Home Remedies for Shingles

There are many different home remedies for the treatment of shingles (herpes zoster).

Some natural remedies are recommended by medical experts because they have scientific evidence supporting their efficacy. Others may have very little clinical research data to back the claims of their safety or effectiveness.

home remedies for shingles

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Baths

There are several types of therapeutic baths recommended as a home remedy for shingles, including:

Cool Water Baths

Soaking in a cool water bath (or taking a cool shower) for approximately 15 minutes helps to relieve some of the pain and itchiness caused by shingles. Bathing daily also helps keep the skin clean, lowering the chance of skin infection. 

Do not use harsh soaps and avoid scrubbing the blistered areas vigorously. Rather, gently cleanse the skin with a fragrance-free cleanser. After a bath, pat the rash dry with a clean cotton towel (avoid rubbing the skin aggressively with the towel). Launder the towel right away to avoid spreading the virus to others.

Oatmeal Baths

Oatmeal is known to help relieve itching; when oatmeal is combined with lavender essential oil, it is said to help relieve some of the burning and itching associated with common symptoms of shingles.

Water Temperature

The water should not be hot, because hot water increases blood flow, which can worsen blisters. That said, it’s also important to avoid ice water since extreme cold temperatures will increase the sensitivity of the skin.

Cool Compresses

Cool compresses can be used several times per day on shingles to lower:

  • Pain
  • Burning sensation
  • Itching
  • Inflammation

Be sure to use a clean washcloth each time you begin a new sequence of compresses to help prevent infection.

Some experts suggest adding a white vinegar solution to the cool compress to help soothe the pain from herpes blisters. Vinegar is very acidic and could burn your skin if not diluted properly; a safe dilution ratio is one tablespoon of vinegar to one cup of water. Diluting vinegar doesn’t guarantee its safety, so be sure to consult with your dermatologist before using vinegar for cold compresses.

Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is available in a cream form to be applied to the skin in the areas where itching, pain, and inflammation are present from the shingles rash.

A study found that chamomile cream was equal to hydrocortisone cream (0.25%) in treating some skin conditions. But a double-blind study found that chamomile was less effective than witch hazel for reducing inflammation of the skin.

Soothing Paste

A soothing paste composed of baking soda or cornstarch can be made by combining two parts cornstarch or baking soda to one part water. The mixture should be combined to form the consistency of a paste. It can then be applied to the rash for 10–15 minutes. This soothing paste can be reapplied several times each day as needed.

Lotions and Creams

Many different types of lotions and creams can be applied to the shingles rash to help alleviate discomfort, including:

  • Petroleum jelly: A thin layer of clean petroleum jelly can be applied each day, after washing the rash with warm water and a fragrance-free cleanser. After applying the petroleum jelly, cover the rash with a new, sterile, non-stick bandage. This should be done until the rash clears completely. 
  • Zostrix HP: This cream contains an extract of cayenne pepper called capsaicin. With ongoing use, it results in a lower pain perception level. Capsaicin can be given as a cream, four or five times each day for the treatment of postherpetic neuralgia (pain that occurs after shingles). Note, do not use capsaicin cream until the rash has crusted over. Side effects may include burning, stinging, or a warm sensation when applied to the skin.
  • Calamine lotion: Once the blisters have completely scabbed over, apply calamine lotion to help reduce the itchiness of the rash.
  • Antihistamine cream: This can be used instead of calamine lotion to reduce itching. Be sure to consult with your dermatologist before applying an antihistamine cream—like Benadryl cream—to open blisters.
  • Antibiotic ointment: This may help to treat the herpes rash if it becomes infected. It can be applied several times each day, but be sure to consult with your healthcare provider before using antibiotic ointment on open areas of your rash.

Diet

Shingles is associated with a weakened immune system. Therefore, it’s important to eat a healthy diet to boost your immune system in an attempt to help prevent recurrent outbreaks of the rash. 

Foods that help build a strong immune system and promote healing include:

  • Lean meats, whole grains, nuts, and legumes
  • Orange foods—such as carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, and pumpkin
  • Red foods—including cherries, grapefruit, red peppers, and watermelon
  • Green foods—such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, and other dark green leafy vegetables
  • Foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals—such as fresh fruits (including citrus fruits and those high in vitamin C) and vegetables
  • Foods that are high in vitamin B—such as brewer’s yeast, nutritional yeast, green leafy vegetables, grass-fed beef, seeds, fortified cereals, meat (particularly liver), eggs, and poultry
  • Fermented foods—such as kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, and kefir
  • Foods with healthy essential fatty acids—such as avocados, olives and olive oil, wild-caught salmon and other healthy fish sources, as well as fish oil supplements

Foods to Avoid

A study found that an overabundance of many substances (such as white sugar) lends itself to enhancing inflammation and lowers the body’s immune system response in controlling infections.

Foods that may impede healing for people with shingles include:

  • White sugar (and foods with a high content of sugar)
  • High fructose syrups
  • Processed/packaged foods
  • Trans-fat
  • Saturated fats
  • Salty foods

Eliminating or reducing the amount of these foods in the diet can help promote a healthy immune system while lowering inflammation.

Herbal Remedies

Studies have shown that at least 90 types of essential oils are recommended for the treatment of skin disorders (such as rashes). Some essential oils have antimicrobial properties that fight disease-causing pathogens (including 16 that fight viruses).

Shingles has been treated with several types of topical essential oils and herbal products including:

  • Topical licorice: This was found to inhibit the replication of the varicella-zoster virus (that causes shingles) in test tubes, but no human clinical studies back up this claim.
  • Gentiana scabra: This has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory action as well as the ability to resolve pain more effectively than traditional pain medications given for postherpetic neuralgia (a long-term complication of shingles, involving subsequent outbreaks of the rash).
  • German chamomile oil: This has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. German chamomile mixed with L. angustifolia in a 50:50 ratio, diluted in calendula oil, has been shown to improve pressure sores and leg ulcers.
  • Eucalyptus oil: This has anti-inflammatory properties. A study showed significant antiviral activity in eucalyptus oil against herpes virus infections (including the varicella-zoster virus that causes shingles).
  • Tea tree oil: This has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and wound-healing properties. Tea tree oil is the most studied essential oil for its antiviral properties, but most of the research is on herpes simplex. More studies are needed to show the safety and effectiveness of tea tree oil in the treatment of shingles.
  • Topical St. John’s wort: This has analgesic properties and has demonstrated antiviral activities against enveloped viruses.

Warning About Essential Oils

Essential oils can be harsh on the skin, and some can cause allergic reactions. Be sure to consult with your healthcare professional before using any of these oils, and note that you must dilute them in the proper ratio (with another type of oil, called a carrier oil) before applying to the skin.

A Word From Verywell

While there are home remedy options for shingles, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional and receive antiviral medications to help to lessen the severity and shorten the duration of the virus. 

If you have shingles and your pain symptoms do not subside after two or three weeks, or if your pain is not well managed, consult with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.  

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