Cold Sore vs. Pimple: Symptoms and Treatment

The appearance of cold sores or pimples on the skin is a common problem experienced by people of every age group. However, these skin problems mostly worry the younger generation as they are more prone to such issues due to hormonal fluctuations. With the intention of getting rid of a blister as early as possible, people tend to use a dozen of home-based remedies which may, in some cases, aggravate the situation. In this article, let us take a look at what a cold sore and a pimple are, how to differentiate between them, and what is the best treatment for a pimple or cold sore.

1 27

Pimple vs cold sore

Cold sores

Core sores are blister-like outgrowths that commonly appear at the corner of lips. The process of their emergence starts with a sensation of burning and tingling followed by itching. These cold sores are also called fever blisters. As the causative agent of cold sores is a contagious virus, these can transfer from one person to another.

2 26

Cold sore

Causes of cold sores

The causative agent of these cold sores is the infamous herpes simplex virus (HSV). It has two strains i.e. HSV-1 and HSV-2, both of which are responsible for sore formation in the different parts of the body. HSV-1 is credited with causing oral sores while HSV-2 affects the genitals. One can contract the HSV-1 virus from:

  • Having intimacy with an infected person
  • Sharing razors, towels, utensils, cosmetics, etc.

Treatment options

Usually, a cold sore has a short lifespan and subsides automatically within two to four weeks without any treatment. The following home-based remedies can also be tried to alleviate the symptoms:

  • The application of a cold press can help reduce pain and redness.
  • The use of lemon balm, aloe vera, licorice, coconut oil, or zinc-infused skin care products can also help subside the cold sores.
  • Covering the lips from sun exposure can also prove to be helpful.
  • For the purpose of pain relief, it is recommended to use any over-the-counter (OTC) pain relieving cream with lidocaine or benzocaine as its active moieties.

3 26

Home-based remedies for cold sores

However, if the still persist after a month, the following medications can be prescribed:

  • Antiviral drugs including acyclovir or famciclovir pills
  • Topical formulations of acyclovir, penciclovir, docosanol, etc.

Risk factors for contracting cold sores

Cold sores, however, caused by a viral entity, can spread rapidly owing to some associated factors which include:

  • Fever, cold, or flu
  • Stressful lifestyle
  • Malnutrition accompanied by dehydration
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Weakened immune system
  • Hormonal fluctuations due to menstruation or other causes


A pimple is a small reddish bumpy outgrowth part that is formed on the lips or on any other part of the face. The pimple usually has a tip that is yellowish in appearance but can also have other colors such as white or black. Unlike cold sores, pimples are not confined to one body part rather they can appear anywhere. If you are experiencing frequent pimples on your lips, you may be having the symptoms of acne which, in most cases if not all, needs to be medically treated.

4 17


Causes of pimples

The most common cause of pimple formation is the aggregation of skin oil called sebum and the dead skin cells into the hair follicles. This mixture clogs the pores and generates an ideal condition for the growth of bacteria resulting in the formation of a whitehead pimple. Once these bacteria are exposed to air, the color of the pimple turns blackish.

Treatment options

To treat the pimple on the lips, the first-line therapy is the use of topical OTC products including creams and lotions. Moreover, a cold compress may also help relieve the pain and discomfort. Some of the products which may prove to be helpful in alleviating as well as preventing pimples in the future include:

  • Green tea-infused creams and lotions
  • Oil-free sunscreen
  • Fish oil rich in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Zinc lotion
  • Zinc supplements

5 8

Home-based remedies for pimples and acne

Risk factors of pimples

Simple practices such as not removing makeup before going to bed can be the precursor of starting pimples. Apart from this, other risk factors include:

  • Genetic factors
  • Stressful lifestyle
  • High consumption of dairy products and chocolates
  • Hormonal disturbances
  • Use of corticosteroids
  • Pregnancy

How to diagnose a cold sore and a pimple?

In most cases, a symptomatic evaluation gives it away if the blister is a cold sore or pimple. However, your doctor may recommend running some tests to confirm one of these.

  • Doing a viral culture can confirm which type of blister you have. To perform this, a sampling of the lesion is done using a swab and testing it to check the viral presence.
  • Conducting a blood test may also be necessary in some cases.
  • A biopsy may also be recommended by your physician if the first two do not make it clear enough about the nature of your blister.

Comparison of cold sores with pimples

Succinctly, a cold sore and a pimple, although may look the same, differ in many ways which are summarized below:

Difference between a cold sore vs pimple on the lip or on other body parts

Properties Cold sore Pimple
LocationOn the lips, mostly on the lower lipAnywhere on the face or lips
AppearanceCluster of blistersSingle blackhead or whitehead
Level of discomfortItching, burning, and tingling sensationPain
Treatment optionsAntiviral drugsHome-based remedies with topical OTC painkillers



Cold sores or pimples look quite similar to each other but have different causative agents as well as treatment options. Usually, both of these are self-healing and go away within a few weeks. But if they persist, medical treatment can be prescribed after diagnosis. Moreover, it is easy to avoid a cold sore vs pimple by eliminating the risk factors which make one more prone to experiencing them.

uzma e1714761913269

PhD Scholar (Pharmaceutics), MPhil (Pharmaceutics), Pharm D, B. Sc.

Uzma Zafar is a dedicated and highly motivated pharmaceutical professional currently pursuing her PhD in Pharmaceutics at the Punjab University College of Pharmacy, University of the Punjab. With a comprehensive academic and research background, Uzma has consistently excelled in her studies, securing first division throughout her educational journey.

Uzma’s passion for the pharmaceutical field is evident from her active engagement during her Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D) program, where she not only mastered industrial techniques and clinical case studies but also delved into marketing strategies and management skills.

Throughout her career, Uzma has actively contributed to the pharmaceutical sciences, with specific research on suspension formulation and Hepatitis C risk factors and side effects. Additionally, Uzma has lent her expertise to review and fact-check articles for the Health Supply 770 blog, ensuring the accuracy and reliability of the information presented.

As she continues her PhD, expected to complete in 2025, Uzma is eager to contribute further to the field by combining her deep knowledge of pharmaceutics with real-world applications to meet global professional standards and challenges.