Pimple on Lips or Is It a Cold Sore?

Know what are cold sores and pimples in detail? Read about their common causes and also how to get rid of them.
AuthorBy Wendy Gould

Last Updated: Mar 9, 2022

Pimple Vs Cold Sore - Image/Shutterstock

Getting painful, pesky blisters on your lip or around your mouth certainly isn’t fun.

Hence, if you have one, anyone will of course try to get rid of it right away.

However, it’s really hard to treat something if you are not absolutely sure what it is.

That is, unfortunately, usually the case with cold sores and pimples on the lip.

If you want to know more about these two very similar conditions, their causes and symptoms, their differences, and ways how to treat them, this article is perfect for you!

What Are Cold Sores?

Cold Sores on Lips

Cold Sores on Lips – Image/Shutterstock

Cold sores are tiny, red, fluid-filled blisters that typically form in a cluster at the edge of your bottom lip or the surrounding areas of the mouth.

A tingling, burning, or itching sensation may be felt before these blisters form.

In around two to four weeks, the blisters may pop, develop a crust, and go away.

Cold sores are a result of a viral infection brought about by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), which has two strains.

The first strain, HSV-1, causes oral cold sores or cold sores in the mouth and lips.

The second strain, HSV-2, on the other hand, causes cold sores on the genitals.

However, exposure to both strains can cause cold sores in either location.

Causes of Cold Sore

According to Dr. Mary L. Gavin of Teen’s Health, the HSV-1 virus is very common and may be acquired as a child or from direct contact or a kiss from someone who has the virus.

Dr. Gavin adds that people with the virus do not always have sores.

However, they are still carriers.

The virus stays in their bodies, and although there is no permanent cure, the virus can stay dormant or inactive in some people.

When you get infected with HSV-1, it goes through the skin into a ganglion, a group of nerve cells.

Then, the virus migrates here and “falls asleep”. Now and then, the virus may “wake up” or reactivate and cause cold sores.

Even though no one knows for sure how or what causes the virus to reactivate, cold sores may be due to:

  • Other infections.
  • Exposure to sunlight.
  • Stress and lack of sleep.
  • Illness or Fever.
  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy and menstruation.
  • Cold weather.
  • Tooth extractions.
  • Injury.
  • Dehydration.
  • An immune system deficiency.
  • Certain foods and drugs.

Further, the herpes virus is highly contagious and can easily spread through skin contact.

The different ways that you can acquire it include:

  • Oral sex
  • Kissing
  • Sharing eating utensils, razors, or towels
  • Sharing drinks

What Are Symptoms of Cold Sores?

Symptoms of Cold Sores on lips

Symptoms of Cold Sores on lips – Image/Shutterstock

The signs and symptoms of cold sores caused by the herpes simplex virus were described in an article published by the American Academy of Dermatology as:

  • Burning, tingling, and itching: The first thing that you will notice is burning or pain in your lip. This may continue for a day or so before any blisters appear.
  • Sores: Next, small clusters of painful, fluid-filled blisters form or appear, usually on the outer edge of the lips.

According to Dr. Joshua Zeicher, a dermatologist at the Mount Sinai Hospital, these blisters may pop or break open to release the fluid. Then, a yellowish crust is formed before healing.

The blisters may appear for about 2 to 20 days after contact the first time and may last anywhere between 7 and 10 days.

With HSV-1, the blisters usually appear on the face, lips, or tongue but may do so anywhere on the skin.

HSV-2 or genital herpes blisters typically form on the buttocks, anus, vagina, or penis.

Some may even have sores inside the vagina.

Like the first type, this can also appear on skin anywhere.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Flu-like symptoms (muscle aches, fever, swollen lymph nodes)
  • Painful urination in women
  • Eye infections characterized by a gritty feeling, light sensitivity, pain, or discharge in the eyes

Treatment for Cold Sores

Mayo Clinic staff and the American Sexual Health Association enumerate the following antiviral creams and tablets that your doctor may prescribe to you to help get rid of your cold sores and speed up the healing process:

Antiviral pills:

  • Acyclovir (Xerese, Zovirax)
  • Famciclovir[2] (Famvir)
  • Valacyclovir (Valtrex)

Ointments for reducing cold sore symptoms:

  • Acyclovir[1] (Zovirax ointment)
  • Docosanol[3] (Abreva)
  • Penciclovir (Denavir)

Generally, pills perform better than creams.

Also, antiviral injections may be administered for severe cases.

Other over-the-counter creams that contain benzocaine[4] or lidocaine can also be applied for relieving pain and tingling.

Do’s And Dont’s For Cold Sores

Do’s And Dont’s For Cold Sores

Do’s And Dont’s – Image/Shutterstock

The National Health Services UK and Dr. Gavin from Teens Health advise the following do’s and don’t’s as remedies for cold sores and to prevent viral spread:

  • Do drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Do eat soft, cool foods instead of salty and acidic foods.
  • Do use an antiseptic mouthwash if brushing your teeth hurts.
  • Don’t rub in a cold sore cream but dab it on instead.
  • Do wash your hands with water and soap before and after applying cold sore medication.
  • Don’t touch active cold sores as this can spread the virus.
  • Don’t share cold sore creams, towels, eating utensils, drinks, razors, and other stuff that gets close or direct contact with your cold sores.
  • Don’t touch your eyes after handling your cold sores. The virus can cause a lot of damage to the eyes which can even lead to vision loss.
  • Do wash your hands as often as possible whenever you have cold sores or are around someone who has it.

The American Sexual Health Association adds the following do’s and don’t’s:

  • Recognize and avoid common factors that trigger virus activation such as emotional or physical stress, poor diet, illness, prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV rays, steroids, surgical trauma, and friction.
  • Do learn how to manage your stress
  • Do get adequate nutrition, exercise, and rest

What Is a Pimple?

A pimple is a tender, red bump that may or may not have a white or black tip.

Pimples can form anywhere on your face such as at the edge of either of your lips or anywhere in your body.

A pimple is a very common skin lesion whose outbreak results in acne, which is a skin disorder.

It is caused by the overproduction of sebum, an oily substance, by the skin’s oil glands.

Excess sebum clogs the pores and facilitates the rapid growth and reproduction of the bacteria P. acnes. (Women’s Health- Acne, 2009)

This usually occurs on the face, back, chest, shoulders, or neck. Although not a serious health threat, severe acne may lead to permanent scars and disfigurement.

Pimples may heal slowly on their own, but once the bumps start to go away, other new ones may develop.

Pimple breakouts or acne are the most common among teenagers, affecting around 70% to 87%. (Mayo Clinic Staff – Acne Definition, 2015)

The American Academy of Dermatology says that acne should be treated and not left to heal on its own because:

  • It can leave permanent scars and dark marks on the skin when left untreated.
  • It can affect one’s self-esteem.
  • Many treatments are effective and available.

Causes of Pimples

The possible causes of pimples on the lips include:

  • Hormonal changes or imbalances.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases like herpes may result to similar blisters.
  • Oily skin type.
  • Use of cheap, low quality, contaminated or expired makeup products like lipsticks, moisturizers, lip balms, and glosses.
  • Allergic reactions to certain lip care products.
  • An unhealthy diet composed mainly of greasy or fatty foods.
  • Poor personal hygiene.
  • Medications containing lithium or corticosteroids.
  • Physical, emotional, or mental stress.
  • Genetic Factors.
  • Fluoride in toothpaste.
  • Smoking.
  • Pollution and other harsh environmental conditions.

What Are The Symptoms of Pimples?

According to Mayo Clinic Staff, pimples can be classified among the various signs and symptoms of acne.

Pimples are papules containing pus at their tips. Other symptoms of acne may include:

  • Whiteheads and blackheads
  • Papules which are small red and tender bumps on the skin
  • Nodules or solid, large, often painful lumps
  • Cystic lesions or painful, pus- or fluid-filled lumps beneath the skin surface

Treatment for Pimples

Home remedies and self-care tips for pimple treatment include:

  • Applying hot and cold compress
  • Applying lemon or lime juice
  • Administering a benzoyl peroxide[5]-based topical treatment
  • Drinking enough water and eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • Here are some of the other ways that you can heal or get rid of pimples on your lips:

  • Topical ointments and medications
  • Carrying out a proper skincare routine
  • Exfoliation of the lips to remove dead skin cells, oil build up, and product residues

The American Academy of Dermatology (in Acne: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Outcome) also suggests:

  • Antibiotics to fight bacterial infection and reduce inflammation
  • Birth control pills or other medications that help normalize hormonal balance
  • Isotretinoin, the sole treatment that works against all causes of acne and pimples
  • Laser and light therapy
  • Chemical peels
  • Acne removal or drainage and extraction

Do’s And Don’t’s For a Pimple

Experts recommend the following do’s and don’t’s when you have a pimple or pimples around and near your lips:

  • Don’t touch your pimples.
  • Don’t lick your lips as it can dry them out.
  • Do apply an ointment containing salicylic acid every few hours.
  • Directly apply a calamine lotion on the pimple using a Q-tip.
  • Don’t wash your face with hot water, but use warm water instead.
  • Do not use any type of makeup or cosmetics until your pimples have gone away.
  • Do wash or wipe your lips after eating greasy or oily food.
  • Do not stress yourself too much and try to destress every once in awhile
  • Do not use expired or old makeup.
  • Buy cosmetic products only from reputable brands.
  • Do not share makeup especially lipsticks or lip glosses.
  • Do not pop your pimple without proper tools and knowledge.
Difference Between Cold Sore And Pimple

Difference between Cold Sore and Pimple

Cold Sore Vs Pimple: Difference Between Cold Sore And Pimple:

So how do you tell the difference between a pimple and a cold sore?

Here are the main differences:

1. The first thing that makes pimples on the lip (pimple vs cold sore) different is that this can appear almost anywhere in the body and simultaneously in different places while cold sores only usually appear in the mouth, around the lips, or on the genitals and in one place at a time.

2. Pimples may be painful to the touch while cold sores only tingle, burn or itch.

3. Pimples only have a single blackhead or whitehead while several tiny cold sore blisters appear in clusters.

4. Cold sores may be accompanied by other symptoms like fever, more serious infections around the mouth, or swollen glands that do not apply to acne.

5. Cold sores do not contain pus but only contain fluid.

6. Popping a pimple may result in another pimple in the same area, but popping cold sores will cause the skin to hurt, burn, and possibly even spread to other people.

7. Although both may be caused by hormonal changes, cold weather and illness can lead to cold sores but are not associated with pimples.

8. Cold sores are more likely to be dark pink in color while pimples may appear redder, raised, and with whiteheads or blackheads.

9. When pimples grow bigger, they become inflamed. When cold sores swell and become more painful.

10. Pimples appear when pores are clogged, so they cannot appear on the lip itself but only along the lipline. Cold sores, on the other hand, usually appear on the lip itself.

Although the two conditions seem very similar to each other.

Simple observations can help you identify cold sores from pimples on the lip.

Once you have your condition diagnosed or when you have established which of these is the culprit for your problem.

Based on the appearance, symptoms, and probable triggers or causes, administering remedies and treatment methods will be easier.

You can choose from treatments for both that range from home remedies, lifestyle changes, over-the-counter drugs, prescription medicines, and therapeutic procedures.


Que: How do I know if it’s a pimple or cold sore?

Ans: Cold sores can itch, burn, or tingle. Pimples may be painful to the touch also have a single blackhead or whitehead.

Que: What causes pimple on upper lip?

Ans: Lip pimples can be caused by lipstick, sweat, poor diet, and hormonal changes. If you have a lip pimple, don’t squeeze it, apply salicylic acid, and use a warm compress.

Que: How to get rid of pimple on lip line?

Ans: To get rid of pimple on lip line

  • Hold a cold compress against your pimple for 1 minute twice a day to help reduce inflammation.
  • Castor oil offers several health benefits that may help get rid of lip pimples.


Once available treatments are applied and do’s and don’t’s are followed, you can say goodbye to your lip pimple or cold sores as soon as possible!

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