Honey is ‘just as effective as treating cold sores as anti-viral creams’, scientists say

  • Participants in a large study used either anti-viral cream or honey on their lip  
  • Both treatments cleared the cold sore within nine days without side effects
  • Researchers said people who prefer natural remedies can be confident it works 

It’s already used as a topping on breakfast. 

But scientists say honey may also be able to fight cold sores.

Notoriously difficult get rid of, cold sores are normally treated with anti-viral creams bought over the counter.

But honey derived from a tree in New Zealand has been found to be just as effective at healing the blistering sore in a trial.

Medicinal honey could treat cold sores and is just as effective as anti-viral creams, a New Zealand study has found

Participants in a trial used either cream or honey, both of which cleared the pain and wound within nine days.  

The substance, produced by bumble bees, has a long history of therapeutic use with some studies showing it has antibacterial properties. 

The trial of 952 participants was led by researchers at the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand (MRINZ).

They compared treating cold sores with honey to anti-viral aciclovir cream, branded as Zovirax in the UK and Viraban in the US. 

The honey was derived from the native kānuka tree in New Zealand, before being sterilised and boosted with extra antimicrobial ingredients. 

All of the patients were asked if they wanted to participate when they went to one of 76 community pharmacies in the first 72 hours of their cold sore episode.  

They were then randomly assigned either five per cent aciclovir cream or the honey cream Honevo, which was mixed with ten per cent glycerin.

While applying their treatment five times daily, they were asked to self-record data for pain and cold sore progression.  

Their entries were monitored for 14 days or until the cold sore fully healed. 

The researchers found that those using the acyclovir experienced symptoms for an average of eight to nine days with an open blister for around two days.

Honey proved to be just as effective without any changes in healing time, the findings in BMJ Open showed.

The authors wrote: ‘Both treatments had similar efficacy across all outcome variables including time to healing, pain resolution and proportion of aborted episodes between treatment groups. Both treatments were considered highly acceptable by participants.’

Leading the research, Dr Alex Semprini said the results prove patients can chose an alternative option that is evidence-based.

He said: ‘This means that patients with a preference for natural and alternative medicines, as well as pharmacists who sell these treatments, can have confidence in the effectiveness of this kānuka honey formulation as a further treatment option for cold sores.’

The study had a few caveats, one being that the healing time for a cold sore was not compared with no treatment at all.

It was also funded by a New Zealand company called HoneyLab, whose product was tested. 

Herpes viruses cause cold sores. Around seven in 10 people in the UK are infected with the viruses, according to estimates.

Around 30 per cent of people suffer recurrent attacks of cold sores, usually caused by the type one virus. 

Cold sores on the lips most commonly get passed on by being kissed by someone with an active cold sore. 

They begin as a small red patch that blisters before bursting, leaving a raw area that scabs.  


Herpes viruses cause cold sores, which most commonly appear on the lips or genitals.

Around seven in 10 people in the UK are infected with the viruses.

However, only around one in three experience symptoms. 

In the US, around half of young adults are infected with the virus that causes cold sores around the mouth.

One in eight have the virus behind genital herpes.  

Cold sores on the lips most commonly get passed on by being kissed by someone with an active cold sore. 

They begin as a small red patch that blisters before bursting, leaving a raw area that scabs. 

Cold sores that appear on the face are most commonly caused by the herpes simplex type 1 virus.

Type 2 mainly affects the genitals.

It is rare for cold sores to spread away from the site they first appeared in.

And they are only transmitted by direct skin contact, not by sharing items such as towels or cutlery.

Oral sex is a common way for cold sores to pass from a person’s mouth to another’s genitals or vice versa.  

Once infected, sufferers may initially experience a fever and flu-like symptoms.

Cold sores can reappear if triggered by stress, illness, alcohol or too much sunlight.

This is because the virus stays in a nerve junction near the spinal cord. 

Many feel an itch, tingle or shooting pain before a cold sore reappears.

Antiviral medication may be prescribed if someone frequently suffers from outbreaks. 

Keeping sores moisturised can stop them cracking and becoming painful. 

Source: Herpes Viruses Association 

Source: Dailymail.

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