Cold Sore

Pimples Vs Cold Sores: Similarities, Differences, Symptoms & Treatment 2020

Pimples Vs Cold Sores
Pimples Vs Cold Sores

Pimples Vs Cold Sores: Stepping into adolescence gives way to the problems of pimples with many. But sometimes, blisters similar to pimples appear on your skin and mislead as pimples. These are cold sores that look similar to blackheads but have a different line of symptoms and treatment.

Let us discuss how pimples are different from cold sores in this article today!

Must Read: 7 Best Cold Sore Cream For Treatment 2020

Pimples Vs Cold Sores:

What are pimples?

Pimples Vs Cold Sores
Pimples Vs Cold Sores

A small and inflamed spot on the skin, which is generally firm is referred to as pimple. It is a papule or pustule which is most likely to occur around puberty when the hormone production changes. The size of these spots varies from small to large with the formation of pus at its center. Pimples arise due to bacterial infection of oil glands which are responsible for producing sebum.

What is Cold Sore?

Pimples Vs Cold Sores
Pimples Vs Cold Sores

It is an inflamed blister that arises due to herpes simplex virus which generally arouses near lips and mouth. These are also known as oral herpes or fever blister.

Similarities between Pimples and Cold sores.

Following are some of the similarities between the Pimples and Cold Sores:

  • Both Pimples and Cold sores appear on the face
  • Both of them does not require any specific treatment
  • Both of them are painful and generally causes due to infection
  • Both have redness in their surrounding area
  • Differences between Pimples and Cold Sores

Some of the core differences which help in differentiating between the two are as follows:

Pimples arise due to the localized bacterial growth while cold sores are caused due to Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV -1, HSV -2)

Blisters are mainly found on the face, back, shoulders and chest but cold sores occur only in the mouth and around the lips

They may or may not leave scars, but cold sores do not cause any scar formation.

They do not transmit from one person to another while cold sores can be easily carried by using the conventional creams, lotions and even facial towels.

Pimples constitute Pus in its center which is yellowish while there is a clear fluid in cold sores.

Some of the quick facts about pimples

There are many ranges of pimples depending on their severity from blackheads to cysts

When dead skin cells clog the pores, and sebaceous glands become over-active, pimples arise due to the infection

Pimples can be experienced at any age but most commonly occur at the time of adolescence or when the girl experience mensuration.

There is no substantial evidence that relates the specific foods with the occurrence of pimples. However, there are several foods that are recommended to avoid to reduce the risk of pimples.

What are the significant causes of Pimples?

Pimples Vs Cold Sores
Pimples Vs Cold Sores

The primary cause of Pimples is the clogging of skin pores due to dead skin and sebum. It leads to inflammation and infection as well.

  • Pimples due to sebaceous glands

Tiny skin glands which are responsible for secreting sebum are referred to as sebaceous glands. These glands are present all over the body except hands and soles. Inside the pores, these glands produce sebum. The new skin cells continue to develop while the oil skin sheds. Sometimes, the old skin does not shed and stocks with sticky-sebum causing pore blockage.

Pimples due to bacterial infection

The accumulation of dead skin cells in the pores also leads to bacterial growth. It also leads to the spots and inflammation due to the excessive reproduction of Propionibacterium. Pimples arising due to bacterial infection are not at all contagious.

What are the significant causes of Cold sores?

Pimples Vs Cold Sores

Cold sores are generally caused due to the herpes simplex virus (HSV 1 and HSV -2). It is a highly contagious and transmitting disease. Once the virus enters the body, it becomes inactive. Any trigger activating this virus leads to cold sores.

As the virus is highly contagious, it can easily transmit from skin-to-skin contact.

Some of the significant causes of spreading cold sores are:

  • Sharing razors
  • Kissing
  • Oral sex
  • Sharing beverages
  • Sharing lip balm or makeup
  • Eating in the shared utensils

What are the symptoms of Pimples?

Pimples Vs Cold Sores
Pimples Vs Cold Sores

As pimples are the result of clogged pores, there are specific symptoms associated with it which marks its occurrence as follows:

Reoccurring swelling and red spot on the skin causing inflammation and even pus in them:

  • Small red bumps which are tender
  • Formation of whiteheads and blackheads
  • Solid and painful lumps beneath the surface

What are the symptoms of Cold sores?

A burning sensation/inflammation begins on your lip or mouth with the onset of cold sores. This sensation marks the inception of cold sores and considered the best time for taking preventive measures.

Upon formation, a blister with a fluid and redness is visible, which is painful and tender. It remains for 10-15 days and can be present in multiple numbers. You can also experience:

  • Muscle Aches
  • Fever
  • Swelling in lymph nodes
  • Various stages under Cold sores

There are broadly five stages under cold sores as follows;

  • Before occurring a blister, itching and inflammation starts
  • After 24 hours of itching, a fluid-filled blister appears
  • The blister burst with oozing the fluids and turn into painful sores
  • The sore dries up with a crust formation and causes itching
  • The sore heels with the falling of scrub
  • Various stages under Pimples
  • There are typically five stages of acne as follows:
  • Before occurring a pimple, you will feel inflammation and itching around the hair follicle
  • A little red bump appears in a day or two indicating the clogging of skin pores
  • Dirt, debris, and oil leads to the formation of whitehead or blackhead
  • The pus starts developing
  • The pimple become large and painful with entering the last stage of its life cycle

What is the various risk involved with cold sores?

Pimples Vs Cold Sores

Once the herpes simplex virus enters your body, you are at the risk of experiencing cold sore. The virus is activated with factors such as:

  • Sun exposure
  • Stress
  • Dental Work
  • Cold, infection or fever
  • Menstruation
  • Eczema
  • Severe burns

The virus transmits in your body if you come in contact with the saliva of someone who is suffering from this virus. You might not experience the blisters visible, but it may be triggered by the factors mentioned above.

What is the various risk involved with pimples?

Pimples Vs Cold Sores
Pimples Vs Cold Sores

Pimples often lead to depression and low-self esteem. Sometimes, people want to withdraw socially, leading to anxiety and stress. Some of the factors which are highly responsible for triggering pimples and acne issues are:

  • Stress
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Diet
  • Certain medications

What are the complications involved with Cold sores?

Initially, when the virus enters the body, there are severe symptoms and complications as the body has not built the defense against the infection. However, these complications are infrequent and found in children as they have a weak immune system. Following are some of the complications which are caused due to herpes virus:

  • Prolonged high fever
  • Irritation or redness in eyes with(out) discharge
  • Difficulty in swallowing and breathing
  • Upon experiencing any or all the symptoms above, you should immediately see a doctor

What are the complications involved with Pimples?

One of the common complications associated with pimples and acne is scarring as most of the acne spots leave scars, especially the severe acne which damages the skin. If you squeeze or prick the acne, the chances are higher that it will leave a scar.

The three major types of acne scars are:

Ice pick scars: These are minuscule holes in your skin appears as if the surface has been pricked with a very sharp object

Rolling scars: When the skin has an uneven and rolling appearance due to the bands of injuries underneath the skin

Boxcar scars: Craters which visually appear like an oval or round depressions in the skin.

What is the suggested treatment for cold sores?

If there are no severe complications involved in the cold sores except the blisters, it does not require any treatment. Cold sores are generally heeled up naturally, and it takes several weeks to a body to built a defense mechanism against the herpes virus and treat the cold sore automatically.

However, there is redness, inflammation, swelling, and even pain is associated with cold sores, which can be alleviated with some of the ways mentioned below:


There are oral antiviral medications available such as famciclovir, acyclovir, and valacyclovir, which help treat the virus and reduce its side effects. But these drugs should be taken on the prescription by the doctor only. If the outbreak is frequent or you are experiencing severe symptoms,

Ointments and creams

Antiviral ointments help in healing the cold sores fast and relieving pain. These ointments are most effective when applied on the first sign of cold sores. Using these creams several times a day for a few days can yield useful results. When applied to the early symptoms of cold sores, it stops the outbreak of blister.

Home remedies

Ice packs, a soft cloth soaked in ice water or lip balm containing lemon extracts can be applied on the cold sores for few times a day to get rid of itching and inflammation. If you are jostling with the frequent outbreak, you can take lysine supplements. Aloe Vera is also useful in bringing relief. Any dryness can be comforted by applying the vaseline.

What is the suggested treatment for pimples?

There are several over-the-counter face wash available in the market which is useful in getting rid of pimples. As the root cause of pimples is clogging of skin pores due to dust and impurities, a deep cleansing face wash which is known as non-comedogenic is the best way to get rid of pimples.

However, if you are not getting relief by using these products, refer a dermatologist to consider some stronger medications. These medications will help:

  • Avoiding scarring
  • Fading away from the existing scars
  • Controlling the outbreak of pimples

Some of the effective treatments prescribed for pimples are as follows:


For severe acne conditions therapies such as Chemical peel, Laser and photodynamic treatment, extraction of blackheads and whiteheads and steroid injection can be considered in combination with certain medications.

Topical Medications

Retinoids are effective as the drug which is extracted from Vitamin A and other ingredients that are useful in the plugging of hair follicles. Salicylic acid is another effective remedy. You can choose the antibiotics which kill the bacteria on your skin and are effective in reducing the redness. If you are suffering from inflammatory acne, Dapsone gel is highly beneficial.

Oral Medications

If you are experiencing severe acne, you can consider oral antibiotic medication on the prescription of the doctor. It will help in reducing the redness and inflammation symptoms. However, it should be used for a minimal time as it may lead to specific side effects like dizziness and digestive imbalance. Anti-androgen agents are meant for women who are not getting relief from oral antibiotics. It helps in blocking androgen hormone effect on the sebaceous glands leading to acne prevention.

What are the ways to prevent cold sores?

As they say, ‘prevention is better than cure’, here are some of the highly recommended ways which can help in preventing the cold sores:

  • Avoid sharing the utensils, lip balm, and cosmetics
  • Avoid kissing anyone who is already having cancer sores
  • Use condoms if the person is suffering from genital herpes
  • Do not share the beverages with the people suffering from cold sores

Avoid oral sex with the people who are haves herpes in the mouth or around genitals

The outbreak of cold sores can be curbed by avoiding the overexposure to sunlight and other triggers.

What are the various ways to prevent pimples or acne formation?

Identifying the triggers will not help unless appropriate preventive measures are taken to avoid the acne and pimple formation. Here are some of the suggested steps which help in preventing the pimples or acne formation:

Avoid wearing body fitted clothes, especially in summers

Apply minimal makeup and use acne-friendly products. Very harsh products also lead to pimple or acne formation.

Limit or avoid exposure to the potential irritants including high humidity and pollution

Keep the dirt and excess oil off by washing your face at regular intervals of time

Do not touch or rub the pimple

When to refer a doctor?

As discussed, both pimples and cold sores do not require any treatment. But severe acne or cold sore conditions with side effects as fever, nausea or swollen glands require seeing a doctor and seeking his consultation. There might be the more severe underlying cause which can only be diagnosed with the prescribed tests given.

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Prita Kulkarni-Srinivasan

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