Select a treatment to
get started

Cold Sore vs Pimple: Which One Do You Have?

Read on

Cold sores and pimples are small lesions that can both form on your lip, so how can you tell which one you have?

Luckily, there are some tell-tale signs that you have one over the other.

In this article, we will cover the most telling ways to decipher if you are dealing with a pimple or a cold sore.


While cold sores are almost always found on the edges of your lips, pimples can occur anywhere on your body, but most commonly on your face, neck, chest, or back.

So, if you have two very similar-looking lesions, but one is on your forehead, and one is on your lip, you are likely dealing with a pimple and not a cold sore.

The way it feels

Cold sores tend to have a very different sensation than pimples, and normally begin with a tingling or burning sensation on the lip area, sometimes even before you can see anything form.

Pimples may feel inflamed, irritated, or be painful to the touch, but are unlikely to have a burning or tingling feel to them.

The way it looks

Pimples may appear as a singular lump that has a small whitehead, a blackhead, or no head to them at all in the case of larger cysts.

Pimples may also contain pus if they are large enough. On the other hand, cold sores tend to look like small white blisters clustered together.

Cold sores may produce a clear or yellowish fluid, but are much less likely to contain pus.

Is it contagious

Cold sores are highly contagious, so if you shared a utensil or drink with someone who had a cold sore-like lesion on their lip, you are likely dealing with a cold sore.

Pimples are not contagious, so you will not get a pimple on your lip just from coming into contact with another person who had a pimple on their lip.


If you went to the doctor to figure out if you have a pimple or a cold sore on your lip, they will likely be able to tell you right away simply from an examination of the lesion.

However, there are different ways to diagnose a pimple over a cold sore other than looking at it. Cold sores are formed due to a virus, HSV-1, quickly replicating and taking over the cells.

So, your doctor would be able to take a cell sample from your lip to identify if the virus were present.

There would not be a virus present in the cells of a normal pimple.

The treatment

Even though pimples and cold sores can sometimes be mistaken for one another, the treatment of each can be very different. Pimples can be treated by over-the-counter acne medications such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, or more severe breakouts might be better handles with a prescription tretinoin or antibacterial agent from a doctor.

Cold sores are formed from the rapid replication of a virus, so cold sores are either left to run their course (a week or two), or they can potentially be healed quicker using a prescription antiviral medication such as Valacyclovir, among others.

Valacyclovir from

Have you concluded that you are dealing with a cold sore and not just your run-of-the-mill lip pimple?

Have a Free Online Visit with our doctors today to see if treatment with prescription Valacyclovir can help you be over it sooner.

Free shipping
Free follow-up care
Cancel anytime, no fees
Free online MD visit

Related posts