Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/25/2020
The internet is full of all sorts of information about herpes and how to treat it. We've heard every story and all the DIY herpes treatments you can imagine, and while we always try to keep an open mind about peoples' preferences for natural remedies, we think it's worth making the the distinction: When it comes to the "Valacyclovir vs. Alternative Herpes Treatments" debate, there's no contest. Valacyclovir wins every time. And here's why:
Valacyclovir, or Valtrex, is one of the most widely used and highly effective drugs for HSV-1 and HSV-2, the two types of the herpes simplex virus. It’s usually the first medication doctors will use to treat herpes infections, from initial outbreaks of the virus to recurring oral or genital herpes.
Valacyclovir is an antiviral medication, meaning it works to stop the herpes virus from spreading to other cells within the body. Other herpes medications, such as famciclovir and acyclovir, work using a similar principle, helping to slow down or stop the rate of viral replication.
If you believe you may have been exposed to the herpes virus or already have visible outbreaks of cold sores or genital herpes, you should talk to your doctor about using drugs like valacyclovir to control it. These drugs are safe, inexpensive and highly effective.
There are also alternative treatments and remedies out there that many people claim can help to treat and improve the symptoms of herpes. Most of these treatments are unproven and few are supported by any real scientific evidence, meaning you shouldn’t turn to alternative treatments if you experience a herpes outbreak.
Despite this, many people claim that home remedies and alternative treatments can be effective in helping to treat herpes symptoms. In fact, we've even seen articles claiming they know how to cure herpes naturally forever (even though herpes is a virus with no known cure). Can't make this stuff up, guys.
We’ve listed some of the more popular alternative herpes treatments below, along with our thoughts on how they compare to real, proven medication.
We try to keep as open a mind about these sorts of things as possible, but fair warning: This one is a little biased on our part, mainly because we think it's important for people to know the truth—the whole truth and nothing but the truth—about their health.
Soaking in a warm bath is often recommended online as a home treatment for speeding up the healing process if you have genital herpes. The theory behind this home remedy is that the hot water in the bathtub “kills” the virus and helps the skin heal faster.
The “scientific” side of this claim simply isn’t true. Herpes is a viral infection that isn’t affected by hot water. It remains dormant in nerve tissue inside the body, meaning that no amount of warm bathing is going to have any effect on actually treating the virus.
As such, you shouldn’t expect a hot bath to reduce the amount of time required for herpes sores to disappear.
However, soaking in a warm bath isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you have herpes. Warm water can soften your skin and dull the itching and discomfort that often accompanies genital herpes, making it a good way to relax if you’re being bothered by a herpes outbreak.
As far as how to heal herpes sores faster goes, for that, you’ll need to take valacyclovir or another antiviral medication.
Another common home herpes remedy is baking soda. Online, some natural health websites advocate applying baking soda (or cornstarch, which is also claimed to have healing benefits) directly onto the sores that form during a herpes outbreak.
The idea behind this home remedy is that baking soda "dries out" herpes sores, eliminating the infectious fluid that can develop inside herpes blisters and speeding up the healing process.
Like most home remedies and natural cures, this one is part fact and part fiction. The reality is that keeping areas affected by herpes sores dry is a good thing, since it prevents bacteria from growing in the moisture and infecting the herpes lesions.
However, there’s no need to apply baking soda, cornstarch or any other kitchen products to your lips or genitals during a herpes outbreak. Instead, dry the area as you normally would and use your medication as prescribed by your doctor.
L-lysine is an essential amino acid that’s commonly sold as a dietary supplement. It has a range of health benefits and is frequently used by athletes to improve bone health, increase muscular strength and improve performance.
It’s also commonly recommended as a natural alternative to antiviral herpes medications such as valacyclovir.
L-lysine is an interesting substance. One study shows that it can reduce the amount of herpes outbreaks and severity of symptoms in people with recurrent herpes outbreaks. The study also notes that people who took L-lysine has a significantly reduced healing time.
Promising findings, right? Of the alternative treatments recommended for herpes, L-lysine has the most scientific evidence to support its claims. However, it’s worth noting a few things before considering L-lysine as an all-in-one herpes treatment.
First, the study listed above only included 52 people, of which only 27 were given L-lysine as a test group. While the study is promising, it definitely isn’t comprehensive evidence that L-lysine is an effective treatment for herpes.
Second, other studies haven’t produced similar results. For example, a 2015 study of alternative herpes interventions versus antiviral drugs “failed to find any evidence of efficacy for lysine” as a reliable treatment for herpes.
But the number one best-selling Lysine supplement on Amazon is chockfull of reviews from verified purchasers who claim it really does help alleviate their outbreak symptoms.
In short, while there’s promising data about L-lysine’s potential as a herpes treatment, there isn’t any definitive proof that it works. As such, it’s best not to group L-lysine in the same category as proven, FDA-approved herpes medications like valacyclovir, acyclovir and famciclovir. It does, however, sound like an excellent supplement to help boost immunity—which can certainly make you less susceptible to an outbreak.
Orange and red vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals that can strengthen the immune system and promote overall health. They’re also rich in antioxidants, which are often touted as playing a key role in wound healing.
For this reason, you’ll often find orange and red vegetables like carrots, pumpkins and red bell peppers featured on lists of the best foods for treating herpes outbreaks.
The reality is that while orange and red vegetables often are rich in nutrients, there’s no proof that they play any role in treating herpes. There’s also little substantial proof that antioxidants play a key role in wound healing—right now, studies claim that the science is “in its infancy.”
Like most home remedies and alternative treatments, this tactic isn’t completely devoid of any merit. Nutrient-rich vegetables are good for your immune system, making a herpes diet rich in healthy foods a good lifestyle choice if you have HSV-1 or HSV-2.
However, you shouldn’t rely on carrots or pumpkin puree to speed up the healing process for herpes sores. Instead, make a healthy, balanced diet a normal part of your lifestyle, but make sure you're treating your herpes with stuff prescribed to you by your doctor.
Numerous alternative health websites advocate the use of essential oils—oils containing aroma compounds extracted from plants—as treatments for herpes. Then again, those websites also claim things like essential oils can cure cancer. No, we're not kidding.
Some of the most commonly recommended oils include tea tree oil, myrrh oil and clove oil, all of which supposedly feature antibacterial and antiviral properties that make them ideal for treating skin conditions such as herpes sores.
Essential oils come in a dropper bottle, allowing them to be applied topically to genital herpes lesions and cold sores. Some alternative health websites also suggest essential oils for other herpes-related viral conditions, such as shingles (caused by the varicella-zoster virus).
While there is some scientific evidence to suggest that topical application of some oils can help treat the symptoms of viruses such as herpes, the total amount of research is limited, making it difficult to draw any real conclusions about whether or not essential oils actually work.
The largest review of essential oils and their impact on viruses and other pathogens also comes from EBCAM, or Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine—a journal that has been criticized for its ineffective peer review process.
In short, while there is some evidence to suggest that essential oils might be effective in treating viruses like herpes, none of the current studies are conclusive. As such, it’s best not to think of essential oils like tea tree or clove oil as a replacement for valacyclovir or other proven antiviral medications.
Finally, aloe vera is another common entry on lists of natural herpes cures. Unlike many other alternative treatments, aloe vera actually does have some medicinal properties that make it an interesting substance for people with herpes.
However, like many other alternative treatments, the effects of aloe vera in treating herpes sores have been more than a little overhyped, making it important to separate fact from fiction.
It’s true that aloe vera has some anti-inflammatory properties, primarily due to the small amount of auxin and gibberellins it contains. These two plant hormones are linked to anti-inflammatory activity in animal studies, making them a topic of interest for scientific researchers.
There are also specific HSV-1 studies indicating that aloe vera has an inhibitory effect on HSV-1 growth in cell cultures. However, the total amount of study data regarding aloe vera and herpes is limited, with none of the current studies into its effectiveness involving human participants.
As such, it’s fair to say that aloe vera might be of some value in treating herpes, particularly as a topical treatment. However, there’s no proof that it’s effective when used on humans with HSV-1 or HSV-2 infections, meaning you shouldn’t rely on it as your only herpes treatment.
Most of the alternative herpes treatments recommended online range from largely harmless to scientifically questionable, meaning you shouldn’t ever rely on them as the sole treatment used to manage an HSV-1 or HSV-2 infection.
While some, like taking a warm bath, can be useful for relaxing and managing the psychological effects of a herpes outbreak, most are unlikely to produce any benefits at all.
As always, it’s best to stick with a proven medication like valacyclovir, famciclovir or acyclovir for controlling herpes. Here is a more detailed comparison on these three specific drugs: Valacyclovir vs. Acyclovir vs. Famciclovir.
Our Valacyclovir 101 guide explains how antiviral herpes drugs work, as well as the potential side effects you might experience while using drugs for herpes treatment. However, we do have a list of supplements and vitamins for herpes outbreaks if you are still not yet ready to get a prescription medication.