- Differences & Similarities
- Causes & Risk Factors
- Signs & Symptoms
What is a pimple? What does it look like?
A pimple is usually a small, firm inflamed spot on the skin and has many other names such as zit, bleb, boil, carbuncle, and others. Some pimples may become large. A pimple is an inflamed area of skin with pus formation in the center, resulting from a bacterial infection of the oil gland that produces sebum.
What are similarities and differences between pimples and cold sores?
Similarities between pimples and cold sores include that they both can heal without treatment, both have stages of development, both usually appear on the face, and both may cause embarrassment and/or social stigma.
The following table highlights the differences between pimples and cold sores:
|Causes||Localized bacterial overgrowth||Herpes viruses|
|Locations||Mainly on the face, chest, and back||Mainly on the lips and in the mouth|
|Symptoms & Signs||Pus in the center of the lesion||Blisters contain clear fluid|
|Transmission||Mainly noninfectious person to person||Infectious person to person|
|Prognosis||Some pimples heal with scar formation||No scar formation with healing|
What are causes and risk factors for pimples and cold sores?
Cold sores are caused by HSV-1 and HSV-2 viruses, with the majority of facial cold sores caused by HSV-1 (about 80%).
Risk factors include:
- Person-to-person transmission by direct skin contact
- Sharing eating utensils and other personal items (such as razors or towels)
- Kissing can transmit viruses through saliva
It is also possible to transmit the disease with oral sex.
Pimples are caused by inflammation and bacterial overgrowth in the sebaceous glands of the skin. They are not caused by person-to-person contact.
Risk factors include:
- Clogged sebaceous glands (whitehead and/or blackhead formation that indicates clogging of sebaceous glands)
- Hormonal changes (especially in individuals undergoing puberty)
- Chemical irritants placed on the skin
Breakouts of pimples sometimes occur due to hormonal changes, for example during menstruation.
IMAGESSee more pictures of acne, scars, treatment and other bacterial skin infections See Images
What are the signs and symptoms of pimples and cold sores?
The signs and symptoms of pimples and cold sores can be summarized by the five stages by which both pimples and cold sores develop.
The following are the signs and symptoms of pimples:
- No visible lesions; possible tingling
- A reddish, flat small area of skin
- Possible whitehead or blackhead development
- Pus develops that eventually spontaneously drains
- Inflammation decreases and the skin heals
The following are the signs and symptoms of cold sores:
- No visible lesions; possible tingling
- Fluid-filled blisters begin to appear
- Blisters ooze clear fluid and form painful sores
- Sores dry and form scabs
- Scabs fall off the skin and the skin heals
The process of pimple formation and healing often occurs over a longer period than the process with cold sores (two to four weeks). The longer period is due to the time it takes to form whiteheads and/or blackheads. Additionally, it takes about a month after pus develops and drains for the inflammation to decrease and the skin to heal. In some individuals who have pimples with large areas of pus, the skin may form a scar.
What tests do doctors use to diagnose pimples and cold sores?
Your primary health caregiver, for most individuals, does not require tests to diagnose pimples and/or cold sores. These two problems are almost always diagnosed with the patient's history and physical exam. Patients with severe infections may be referred to a dermatologist and/or an infectious disease specialist who may order specialized tests.
- Women's Gymnastics Brings High Risk for Concussion
- Going Solo: Masturbation May Give Humans an Evolutionary Edge
- Longer Breastfeeding in Infancy, Better School Grades for Kids?
- Kids With ADHD, Behavior Issues Have Poorer Trajectories as Adults
- FDA Finalizes Limit on How Much Arsenic Can Be in Apple Juice
- More Health News »
What are treatments and medications for pimples and cold sores?
The treatments and medications for pimples and cold sores are different.
The most common treatment for pimples is an over-the-counter medication that comes in lotions, gels, cleansers, creams, and skin washes; it is benzoyl peroxide. It can kill bacteria and also remove some of the oil and dead skin cells associated with whiteheads and blackheads. Another common treatment is salicylic acid, which helps to open pores. Individuals with severe pimple formation may require antibiotics (for example, minocycline [Minocin] and doxycycline [Oracea, Monodox, Vibra-Tabs]) and consultation with a dermatologist. Do not pick at or pop pimples. This can make the infection worse and result in scar formation.
Alternative medicine for pimples includes lemon juice, tea tree oil, green tea, honey, mint, echinacea, and many others. For alternative medicine treatments, you should discuss them with your primary care physician before use.
Treatment for cold sores does not cure the disease, but it may speed up the healing process. Many antiviral drugs are used to treat cold sores. These antivirals may be administered as pills, creams, and more severe infections, even injected.
Some of the drugs used for the treatment of cold sores are as follows:
- Acyclovir (Xerese, Zovirax)
- Docosanol (Abreva)
- Famciclovir (Famvir)
- Penciclovir (Denavir)
- Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
Alternative medicine treatments for cold sores include lysine as an oral supplement or cream, sage plus rhubarb in a cream, propolis (synthetic beeswax), and stress reduction.
What is the prognosis of pimples and cold sores?
The prognosis for pimples and/or cold sores is usually good. For many individuals, pimples and cold sores may require little or no treatment and have few or no complications, so the prognosis is good. However, in patients with severe pimple formation or frequent outbreaks of cold sores, the prognosis is somewhat less (good to fair). These individuals may require relatively frequent treatments and may have many recurrences even with appropriate treatments.
Is it possible to prevent pimples and cold sores?
To reduce the chance of developing pimples, dermatologists suggest that you wash your face twice a day with warm water using a mild cleanser. Do not scrub the skin hard. If you use makeup, it should be removed every day before going to bed. For some individuals (for example, teenagers), the use of benzoyl peroxide-containing medication on a fairly regular basis may be required to help prevent pimple formation. For those individuals who have severe problems with pimple formation, the use of antibiotics may be warranted.
To reduce the chance of getting cold sores, individuals need to avoid sharing items such as utensils, towels, and other items. Individuals should avoid person-to-person contact (for example, kissing or other physical contact) to reduce and/or prevent the transfer of the viruses that cause cold sores. In addition, people with cold sores can help stop the spread by avoiding touching the cold sore and/or by washing their hands frequently.
Subscribe to MedicineNet's Skin Care & Conditions Newsletter
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top Pimple vs Cold Sore Related Articles
AcneAcne is a localized skin inflammation as a result of the overactivity of oil glands at the base of hair follicles. This inflammation, depending on its location, can take the form of a superficial pustule (contains pus), a pimple, a deeper cyst, congested pores, whiteheads, or blackheads. Treatments vary depending on the severity of the acne.
Acne QuizAcne is the most common skin disorder in the world. If you suffer from acne, you are not alone and many treatment options are available. Learn more about pimples, blackheads, and comedones with the Acne Quiz.
Dealing with Adult AcneAdult acne causes include hormones, medications, makeup, and other things. Adult acne is treated with medications, products, face washes, and home remedies. Use a skin care regimen provided by your dermatologist to treat adult acne.
Are Cold Sores (Fever Blisters) Contagious?About 20% of cases of cold sores are caused by herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), and approximately 80% of cold sores are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Cold sores are transmitted by sharing utensils and razors, kissing, and oral sex. There is no cure for cold sores.
Can I Get Any STDs Through Clothing?Most sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) cannot be transmitted through clothing. Some such as pubic lice, scabies and molluscum contagiosum can be transmitted by sharing clothes with an infected person.
How Long Do Canker Sores Last and How Do You Get Rid of Them Fast?Canker sores are small lesions in your mouth. Canker sores usually last between 1 and 2 weeks and you get rid of them fast by using over-the-counter medications to treat them.
Cold Sores SlideshowHow do you get rid of cold sores? First learn about the herpes virus and how it causes cold sores. When are cold sores contagious? Get information on triggers that can cause a flare up in cold sore symptoms.
Cystic AcneCystic acne is distinguished by painful nodules on the chest, face, neck, and back. This form of acne is known to scar. Treatment may incorporate the use of hormonal therapies, oral antibiotics, and prescription medications.
Cold Sores (Oral Herpes, Herpes Labialis)Cold sores (labial herpes) are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 infection and often appear on the mouth and lips. Read about treatment causes, symptoms, treatment, and diagnosis of oral herpes.
Herpes Simplex Virus Type Picture 1A herpes virus that causes cold sores and fever blisters in and around the mouth. See a picture of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 and learn more about the health topic.
How Do You Treat a Cold Sore in Your Nose?Cold sores are a type of blister that may show up clear and then become cloudy. Treat a cold sore under your nose with home remedies, topical creams and ointments, and prescription medications.
PubertyThe time when boys and girls begin the process of sexual maturation is called puberty. During this time, both sexes undergo a series of biological changes that include a rapid increase in height, bone growth, weight increase, the growth of pubic hair, breast development, and the onset of menstruation in girls, and testicle, penis, and muscle enlargement in boys.
Skin Problems: Rosacea, Acne, Shingles, Covid-19 RashesLearn to spot and treat skin conditions commonly found in adults such as acne, Covid-19 rashes, eczema, shingles, psoriasis, rosacea, hives, cold sores, razor bumps, athlete's foot, and more dermatology details.
Skin QuizWhat's that all over you? Skin, of course! Test your knowledge of your most amazing organ with the Skin Quiz!
Skin Health: How to Get Clear SkinAcne, pimples, zits and blemishes often appear on the face, back, chest, neck, and shoulders where skin has the most amount of oil glands. Few of us are immune to breakouts, but treatments can minimize outbreaks. Follow these 15 tips for a clear complexion and skin.
What Causes Blisters on Lips?What are blisters on lips and what causes blisters on lips? Learn about these mouth sores, what causes blisters on lips, and how to treat blisters on lips. What to know about getting rid of blisters on the tongue. Learn about the causes of blisters on the tongue and possible treatment methods.
Why Do We Get Forehead Pimples?Why do we get forehead pimples? Learn the signs of acne on the forehead, how to treat it, and how to prevent future breakouts. You can make pimples go away fast by using medications and home care. Medications for pimples include antibiotics, birth control pills, and topical products containing benzoyl peroxide, retinoids, or salicylic acid. Home care for pimples includes cleaning your skin, avoiding oil-based cosmetics, avoiding rubbing alcohol and toners, and shampooing oily hair. Learn what medical treatments can help ease your pimples symptoms and speed up your pimple recovery.