5 Home Remedies for Shingles

These home remedies should provide relief during a case of shingles.

Shingles occurs when the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus, or VZV) reactivates. The illness causes a painful, itchy rash in a certain distribution on one place on the body. It's most common in adults over 50 years of age. In fact, about half of people over age 80 may experience shingles.

Woman putting an ice pack on her neck pain

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Shingles Symptoms

When the virus begins, you may notice pain and itching in the skin before a red rash appears one to two days later. 

Typically, small, water-filled blisters accompany the rash. Those blisters soon rupture and scar, healing and fading over a few weeks. That process can be extremely uncomfortable and painful, making even the littlest actions difficult. 

Other symptoms of shingles can include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Abdominal pain

If you think you have shingles, see a healthcare provider immediately, especially if it's on your face or near your eyes (which can cause lasting damage).

Home Remedies for Shingles

In addition to medical treatment, there are also home remedies that can help ease shingles symptoms. Here's what you need to know about minimizing discomfort and pain with items you may already have at home.

Calamine Lotion

Calamine lotion is an over-the-counter (OTC) topical pink lotion that you can use to treat mild itchiness, pain, and skin discomfort.

But remember that you should not apply calamine lotion to active blisters. You should only use the treatment after your skin forms scabs over any blisters to soothe discomfort and reduce the urge to itch your skin, Lauren Eckert Ploch, MD, a dermatologist based in Augusta, Ga., told Health.

Cool Compresses

"The skin can feel extremely sensitive to even the lightest touch. Keeping it cool with the use of cool compresses may help," Lindsay C. Strowd, MD, a dermatologist at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, told Health.

If your rash feels too sensitive for a cool direct compress, try applying a clean, cool, and moist washcloth several times a day for five to 10 minutes. Also, avoid contact with any open blisters, added Dr. Ploch.

Oatmeal or Baking Soda Baths

You'll want to care for your uncomfortable skin safely and effectively while it heals. Soaking in oatmeal or baking soda baths can soothe your skin if you have a shingles rash.

Those home remedies can temporarily relieve itching and be soothing, said Dr. Strowd. Look for colloidal (or ground) oatmeal or baking soda. Then, add either of those ingredients to cool bath water. Both ingredients can help calm itching and are gentle on the skin.

Grinding oat grain into a fine powder makes up colloidal oatmeal. It softens or soothes the skin because it contains fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. You'll find colloidal oatmeal at many places that sell health and beauty products.

Stick to Loose, Cotton Clothes

While your skin heals, it can feel extremely uncomfortable and even painful. Loose cotton clothing may help ease that discomfort. To fight the itch, pick clothing that is made with cotton or linen. These softer fabrics are more comfortable and aren't as tight on the body as other fabrics are.

You are contagious until the shingles rash clears. That's why dermatologists often recommend that you cover your rash to help prevent the spreading of the virus. Covering with cotton clothing will help you avoid infecting others, who could get chickenpox and later shingles.

Vaseline

"Covering the rash with a thin layer of Vaseline and then a large cotton bandage will protect the skin from clothing or other irritations," said Dr. Strowd.

That will also help keep you from touching the area and spreading the infection to others, added Dr. Ploch. The risk of spreading VZV to others is low if you cover the shingles rash. People with shingles can't spread the virus before their rash blisters appear or after the rash crusts.

Aim for plain, non-irritating products for sensitive skin. Apply a thin layer of Vaseline after washing once daily and cover with a non-stick bandage. You can also use petroleum or dimethicone products, said Dr. Ploch. 

Avoid using lotions or other topical OTC medications that contain fragrance, which can irritate the skin.

If Home Remedies Fail, There Are Medical Treatments

Your healthcare professional may start you on an antiviral medication, like:

  • Acyclovir
  • Valacyclovir
  • Famciclovir

You should take an antiviral medication as soon as you notice symptoms, which is when they are most effective. Those medications will treat the symptoms, shorten the length of the illness, and decrease the severity of the symptoms. A healthcare provider might also prescribe oral or topical medications to help ease any pain.

Shingles is contagious if you have active blisters. The virus usually spreads through the blister fluid, so keep it covered with a bandage, said Dr. Strowd. If someone comes into contact with your blister fluid and has never been infected with VZV, they can develop chickenpox.

The following people may have a higher risk than others of becoming infected with VZV and developing complications:

  • Those who have health conditions that weaken their immune system
  • Those who take medications that suppress their immune systems
  • Older adults
  • Those who receive cancer treatments, like chemotherapy
  • Pregnant people
  • Infants younger than 12 months

If you have shingles, avoid contact with those vulnerable groups until your rash forms a scab.

The Shingles Vaccine

There is a vaccine called Shingrix that is available to prevent shingles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends Shingrix for healthy adults over the age of 50 years. 

Also, the CDC advises that adults 19 and older with weakened immune systems because of disease or medical therapies (like steroids or chemotherapy) receive Shingrix.

You should get two doses, separated by two to six months, for the vaccine to be over 90% effective.

A Quick Review

Although most cases of shingles do not last longer than seven to ten days, shingles can be very painful. If you think you have shingles symptoms, see a healthcare provider right away.

Home remedies like calamine lotion, cool compresses, oatmeal baths, wearing loose clothing, or vaseline can also ease your discomfort and help end your painful symptoms early.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles (herpes zoster) signs and symptoms.

  2. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Shingles: Tips for managing.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to relieve itchy skin.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How shingles spreads.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treating shingles.

  6. National Library of Medicine. Varicella (chickenpox) caccine - what you need to know.

  7. American Academy of Dermatology. Shingles: Who gets and causes.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles (Herpes zoster) vaccination.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What everyone should know about the shingles vaccine (Shingrix).

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