From cold sores to pimples: your journey to healthy skin & lips


Editorial Team


June 26, 2024

Close-up of a person’s lower face showing a visible red bump on the lip, trying to distinguishing between a cold sore and a lip pimple

Medical Review by Heidi Moawad MD


  • Cold sores and lip pimples are different. The herpes simplex virus causes the former, while clogged pores or bacterial infections cause the latter. Proper identification can help with treatment and prevention.
  • The herpes simplex virus causes cold sores and appears as small clusters of fluid-filled blisters around the lips. They are highly contagious and can be triggered by stress, fatigue, sun exposure, or a weakened immune system.
  • Lip pimples are caused by blocked hair follicles or oil glands and can result from oily skin, hormonal changes, or lip products. Keep your lips clean and moisturized to prevent them, avoid harsh products, and don’t touch your lips with dirty hands.
  • Cold sores and pimples require different treatments. Cold sores are caused by a virus and treated with antiviral meds, while pimples are caused by bacteria and treated with antibiotics.
  • Options to treat cold sores include antiviral creams, oral meds, or home remedies. Try topical treatments, gentle cleansing, and avoid irritants for lip pimples. Consult a doctor for personalized treatment.
  • To prevent cold sores, use lip balm with SPF, manage stress, and avoid close contact with infected people. Regularly cleansing and exfoliating can help prevent lip pimples and maintain healthy lips.

Lip blemishes: know the difference

Have you ever been in a situation where you were unsure whether the bump on your lips was a cold sore or a pimple? It’s common to confuse the two, but did you know they have different causes and treatments? Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are caused by the herpes simplex virus, while clogged pores or bacterial infections usually cause pimples on the lips. Understanding the difference between the two can help you take appropriate steps for treatment and prevent further outbreaks.

Cold sores

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are a common viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). They typically appear as clusters of small, fluid-filled blisters on or around the lips, although they can also occur anywhere close to the mouth and nose.

Cold sores are highly contagious and can be spread through sharing personal items and close contact with someone who has an active outbreak. The virus can also be transmitted when there are no visible symptoms present. 

The most common triggers for cold sores include:

  • Menstruation or hormone changes
  • Being out in the sun
  • Fever
  • Stress

Symptoms typically begin with a tingling or burning sensation in the affected area, followed by the appearance of small, painful blisters. These blisters may burst and ooze before forming a crust and eventually healing. 

While cold sores can be uncomfortable and unsightly, they usually clear up within a week or two. However, you should seek in person medical care if you experience frequent or severe outbreaks or if fever, swollen glands, or other signs of infection accompany your symptoms. 

Lip pimples

Lip pimples, lip acne, or zits are common skin problems that various factors can cause.

Common causes of lip pimples include:

  • Oily skin
  • Hormonal changes
  • Lip products like lip balms or lipsticks

Lip pimples can cause pain, swelling, and whiteheads or blackheads. To avoid them, take good care of your skin, keep your lips clean and moisturized, avoid harsh products, and do not touch your lips with dirty hands. If you get lip pimples, don’t pick at them to prevent scarring or further infection.

What’s the difference?

Cold sores and pimples are two different skin conditions. Cold sores appear on the edge of the lip and cause a tingling or burning sensation, while pimples can occur anywhere around the mouth and tend to appear suddenly as a raised red bump.

As cold sores progress, they may develop into small blisters filled with fluid. Over time, these blisters will usually burst and crust over. In contrast, pimples may develop a whitehead or blackhead, which is not seen in cold sores. 

Treating lip blemishes

Cold sores and pimples need different treatments. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and treated with antiviral meds, whereas pimples are caused by bacteria and are treated with topical or oral antibiotics.

Various treatment options are available if you are struggling with either cold sores or lip pimples. 

For cold sores, you can use:

  • Antiviral creams
  • Oral medications

For lip pimples:

  • Topical treatments
  • Gentle cleansing
  • Avoiding irritants that cause inflammation

You should always talk to your doctor to determine the best course of treatment for your specific case.

Keep your lips in tip top shape

Preventing cold sores involves:

  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Avoiding close contact with those infected

Lip pimples can be avoided by:

  • Regularly cleansing
  • Exfoliating
  • Avoiding comedogenic products

These simple tips can go a long way in maintaining healthy lips and avoiding uncomfortable outbreaks.


How can I tell if my lip blemish is a cold sore or a pimple?

Pay attention to the location, progression, and sensations to differentiate between a cold sore and a pimple. Cold sores typically form on the edge of your lip and start with a tingling sensation before developing into blisters. They go through a cycle from tingling to blistering to crusting. On the other hand, lip pimples can appear anywhere around the mouth and usually develop as painful bumps that can have a whitehead or blackhead. There’s no initial tingling sensation with pimples.

What should I do if I’m unsure whether I have a cold sore or a pimple?

If you’re unsure about the nature of your lip blemish, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Lemonaid’s online medical service allows you to consult with licensed healthcare providers to help determine whether you’re dealing with a cold sore, a pimple, or another condition and guide you toward the right treatment plan.

Are any treatments for cold sores and lip pimples available through Lemonaid?

Yes, Lemonaid offers access to personalized treatment options for cold sores and lip pimples. Visit Lemonaid Health to learn about these options. 

  1. National Library of Medicine (2023, July 8). Herpes – oral. Medline Plus. Retrieved May 31, 2024, from 
  2. World Health Organization. (2023, April 5). Herpes simplex virus. Accessed online March 27, 2024 at,aches%20and%20swollen%20lymph%20nodes.
  3. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. (2021, September). Fever Blisters & Canker Sores. Accessed online March 27, 2024 at
  4. Tan, A. U., Schlosser, B. J., & Paller, A. S. (2017). A review of diagnosis and treatment of acne in adult female patients. International journal of women’s dermatology, 4(2), 56–71.
  5. [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Overview: Cold sores. [Updated 2022 Mar 23]. Available from:


Editorial Team


June 26, 2024

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment or medication.