Cold Sore Vs. Pimple: Telling The Difference Between The Blemishes Just Got Easier

Whenever we wake up to find a new unwelcome friend on our skin, it can become a recipe for disaster. From acne to skin issues, no one likes seeing a skin lesion we didn't ask for. This statement is exceptionally true when you don't even know what type of skin lesion it is. While we generally know what a pimple looks like, there are various types of pimples and acne that can make it difficult to pinpoint what we are dealing with. If you don't know what it is you are dealing with, it can make the treatment process even more challenging. Before you apply that acne treatment to your skin, ensure you are truly dealing with acne and not something even more serious.

Although it would make life much easier to write everything off as a pimple, the truth is that there are plenty of other issues that can pop up on your skin. Some of these other issues can even be a sign that you are dealing with a more significant condition. Two of the skin lesions that tend to get intertwined the most are pimples and cold sores. Both of these conditions can occur in similar areas, making it very difficult to tell them apart. While at first glance they may look the same, they are very different and are treated in different manners. Knowing which one is which will help you get on the road to recovery quicker and get rid of your lesion even faster.

What's a cold sore?

Even though it's equally as unglamorous as other skin lesions, cold sores are a skin issue that can signify that something's not right. According to NHS Inform, a cold sore is a common viral infection that is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It typically appears as a small blister or group of blisters on or around the lips or mouth. Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are highly contagious and can be spread through direct contact with the fluid from the blister or through indirect contact, such as touching a contaminated surface and then touching the lips. Typically, cold sores aren't a serious condition and can heal after seven to 10 days.

The virus behind the cold sore can also be spread even when there are no visible symptoms, through a process known as viral shedding. If you aren't sure if want you are experiencing a cold sore, the symptoms can be very noticeable. The symptoms may include tingling, itching, or burning sensations around the mouth or lips, followed by the appearance of small fluid-filled blisters. These blisters may eventually burst and form a crust before healing completely. The challenge with cold sores is the fact that there is no known cure for them, meaning you will have to wait until they completely heal on their own.

What is a pimple?

While the majority of the population seems to have had experience with a pimple at least once, not many are aware of what a pimple truly is. Besides being a pain, a pimple is simply a hair follicle that has become infected with bacteria, according to Mayo Clinic. These clogs produced the red bump with the white center that you typically see when you have a pimple. Pimples, or pustules, are a type of acne that can occur on any surface of the body. Other than pimples, there are other forms of acne that you can have simultaneously — like blackheads, whiteheads, or cystic acne. When your hair follicle gets clogged with bacteria, it's most likely due to accumulated dead skin cells, oils, dirt, or more.

Pimples will typically treat themselves and heal after a certain amount of time. However, due to their appearance, many decide to pop them, going against most expert recommendations. While it's common to pop pimples, this can lead to scarring. Pimple popping can also be the reason behind a later acne breakout as the pus that releases from the first pimple can spread and block other hair follicles. There are many other lifestyle factors that can aggravate pimples, such as stress, hormonal changes, and diet. When pimples become severe, they can signify that there is something wrong going on underneath your skin.

Difference between cold sores and pimples

Although both cold sores and pimples are common and can occur in the same area, there are various differences that help determine which skin lesion is affecting you. As we know, cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and typically appear as small fluid-filled blisters on or around the lips or mouth. These blisters are highly contagious and can be spread through both indirect and direct contact. Abreva points out that cold sores are usually preceded by a tingling or itching sensation and can be painful. They heal on their own, but antiviral medications can help to reduce the duration and severity of symptoms.

Pimples, on the other hand, are caused by clogged hair follicles on the skin and can appear anywhere on the face or body. They are not contagious and are typically characterized by a red, inflamed bump that may be filled with pus. Pimples can be caused by a variety of factors, including hormonal changes, stress, poor diet, and certain medications. They are usually treated with topical or oral medications that can help to reduce inflammation and kill bacteria, as well as good hygiene practices to prevent further breakouts. Unlike cold sores, pimples are not painful and do not usually lead to scarring, although picking or squeezing them can increase the risk of scarring.

How to prevent getting cold sores and pimples

Since cold sores and pimples have different characteristics, their prevention will look very different. To prevent cold sores, it's important to avoid close contact with people who have active outbreaks, as the herpes simplex virus is highly contagious. You should also avoid sharing personal items such as lip balms, razors, and towels. Cleveland Clinic recommends maintaining good hygiene practices such as washing your hands frequently, avoiding touching your face, and avoiding kissing or intimate contact with someone who has an active outbreak can also help to reduce the risk of infection. Additionally, eating a healthy diet, managing stress, and getting enough sleep can boost your immune system, which can help to prevent cold sores from developing.

To prevent pimples, GoodRx explains that it's important to maintain good skin hygiene by washing your face regularly with a gentle cleanser, especially after sweating or wearing makeup. Avoid using oily or greasy products on your face, and use non-comedogenic products, which are less likely to clog pores. It's also important to avoid touching your face with your hands, as this can transfer bacteria and oil onto your skin. Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can also help to reduce the risk of pimples, as can managing stress and getting enough sleep. If you are prone to breakouts, you may also want to consider using topical treatments or oral medications as directed by your doctor or dermatologist.

How to treat both skin issues

As much as we try to prevent these skin lesions from occurring, they can be challenging to avoid at times. Once you find yourself suffering from either one there are a few ways to alleviate symptoms and minimize their appearance. While there's no cure for cold sores, the American Academy of Dermatology explains that topical creams and gels can be applied directly to the affected area to soothe discomfort and reduce inflammation. Over-the-counter pain relievers can also be taken to ease the pain associated with cold sores.

To treat pimples, topical treatments such as creams, gels, and spot treatments can be applied directly to the affected area to reduce inflammation and kill bacteria. Some topical treatments may contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or other active ingredients that can help to unclog pores and prevent further breakouts. In some cases, oral medications such as antibiotics or isotretinoin may be prescribed to treat more severe cases of acne. Natural remedies such as tea tree oil, aloe vera, and honey may also be used to treat cold sores and pimples. These remedies may have antibacterial or anti-inflammatory properties that can help to soothe discomfort and promote healing. Overall, treating cold sores and pimples requires a combination of good hygiene practices, topical treatments, and sometimes oral medications — depending on the severity of the condition.