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How does Vaseline get rid of cold sores?

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are small blisters that develop on the lips or around the mouth. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) and usually heal within 2-4 weeks without treatment. Vaseline, or petroleum jelly, is commonly used as a home remedy to help speed up healing of cold sores. Here’s a look at how it works:

What causes cold sores?

Cold sores are caused by HSV-1, a virus that many people are exposed to in childhood. Once infected with HSV-1, the virus lies dormant in the nerves cells. Certain triggers can reactivate the virus, causing it to travel back down the nerve fibers to the skin. This is when a cold sore outbreak occurs. Triggers include:

  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Illness
  • Menstruation
  • Sun exposure
  • Skin trauma

When the virus reaches the skin, it causes inflammation and the formation of fluid-filled blisters. The blisters eventually burst open, weep clear fluid, and then crust over to form a scab as they heal. The first outbreak is usually the most severe, and recurrences are typically milder.

Vaseline as a home remedy

Vaseline is often recommended as a home treatment for cold sores. It works in the following ways:

  • Moisturizes – Petroleum jelly acts as an ointment to moisturize dry, cracked skin. This helps prevent cracking and bleeding which can delay healing.
  • Protects – Vaseline forms a protective barrier over the cold sore. This seals in moisture and prevents irritation from saliva, foods, and drinks.
  • Reduces pain – The thick jelly helps numb nerve endings. This provides relief from discomfort and pain.
  • Speeds healing – Keeping the area moist and protected promotes faster regeneration of skin cells and collagen fibers.

The ointment effect of Vaseline essentially creates an environment that allows the cold sore to heal more efficiently. It also prevents spreading of the virus to other areas by covering the blisters.

How to use Vaseline for cold sores

Using petroleum jelly is simple and involves just a few steps:

  1. Wash hands thoroughly before touching the cold sore.
  2. Apply a thick layer of Vaseline directly onto the blisters and surrounding inflamed skin.
  3. Reapply 2-3 times a day after meals and before bed to keep the area protected.

Continue using the Vaseline until the cold sore has completely healed. Make sure to use a clean cotton swab each time to prevent contamination. Do not share Vaseline containers or applicators with others.

Does Vaseline get rid of cold sores fast?

While Vaseline can help speed up healing, most cold sores still take 2-4 weeks to resolve completely. How fast it works depends on:

  • Severity of outbreak – More severe blistering and inflammation takes longer to heal.
  • Location – Sores at corner of mouth healing slower than ones on lips.
  • Recurrent vs initial infection – Recurrent outbreaks tend to be milder.
  • Good wound care – Keeping area clean, moisturized and protected.
  • Medications – Antiviral pills speed healing if started early.

For best results, start using petroleum jelly at the first sign of tingling or redness before blisters even develop. Combining it with oral antiviral medication can help cold sores heal several days faster. However, even then it still takes 10-14 days for complete resolution in most cases.

Advantages of Vaseline for cold sores

Here are some of the main benefits of using petroleum jelly for cold sores:

  • Inexpensive – Vaseline is affordable and available at any drugstore.
  • Convenient – It comes in small tubes for easy application throughout the day.
  • Versatile – Can be used alone or along with other treatments.
  • Moisturizes – Helps prevent dryness and cracking.
  • Protective barrier – Shields sores from irritation.
  • Few side effects – Generally well-tolerated, low risk of reactions.

Risks and precautions

There are a few precautions to keep in mind when using petroleum jelly:

  • Avoid getting Vaseline in the eye as it can cause blurred vision.
  • Do not ingest Vaseline.
  • Watch for skin reactions like redness, swelling, or increased pain.
  • Do not share with others to prevent virus spread.
  • Consult a doctor if cold sores last longer than 2 weeks or have severe pain.

For most people, Vaseline is safe to use a few times a day for about 1-2 weeks until cold sores heal. Just take care not to use too much and stop if any worrisome reactions develop.

When to see a doctor

Consult a doctor if you experience:

  • Severe pain or swelling
  • Fever
  • Cold sores lasting longer than 2 weeks
  • Difficulty eating or drinking
  • Signs of a skin infection like honey-colored crusting, warmth, or redness
  • Recurrent outbreaks more than 6 times per year

Your doctor can prescribe stronger antiviral medication, pain relief, and rule out any complications. This is especially important if your immune system is weakened.

Other remedies for cold sores

In addition to Vaseline, other home remedies may help shorten how long cold sores last. These include:

  • Ice – Reduces pain and inflammation.
  • Tea bags – Has tannins that help dry out blisters.
  • Licorice root – Has antiviral and healing properties.
  • Aloe vera – Soothes irritation.
  • Lemon balm – Has antiviral effects.
  • Witch hazel – Astringent that dries out sores.

Over-the-counter topical ointments containing docosanol or benzyl alcohol may also help when applied at the first tingling sensation.

Medication options

Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication to treat cold sores, such as:

  • Acyclovir
  • Valacyclovir
  • Famciclovir

These are most effective when started within 1-2 days of the initial symptoms. The pills can reduce healing time by a few days.

How to prevent cold sores

To help avoid recurrent bouts of cold sores:

  • Use SPF 30 lip balm when outdoors
  • Avoid too much sun exposure
  • Do not share drinks or utensils
  • Reduce stress with relaxation techniques
  • Get enough sleep and eat a healthy diet
  • Take antiviral medication daily as preventive therapy

Not everyone with the HSV-1 virus experiences outbreaks. Avoiding triggers, managing stress, and boosting immunity helps keep the virus dormant.


Vaseline is an inexpensive and effective home remedy for treating cold sores. It speeds up healing by keeping the area moisturized and protected. While it can help reduce symptoms, most cold sores still take 2-4 weeks to fully resolve. See a doctor if your outbreak is severe, unusually painful, or lasts longer than 2 weeks.