Cold Sores VS Pimples- A Useful Guide To Spot The Differences!

    Cold Sore VS Pimple

    Although they might appear the same, there are differences between Cold sores vs pimples. Both appear quite similar and occurs around the mouth, however, the causes and treatments are different for both.

    Certain viral infections cause cold sores to occur whereas pimples occur due to acne and result from hair follicles that become clogged. Both skin problems are highly common in individuals of different age groups. In the United States, there are nearly 54% of people aged between 14 years to 49 years developed cold sores due to viruses. This is more than half the people belonging to this age group. While 80% of people between the age of 11 years to 30 years have acne breakouts at some age.

    This article discusses the differences and similarities between cold sores vs pimples along with some other useful information.

    Cold Sore Vs Pimple- Which Is More Common?

    cold sores vs pimples

    Cold sores occur from an infection caused by the virus herpes simplex or HSV whereas pimples are due to a skin condition known as acne which usually occurs when the hair follicles become clogged in the skin resulting in breakouts.

    The common area where cold sores vs pimples develop is different. Cold sores primarily develop around lips whereas pimples may occur on any part of your body that has hair follicles including your face. Although your lips do not have hair follicles, pimples might appear on the edge of your lips. When the pimples swell and become large, it may seem that their outer edges are present on the lips due to which many people might confuse between cold sores vs pimples.

    The key differences between cold sores vs pimples using which you can distinguish between the two includes:

    • Cold sores often cause a tingling sensation or burning sensation before they are visible but pimples occur without any warning.
    • Cold sores are usually painful. Although pimples might also be painful and feel uncomfortable at times, they usually do not hurt too much unless they have not become swollen or enlarged.
    • Cold sores start looking more like they are blisters after few days and may even ooze out whereas pimples develop a black, white, or yellow head after few days.
    • Cold sores can go on for 2 to 3 weeks. When pimples are large and swollen even they might last for few weeks but smaller pimples go within a week without discomfort.

    Let’s look at each of these in detail to understand the differences between cold sores vs pimples entirely.

    What Are Pimples?

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    Pimples are highly common and most people keep getting breakouts or pimples now and then. Some people cannot even get rid of them until proper medication and treatments are taken into consideration.

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    Hair follicles, present in tiny openings out of the skin called pores contains tiny glands that make sebum. Sebum is an oily substance. When these pores become clogged due to the accumulation of dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria, acne occurs. Clogged pores can also become inflamed due to which pimples develop.

    Acne may occur anywhere on your body where hair follicles are present, but the common area where it affects include your face, back, and chest. When the acne is mild. the pimples caused are typically small with closed sots of yellow, white, or blackheads. When the acne is severe, pimples may become red and large causing them to be painful. Very large pimples also known as cysts may contain pus and highly uncomfortable.

    Larger pimples may cause scarring sometimes especially when they are forcibly popped. Know that pimples are not a sign of bad hygiene. Let’s see the causes to know the main differences between cold sores vs pimples.


    Doctors still do not understand fully the causes of acne and pimples or their regular breakouts but one cause is overproduction of sebum. Acne is commonly seen when a person hits puberty because at this stage hormonal changes cause the skin to become more oily thus causing acne.

    Some of the possible causes that may lead to acne or pimples are pregnancy, Polycystic ovary syndrome, menstrual periods, steroids, medications, use of certain unsuitable cosmetic products, starting both control pills, or stopping birth control pills.


    Pimple occurring de to small acne can be easily managed at home using some tips and remedies like:

    1. Try to go for oil-free cosmetics and products when deciding on your skincare.
    2. Wash your face gently twice a day with a good oil-free face wash and remove all the makeup before sleeping.
    3. Shampoo your hair regularly as it often becomes oily.
    4. Use an acne treatment like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, many products contain both these chemicals.

    While it is quite tempting for people to pop a pimple, this usually makes your acne worse and also increases the scars on your face. It is best to wait until the pimple has completely healed on its own.

    For severe acne or acne that frequently develops on the same spot does not get cleared easily, you can use OTC treatments and medications after seeing your dermatologist. They might prescribe the following medications to get rid of acne- topical antibiotics to reduce microbes like bacteria on the skin that usually causes inflammation, Topical retinoid creams, oral isotretinoin, etc.

    The doctors might also assess the person for some other factors that might make their acne worse without them knowing like underlying inflammatory disorders or some hormonal issue in women like PCOS or PCOD. Treatment of all such conditions will automatically help with the treatment of acne.

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    Many people having acne breakouts constantly have come to notice that some additional conditions like stress, sweating, makeup, etc can trigger the breakouts of pimples. Once you start noting down the things you have used by keeping a diary, it may help to identify the possible triggers so that you can stop them.

    Here are some strategies you can also use to prevent pimple and acne breakouts from now on:

    • Avoiding rubbing and touching pimples frequently;
    • Avoid wearing hats, backpacks, or tight clothes.
    • Limit your exposure to irritants like high humidity or high pollution. Such an environment might trigger more acne.
    • Wash your face regularly especially if you have oily skin, make sure you are not scrubbing your skin too hard.
    • Try to apply minimal makeup or switch regular products with acne-free ones such as those products that describe “noncomedogenic” on the label.

    What Are Cold Sores?


    Cold sores are fluid-filled small blisters that are typically cased around your mouth or on the lips. They are also known as fever blisters, oral herpes, and herpes labial. They usually result from an infection caused by HSV.

    They begin with burning or tingling sensations in the skin. After these sensations, they appear a few days or a few hours later. Some people may develop a single sore but it is also common to have several blisters at once too.

    These blisters might change over a period f time eventually they crust over. They cause irritation, pain, and discomfort.

    You have read everything about pimples, let’s see what are cold sores causes and treatment to understand the differences between cold sores and pimples.


    There are two main types of HSV that causes cold sores, these are:

    • HSV type 1, is the main cause of sores and also causes genital herpes.
    • HSV type 2, is the main cause behind genital herpes but can also cause oral herpes or cold sore on the lips.

    It is entirely possible to be infected by the virus HSV when you come into direct contact with a person’s infected area. The virus can pass through bodily fluids like saliva. However, the most likely cause of transfer is after a col more breakout.

    Once a person becomes infected, the virus will still be present in their body for their entire life. Many people only have breakout once in their life and people who have it again finds that the first breakout is painful as compared to the other one.

    Some specific factors behind triggering the sold sore again may include stress, tiredness, illness, hormonal changes during menstruation, and changes in weather like strong sunlight exposure.

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    Cold sores usually do not need any treatment as they resolve after one week or two. There is no cure possible for this condition, unlike pimples which is another difference between core sores vs pimples. If they are highly painful, you can use prescription antiviral medication to treat them. These drugs might help lower the risk of breakouts again. They also reduce the spread of the virus HSV causing cold sores.

    Many antiviral areas are also present for cold sores, but severe causes do require a prescription by the dermatologist to get the condition in control. If the discomfort caused become really painful, you can use warm compresses and pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.


    You can reduce the risk of developing a cold sore or spread of the virus by:

    • Avoid kissing anyone that has cold sores around their lips or mouth.
    • Avoid touching someone’s lips if they have cold sores
    • Avoid sharing food or beverages for a while with a person having cold sores.
    • Abstain from having oral sex with anyone having cold cores around their genitals or mouth.
    • Use a condom for genital herpes
    • Talk to your sexual partner about cold sores, herpes, or any other infection.

    People with infection from HSV can easily reduce the outbreaks by taking precautions ad avoiding the triggers such as sunlight exposure. If you are taking antiviral drugs, make sure you take the follow-up directions before using them.

    When to Visit A Dermatologist or doctor

    It is recommended to talk to a doctor for cold sores vs pimples differences if you have developed any. They can provide advice and treatment both on acne as well as cold sores that might cause huge distress. Based on the treatments explained, you will be able to know the side effects and time period of treatment to get both conditions treated.

    If the doctors are also not able to differentiate between cold sores vs pimples, they might perform certain tests to know if there is another underlying cause of the breakouts.

    If the cold sores or pimples are causing high discomfort, pain, and stress, it is extremely important to visit your dermatologist.

    The Bottom Line

    Although cold sores vs pimples have a lot of differences as you have seen, they might appear quite the same when they occur near your mouth. It is hardly possible to determine in some cases, hence you need expert help.

    Know that cold sores occur from viruses and can be reduced (not cured) using pills and antiviral creams. Pimples often result after the pores have been clogged due to excess oil production or dirt inside the pores. Treatments may include retinoid creams, antibiotics, and face washes having key chemicals like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.

    Visit your doctor for long-lasting and stressful outbreaks of both conditions. These were some important points on cold sores vs pimples that you must know before concluding anything.


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