Honey has been used for centuries as a treatment for wounds, but is honey an effective treatment against cold sores (herpes)?
Three scientific papers suggest it could be (also, see the reader testimonials below).
About Cold Sores
It is estimated that about 67% of the world’s population has the HSV-I virus that causes oral cold sores1.
Although most of these people only have cold sores 1-2 times per year, about 10% have 6 or more recurrences each year2.
Conventional medical treatment of cold sores usually involves application of anti-viral creams such as acyclovir or famciclovir, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents to reduce pain.
However, they require frequent application and may only get rid of cold sores by just one day sooner than if left alone4:
Cold sores around the mouth (labial herpes) are caused by the herpes simplex virus (there are two strains, known as HSV-1 and HSV-2).
They usually occur on the edge of the lips, and start with a tingling sensation. Sores then appear, which are fluid filled. Scabs can form a little later.
As I write, 3 published studies (in 2001, 2011 and 2021) suggest that honey could be effective for the treatment of cold sore symptoms.
This is interesting given honey's efficacy in wound care.
Al Waili et al 2004
In 2004, a study by Al Waili et al5 compared the use of honey with acyclovir cream for the treatment of recurrent labial herpes (cold sores around the mouth) and genital herpes simplex lesions.
This was a small study (16 patients – 8 with labial herpes; 8 with genital herpes), but patients were treated alternately with honey and then acyclovir – i.e. the patients would be treated with honey for one attack and then with acyclovir for the next attack.
It was found that for all the measures in the study, honey performed better than acyclovir by the following percentages:
Therefore, according to the study, honey generated better results than the acyclovir for
cold sores (the results for genital herpes were more significant but beyond the
scope of this page).
Ghapanchi et al 2011
In a 20116 in vitro study conducted in a virology laboratory, scientists analysed the effects of commercial honey on the cold sore virus using honey at varied concentrations (between 1% to 50%).
The virus was cultivated on laboratory microwell plates.
The researchers found that:
The researchers concluded that:
Naik et al 2021
In 2021, Naik et al3 examined the use of a product known as 'L–mesitran Slow'.
L–mesitran Slow is a ‘Medical Grade Honey’ (MGH) preparation combined with vitamin C and vitamin E, which are both antioxidants.
The study recruited 29 patients, most of whom experienced at least 4 episodes of cold sore each year.
During the trial, patients used the honey product to treat an episode of cold sore, followed by treating their cold sore with their usual treatment for their next cold sore.
Thus, the authors of the study describe the MGH combination product used as:
I received the following messages from readers. Thanks for sharing to Leanne and Corinne!
1. James C., Harfouche M., Welton N.J., Turner K.M., Abu-Raddad L.J., Gottlieb S.L., Looker K.J. Herpes simplex virus: Global infection prevalence and incidence estimates, 2016. Bull. World.
2. Cernik C., Gallina K., Brodell R.T. The treatment of herpes simplex infections: An evidence-based review. Arch. Intern. Med. 2008; 168:1137–1144. doi: 10.1001/archinte.168.11.1137.
3. Naik P P et al Medical-Grade Honey Outperforms Conventional Treatments for Healing Cold Sores—A Clinical Study Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2021 Dec; 14(12): 1264 Health Organ. 2020; 98:315–329. doi: 10.2471/BLT.19.237149.
4. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. How effective are creams and tablets for the treatment of cold sores? 2018 Jul 12. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK525789/.
5. Al-Waili N.S. Topical honey application vs. acyclovir for the treatment of recurrent herpes simplex lesions. Med. Sci. Monit. 2004;10:MT94–MT98.
6. Ghapanchi J., Moattari A., Andisheh Tadbir A., Talatof
Z., Pour Shahidi S., Ebrahimi H. The In Vitro Anti-Viral Activity of Honey on Type 1 Herpes Simplex
Virus. Aust. J. Basic Appl.Sci. 2011; 5:849–852.