics on the market due to its formulation and high CFU count (which refers to the total number of active microorganisms). In addition to being audited regularly by the National Science Foundation International, Culturelle has strict and rigorous quality and safety standards and has been included in some studies.
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When used correctly, certain topicals might help speed up healing, relieve itching, and numb discomfort. But more research is needed in this area.

Lemon balm (in a diluted cream form) is one of the few ingredients with some scientific data that indicates it could help fight herpes infection and reduce symptoms. However, these were not human studies, so it’s not clear how effective lemon balm would be in treating herpes infection in people.

Many topical ingredients, such as essential oils, can irritate the skin if they’re not diluted. Carrier oils, like jojoba and coconut oil, should be used for all essential oils and for the plant extract witch hazel.

Essential oils can also be used for aromatherapy. However, be mindful of your surroundings if you’re using aromatherapy. Some essential oils are toxic to pets and can be dangerous for pregnant people.

Essential oils should never be ingested. Some topicals, such as aloe vera or manuka honey, are not essential oils and can be applied to the skin directly.

Be sure to do a patch test before performing a full application. This is the only way to ensure that you’re not applying an irritating substance to an already sensitive area.

You can do a simple patch test by following these steps:

  1. Apply the topical to your forearm.
  2. Wait 24 hours.
  3. If you experience any itching, inflammation, or other irritation, wash the area thoroughly and discontinue use.
  4. If you do not experience any adverse symptoms within 24 hours, it should be safe to apply elsewhere.

For more information on these natural products, read on.

Aloe vera

Aloe vera has wound-healing properties. In-vitro studies point to its antiviral ability to soothe and heal herpes lesions. However, more human research is needed to prove its effectiveness.

Tea tree oil

In lab studies, tea tree oil, a potent antiviral ingredient, has shown promise in preventing recurrent herpes outbreaks. Experts note that more research is needed to better understand its antiviral effects. Tea tree oil must be diluted with a carrier oil before using it on a cold sore or genital herpes.

Witch hazel

Witch hazel has proven antiviral properties. Some people can use pure witch hazel without experiencing irritation, while others find that it stings. If you have sensitive skin, use witch hazel diluted in water or a carrier oil.

Manuka honey

Research from 2017 indicated that topical application of manuka honey may be as effective as topical acyclovir at treating HSV-1 and HSV-2. Manuka honey can be applied directly without dilution.


Chamomile is well known as a relaxing and soothing herb. It can be used in teas, but some in vitro research (lab research — research that does not involve humans) also suggests that chamomile essential oil has soothing and virus-fighting properties that may help treat HSV-2. If used as an essential oil, it must be diluted with a carrier oil before applying it to the skin.

Ginger essential oil

Ginger essential oil is a well-studied virucidal agent that has the potential to kill the herpes virus on contact. If used as an essential oil, it must be diluted with a carrier oil before applying it to the skin.

Thyme essential oil

Thyme essential oil is another proven virucidal that can help fight the herpes virus. If used as an essential oil, it must be diluted with a carrier oil before applying it to the skin.

Lavender oil

Lavender oil may also defend against the herpes virus. If used as an essential oil, it must be diluted with a carrier oil before applying it to the skin.

Eucalyptus oil

In addition to its proven antiviral effects, eucalyptus oil has properties that can help soothe and promote healing. It must be diluted with a carrier oil.

Mexican oregano essential oil

Mexican oregano oil contains carvacrol, anantiviral ingredient that studies show can inhibit a range of viruses. It must be diluted with a carrier oil.

Licorice root

Scientific studies support the claim that licorice root’s active ingredient has both antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. These properties make licorice extract a promising treatment for herpes outbreaks. You can apply licorice root directly without dilution.


Echinacea extract may be an effective antiviral against both strains of herpes simplex, according to research published in 2019. It’s also an anti-inflammatory, which may soothe existing outbreaks. You can apply echinacea extract directly on the skin.

Neem essential oil

Neem is a plant native to India that’s well documented as a powerful antiviral agent. Pure neem essential oil is potent and may burn your skin. It must be diluted with a carrier oil.

Try these products

  • FirstHoney Manuka Honey Ointment: This ointment can be used directly on any herpes outbreaks. Keep in mind it is still a topical ointment and should only be applied directly on the skin.
  • Majestic Pure Ginger Essential Oil: Consider trying this essential oil to help with any herpes outbreaks. Be sure to apply directly on the skin. Also, note that this essential oil should be diluted as high concentrations of essential oils can be harmful and irritating to the skin.
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If you’re having an active herpes outbreak, you’re likely seeking ways to suppress, relieve, or eliminate your symptoms. However, home remedies have limitations, and they may not be a solution that everyone can use.

Here are a few important things to consider before treating herpes symptoms with any of the remedies on this list.

New infection

A healthcare professional should always supervise your herpes management plan. It’s important to talk with them before you try home remedies if any of the following apply to you:

  • knowing you’ve recently been exposed to herpes but not knowing for sure if you contracted the virus
  • believing you may have been exposed to herpes and you’re experiencing sores or genital warts but have yet to take a herpes test
  • testing positive for herpes with an at-home test but having yet to discuss your test results with a healthcare professional
  • knowing you’re immunocompromised


It’s possible to pass herpes to your baby during the birth process. Birth-acquired herpes, also known as neonatal herpes, is considered rare in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). However, it can lead to complications, such as developmental issues, damage to the baby’s nervous system, and more.

Experts advise that new home remedies for an active herpes outbreak should not be tested during pregnancy. If you’re experiencing herpes symptoms or if there is a chance you may have developed a herpes infection during pregnancy, it’s important to speak with your OB-GYN.

Recurring outbreaks

A new herpes infection can lead to an outbreak that lasts several weeks. Afterward, sores tend to appear less frequently, and outbreaks do not typically last as long.

If you’re experiencing frequent outbreaks, it could be an indication that there’s an underlying immune issue. Speak with your doctor if you’re having frequent herpes outbreaks.

Here are some general tips for herpes outbreak management.

If you have a cold sore:

  • Do replace your old toothbrush with a new one.
  • Do load up on rest, vitamin C, and zinc supplements when your stress levels are high.
  • Do use a hypoallergenic, clear lip balm with SPF to protect your skin from sun, wind, and cold exposure.
  • Don’t share cups or drinks during the outbreak.
  • Don’t try to pop, drain, or otherwise interfere with the cold sore while it’s healing.

If you have a genital herpes outbreak:

  • Do wear cotton undergarments and loose clothing.
  • Do take long warm showers and keep the area clean and dry at all other times.
  • Don’t soak in hot tubs or baths.
  • Don’t have sex. It’s possible to transmit the virus even if you use a condom.

What triggers herpes outbreaks?

Many factors, such as stress, illness, menstrual cycles, sunlight, and certain foods may trigger herpes outbreaks.

Can you permanently cure herpes on your own?

There is currently no cure for the herpes virus. However, there are preventive measures you can take to help prevent an outbreak.

How long do herpes sores last?

Herpes outbreaks typically last about a week. Initial outbreaks may last longer, typically about 2 weeks.

What happens if herpes is not managed?

Herpes won’t necessarily lead to complications if not treated or managed. Some people don’t know they have herpes and live without symptoms or treatment.

Unmanaged herpes can lead to outbreaks of painful lesions, and having any kind of sexual contact during an outbreak can pass the virus to other people.

It’s especially important that a healthcare professional is involved in treating herpes infection in people who are pregnant or have a suppressed immune system.

Although home remedies can be a helpful complementary therapy, they are not a substitute for clinical treatment.

If your current treatment plan does not seem to be working, making an appointment with a doctor or other healthcare professional is an important next step. They can assess your symptoms and work with you to find the right treatment options like medication. They may also be able to recommend other complementary treatments.

If your symptoms worsen after trying a home remedy, discontinue use and talk with a healthcare professional.

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