Do I Have a Pimple or a Cold Sore?

Posted June 1, 2012 by admin in Cold Sore Facts

Has a small red bump suddenly appeared on your face? Is it near to your mouth, chin or nostril?

If you don’t normally suffer from skin problems you may be wondering if it’s just a pimple or a cold sore. There is a big difference between the two.

There is a massive difference between pimples and cold sores, but because of their semi-similar appearance there can be confusion between them.


What do Cold Sores look like?

Both cold sores and pimples can appear near to the mouth and they can appear quite similar in their early stages, which can cause misunderstanding. However, they will feel very different and they will also change in appearance as they develop.

Working out whether you’ve got a pimple or a cold sore is relatively easy. Pimples are caused from a blockage in your skin pores. They’re usually red in colour and will develop a white head.

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and look like blisters (they are sometimes also known as fever blisters). Before a cold sore shows up, you will often feel a tingle like sensation under the skin where it will eventually break out. This tingle is a clear symptom that you have a cold sore and not a pimple.

The herpes simplex virus is highly contagious, and it’s likely that you’ve been infected by a kiss from a friend or relative, or from sharing a drink, towel or eating utensils.

Before a cold sore appears, you will usually feel a tingling sensation in your skin.

If you felt a tingling sensation before the red bump appeared, then’s it’s likely that it is a cold sore.

Pimples, in contrast, are red in colour and will grow a white top a few days after they first appear. They are caused by a blockage in a skin pore. They are especially frequent in teenagers, because of changes in the hormonal system which result in oily skin.

The image on the left below is a pimple, while the image on the right is a cold sore.


Where do cold sores appear?

Cold sores most often appear on the lips, around the mouth and less often around the nostrils and inside the mouth. They can also sometimes appear on the cheeks.

Pimples are caused by the blockage of a skin pore and can appear anywhere that hair follicles are present. This means that they can’t appear directly on a person’s lips, so if you have a red bump on your lips it is in all likelihood a cold sore.


Cold Sores are More Painful Than Pimples

Cold sores are usually much more painful than pimples. Of pimples can be quite painful too, but there is a big difference between the two.

The skin close to a cold sore will normally feel itchy and tingling in the early stages. The blister will then crack and ooze before scabbing, which is a much more painful process.


Who gets them?

The bad news is that anyone can suffer from cold sores and pimples. They are very common amongst a great deal of the population.

Pimples are most common in teenagers because of hormonal changes that take place during puberty and adolescence. The result is often oily skin and pimples.

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and are extremely contagious. The virus is easily transferred through kissing, skin to skin contact, and through sharing items like utensils, cups, towels and make-up. Once you have contracted the HSV-1 virus, it will remain in your body for life. It lies dormant in your system until activated by a trigger.

But even if you have the HSV-1 virus, you may never suffer from a cold sore. Some statistics show that as few as 10% of people carrying the virus will suffer from outbreaks.

Many cold sore sufferers are infected with the herpes simplex virus as children. Once infected, the cold sore virus stays with you for life. It will lie dormant in your nervous system until it is activated by a cold sore trigger and a breakout occurs.


What are some of the best ways to treat them?

You should never touch pimples and cold sores. We’ve mentioned before that the HSV virus is highly contagious, and touching a cold sore is the easiest way to spread it to other parts of your face and body.

Popping acne and zits can push the bacteria in the skin pore deeper, making it worse. And popping spots can bring about scarring, as well as spreading the infection to nearby areas of the skin. There are a range of treatment options available at supermarkets and chemists, as well as prescription medicines for those with more serious acne.



Even if you have the HSV-1 virus, it does not necessarily mean that you will suffer from cold sore outbreaks. Statistics show that only 1 in 10 people infected with HSV-1 will actually get a cold sore.

Before a cold sore appears, the skin will usually feel sore and tender with a slight burning, tingling or itchy sensation. A blister like sore will then appear, before cracking, oozing, scabbing an eventually healing. They normally last for 1-2 weeks. A more detailed article on the life-cycle of a cold sore can be found here: Cold Sore Symptoms

Pimples on the other hand, can be painful, but do not usually have the same level or physical discomfort.



Regardless of whether you have a pimple or a cold sore, the same rule applies – don’t touch it!

If you squeeze a pimple, you can force the bacteria blocking the skin pore deeper, making the infection worse. Bursting pimples can also lead to scarring of the skin. Pimple can be easily treated using topical creams. If you have persistent acne, your doctor can recommend other common forms of treatment.

Touching a cold sore is more dangerous – the blister contains a live infection of the herpes simplex virus, and by touching your cold sore you can spread the infection to other parts of your body. In this way it’s extremely easy to spread the infection to other parts of your face.

You can also transfer the virus to your genitals, and in severe cases you can cause serious damage to your eyes.

For a full range of cold sore treatments, check out our guide to Healing Cold Sores Fast – 8 Treatments that Work