Will Rubbing Alcohol Kill Cold Sores?

  • Medically reviewed by Emina Ribic (MD) on August 18, 2018. Written by Linda White (MD).

Rubbing alcohol has the potential to heal cold sore quicker. This is because the alcohol will dry out the fluid-filled blister. It can promote faster healing, but there are dangers. It will clearly sting, but the main risk is that the drying effects of alcohol will cause the site to crack open. If the scab falls off prematurely, this could prolong the recovery time.

Applying rubbing alcohol to cold sores works best when used in conjunction with a quality skin moisturizer. Although alcohol is NOT as effective as the leading OTC cold sore medications, its drying qualities may reduce the time that it takes for a fever blister to go away completely.

It can be used in combination with other ‘alternative’ treatments. Alcohol can be mixed with witch hazel or essential oils for cold sores, for example. You will find out more about this remedy and any safety concerns you might have, so read on to find out more.

Can Isopropyl Alcohol Kill Cold Sores?

It won’t happen instantly, but alcohol does have the ability to dry out your cold sores fast. It minimizes blister development and inhibits viral spreading when treated during the prodromal stage (when you experience an initial tingling sensation on the lips).

Although drying out a fever blister is not recommended, isopropyl alcohol is a workable solution for those who don’t have any OTC meds available when they feel the onset of a cold sore.

While there are pitfalls when alcohol becomes your treatment of choice, shielding the area from infection should be your primary concern. One way you can protect the area from harm is to apply moisturizer to the blister or problem area. Because alcohol will dry out the area in a rather harsh fashion, returning moisture to the skin is critical if cracking is to be avoided.

By using cold sore chapstick or pure petroleum jelly, you can seal the blister area from cracks and avoid a bacterial infection. As noted, drying out a blister is not ideal and goes against most treatment objectives.

To summarize...

  • Although proven cold sore treatments and prescription medications are the recommended option, isopropyl alcohol can heal cold sores quickly. Used for generations as a medical aid, it is a staple of most every family medicine cabinet.
  • It is often useful is due to its ability to dry out a fever blister. It can reduce the healing time, but it does have some risks.
  • To counteract blister and skin dryness, apply a topical moisturizer. Keeping the area moist will help rejuvenate the skin and serve as a barrier against bacterial infection of cold sores.

Is it Safe to Put Rubbing Alcohol on a Cold Sore Scab?

Applying rubbing alcohol on a cold sore is safe provided the proper measures are followed. Because a cold sore scab is very sensitive, a certain level of skill is required.

As it relates to the application process, a cotton ball or cotton swab is ideal. Regarding alcohol volume, just a dab of liquid on the cotton will suffice. The last thing you want is an abundance of alcohol dripping from the cotton, your lips, etc.

Regarding safety concerns, so much depends on the delicate nature of the application. Because a cold sore scab serves as a mini coverage plate, attention to detail is critical. Just the slightest bit of direct pressure could cause the scab to shift or peel. If this were to occur, then the natural healing process would be interrupted. That alone could add days to the recovery cycle itself.

The objective is the ability to dab enough alcohol on the scab without disruption. Just a simple “pat and go” is the goal. Another aim should be to avoid contact with any surrounding skin that is cracked or tender. If alcohol penetrates compromised skin, you’ll experience a burning sensation.

To recap...

  • It is safe to apply rubbing alcohol to a cold sore scab. The only potential risk is the delicate nature of the application.
  • The primary objective is to dab a small amount of alcohol onto the scab without any disruption. No pressing or pulling of the scab.
  • Steer clear of compromised skin if possible. Stay on the scab.

When Should I Apply Rubbing Alcohol to Fever Blisters?

The ideal time to apply rubbing alcohol to your fever blisters is at the first sign of trouble. Noted as the prodromal/ tingle stage, the initial sensation that a cold sore outbreak is in the works is the best time to be proactive.

The reason that applying rubbing alcohol during the earliest symptom is essential is just due to the lack of pain. If you can apply treatment to the lip before a blister ever forms you will not have to worry about pain, infection, and general delicate application concerns.

To summarize...

  • Applying rubbing alcohol during the prodromal/ tingle stage is recommended for all forms of treatment. Classified as the earliest cold sore symptom, that first lip sensation is your cue to be proactive.
  • This can eliminate pain. During the prodromal stage, your lip will be free of blisters. This can allow you to freely apply medication (of any type) to the area and it eliminates any concerns of infection or compromising tender skin impacted by existing sores.

Can I Combine Rubbing Alcohol and Witch Hazel?

The benefits of both rubbing alcohol and witch hazel can be combined to encourage faster healing. Long since used as a remedy to reduce swelling and inflammation, witch hazel can aid in the healing of cold sores.

Similar to alcohol, that witch hazel will dry out your fever blister. While this can lead to the diminishing of a sore, this can also present potential issues. Lack of moisture, lip cracking, and the potential for infection are just a few of the side effects. Keep this in mind before you decide to use witch hazel or combine it with rubbing alcohol.

How to use rubbing alcohol to dry out fever blisters

Are There Any Adverse Side Effects? 

While effective, rubbing alcohol can present a series of risks. It is for this reason that you should apply extreme caution.

Although the drying out of a blister can lead to its expiration, that dryness can cause issues. Problems such as skin cracking can arise that can lead to infection. Additionally, if dryness takes place before the dissolving of the blister, viral spreading can occur.

Other complications include but are not limited to the following:

  • Burning of the skin during the application process.
  • Potential allergic reaction.
  • If alcohol is applied during the scab stage, the entire area could crack. This could result in infection and immediate pain.

Some people apply perfume or aftershave to cold sores due to the alcohol content. The risk is perfume sensitivity.

Which Over-the-Counter Treatments Are Recommended?

Seek OTC treatments with a proven track record. While no medication is foolproof for everyone, there are specific meds that are a cut above the rest.

Selections such as Abreva, Campho-Phenique, and HERP-B-GONE and just four of many positive options. These treatments are easy regarding both availability and application. In many cases, you will see positive results within days.

The safest and most effective options will always be FDA-approved cold sores creams and gels.

To summarize...

  • Trying to reinvent the wheel can be a dangerous game. Unfortunately, many people try this tactic when dealing with cold sores. Using a proven over-the-counter treatment is the safest and most effective course of action.
  • Although the treatment market is more extensive than ever, some medications stand above the rest. These options will provide fast and effective cold sore relief without the threat of harsh side effects.

Conclusion

In the myriad of remedies, rubbing alcohol is an option that can be beneficial to healing. While it will likely introduce some side effects, skin dryness being one, alcohol is one of the better alternative home remedies.

Provided that you are responsible during the application process, you should see positive results. Just be sure to moisturize your skin following each application and watch for any skin irritation or discoloring. You always need to monitor how your body responds.

Although most cold sores heal naturally within 8-12 days, the desire for a quick fix is what keeps people on edge. The search for the “next big thing” is constant. Even though alcohol should never be “plan A” for cold sore healing, you could do worse if you don’t have anything else available. Our recommendation is HERP-B-GONE. It was created by doctors and has been known to heal cold sores in just three days.

To learn more about cold sores management, check: Stoopler ET, Sollecito TP. Oral mucosal diseases: evaluation and management. Med Clin North Am. 2014; 98(6):1323-52. doi: 10.1016/j.mcna.2014.08.006.

Last update on 2018-11-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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