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Is It Safe to Use Nail Polish Remover on a Cold Sore?

A small amount of low-fume nail polish remover is safe to use on cold sores away from the eyes.
It is theorized that cold sores dry out faster with the use of nail polish remover.
Using nail polish remover to treat a cold sore is usually considered a home remedy.
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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2014
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For most individuals, using nail polish remover on a cold sore is generally safe and should not cause any long-term ill effects. Those who have never used acetone-based remover should test an area of skin first to ensure a rare allergic reaction doesn't occur. Nail polish remover should not be applied too close to the eyes and it should not be ingested.

Using nail polish remover to treat a cold sore is usually considered a home remedy. Many individuals swear by this method, although there are similar tactics using less harsh substances. The premise behind this treatment is that the polish remover dries out the cold sore more quickly than would occur without using any form of treatment. It is important to perform this remedy correctly to avoid injury or skin irritation.

When using nail polish remover on the skin, it important to use a small amount. It is generally applied using a cotton swab, which can be dipped into the solution and then applied directly to the affected area. This is only recommended for areas of skin that are away from the eyes, genitals, and other sensitive areas. Genital herpes-related lesions, which are similar to cold sores and form due to a similar viral infection, should not be treated this way. This especially important when sores occur on the genitals themselves.

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A low-fume polish remover should be used, and treatment should be performed in a well-ventilated area. Hands should be washed thoroughly both before and after treatment to avoid getting remover in the eyes. The mouth should be kept closed during application to ensure that no remover is ingested. It is not a good idea to perform this treatment on a cold sore that is inflamed, oozing, or bleeding. If burning or pain occurs, the area should be rinsed with cool water.

While the risk of complications is low, using nail polish remover on a cold sore is not recommended by any particular medical association or establishment. Sores that do not clear up after a week or that become infected should be examined by a medical professional. Gentler treatments are available in the form of over-the-counter ointments and creams. Toothpaste, rubbing alcohol, and antibacterial ointments can also be used as home remedies to help cold sores heal more quickly.

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anon965237
Post 16

I get a cold sore on my lip every two years, like clockwork. They last two weeks from appearance to disappearance. The first week is a nightmare. Recently I had my first 'double header' - two cold sores, next to each other, three weeks apart.

The first, I treated with 100 percent alcohol (stung like crazy) and what I found out to be an expired tube of Zovirax. Two weeks.

Acetone sounds crazy, but I found a good, non-stinky brand at 80 percent strength with vitamin E. I carefully popped each of the tiny blisters with a sterilised needle and soaked up the fluid, then applied acetone for one minute and new Zovirax after with a cotton bud five times a day.

Two days later and I can barely see the sore unless I get really close to the mirror. It's dried up, stopped pulsing and I believe it's well on the way to healing. I've got to admit that I think a lot of home remedies are bunkum, but this is one that really works.

anon964423
Post 15

I get chronic cold sores -- at least one to four a year -- and I've been using nail polish remover for years and it is the best treatment out there -- trust me. It sounds scary but you get used to the smell and stinging because it truly has amazing results.

Years ago, when I got a cold sore, I used abreva and it caused the thing to nearly triple in size to literally the size of a dime. I got so desperate I tried nail polish remover and thank god I did. I have perfected my method over the years. I usually dip a Q-tip in the remover and hold it on the sore for a few minutes (burning the means it's working). Then I cut a small piece of cotton ball, dip it in the polish remover and place it on the sore with a band aid over the top. I leave that on overnight or during the day.

I've tried pure acetone and regular polish remover and they both work, but I seem to get slightly better results with the regular remover with protein in it.

I told my dad about this and he now uses this method too, even though he hates the smell. If you're willing to fork over the money, prescription drugs work pretty well too, but you have to take them within the first 24 hours of getting the cold sore to make it work, and, once you get to a doctor and then go to the drugstore, it might be too late to be seriously helpful. Hope this helps everyone out there suffering from cold sores. --Degree in biochemistry

anon351754
Post 14

@ feruze: I'm always amused by statements like this. Guess what? Water is a chemical, too. However, acetone is produced and disposed of naturally in the human body. Check online.

The argument that something comes from nature and is therefore safe is a fallacy, likewise that something made by humans (from ingredients found in nature) is unsafe. Try ingesting botulinum toxin -- that occurs naturally

anon351752
Post 13

Nail polish remover (acetone based) also has dyes, perfumes and other ingredients. I suggest going to the chemist and buying pure acetone if you want to try this remedy.

anon345099
Post 12

I use prescription at the onset (famciclovir and acyclovir), abreva throughout, and acetone to dry it up at the end.

anon324546
Post 11

This is the perfect remedy for someone who can't afford Abreva every time a cold sore rears it's ugly head. I have Celiac Disease and when I accidentally ingest gluten, I get a cold sore. If I put nail polish remover on it, it dries right up and never even erupts into a full blown sore!

I would rather use Abreva if I can afford it but if not, a day of pain (the sting from the acetone) is totally worth trading a week of pain and embarrassment.

anon318654
Post 10

Since nail polish remover could be dangerous, I thought of using mouthwash since it is safer to be digested, and it worked wonders. I got rid of my cold sore in a day by putting ice on it then mouthwash as much as possible and whenever I remembered and at night I slept with toothpaste on it. Even though the day before, I had a full blown cold sore, the next day it was gone.

anon302229
Post 9

The skin is an organ and a porous one at that. If you've been around someone who eats a lot of garlic, you can smell it not so much on their breath, but coming from the pores of their skin.

Acetone is toxic. I doubt you'd drop dead using it, but why? Besides, there are all kinds of preventatives out there now, so you shouldn't even have to deal with treating a cold sore. L-lysine supplements are popular, the RX called Zovirax can work, and there's Abreva, although there are mixed reviews there.

I have a go-to remedy that's natural: Cold Sores Begone, which I've used for many years. It prevents a cold sore from surfacing when I apply it when I feel the tingle. But I know there are others out there that work similarly. If you want to try what I use, I buy it online. Again, don't put toxic stuff on your skin.

anon301902
Post 8

It works very well. Yes, it stings, but if you catch it early, much less so. The acetone dries up the blisters. A little dab will do you every hour.

amazing! And it's a lot less money than abreva.

burcinc
Post 7

I'm a little scared about this remedy but I'm desperate so I'm going to try it. Will it burn my skin?

discographer
Post 6

@feruze-- It sounds weird, but actually acetone works really well for cold sores. I used it the last time I had one and it healed it faster than any other remedy I had tried before.

I don't think it's dangerous to use nail polish remover on a cold sore because you don't need to use much. Just a little at the tip of a q-tip is enough. Do this a couple of times before going to bed and also apply some antibiotic ointment on it. It will get smaller by next morning if it hasn't disappeared already.

strawCake
Post 5

@JessicaLynn - That's a good idea. I've also heard there are supplements you can take to prevent outbreaks of cold sores (and other lesions related to viruses.) I think the supplement is called L-lysine, and I've heard some people have pretty good success with it.

Also, and I know this is easier said than done, but try not to get stressed out. I read somewhere that stress can trigger cold sore outbreaks!

JessicaLynn
Post 4

If you need to know how to treat a cold sore fast, just go to your local grocery or drug store pharmacy section. There are a ton of remedies out there for cold sore that are safe to use and clear them up fairly quickly! I see commercials for this stuff all the time.

sunnySkys
Post 3

@betterment - You're right, using nail polish remover for cold sores doesn't exactly sound safe. However, I can kind of understand why someone might get desperate and try this.

First of all, cold sore are very stigmatized in our society, even though lots of people get them. So, it can be very embarrassing to get a cold sore, so most people want them to go away as soon as possible.

Second of all, most people have nail polish remover already in the house. I can see the appeal of using something already on hand to treat a cold sore, rather than having to go to the store and buy something else.

betterment
Post 2

@feruze - I agree with you. Out of all the cold sore remedies, nail polish remover sounds like the absolute worst idea! In fact, I'm pretty sure most nail polish removers have a warning label about not getting it on your skin! I can't imagine applying that stuff to my skin on purpose.

bear78
Post 1

Why in the world would anyone want to use nail polish remover as a cold sore treatment?! That is crazy! It will burn very badly!

I just don't understand this because nail polish remover is a chemical, it is not natural and I don't think it should be used for anything other than removing nail polish.

If anyone is keen on using home remedies for cold sores, try something natural like tea tree oil or witch hazel. You could even use vinegar or salt water if you don't mind the burning.

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