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Is the Affliction on Your Lip a Cold Sore or Pimple?

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

If you have a growth or discomfort on your lips, you’ll want to discover the cause so you can eliminate it quickly. Cold sores and pimples on the lips may appear similar, but they have different causes and treatments. While cold sores often produce a burning or tingling sensation and eventually develop into a cluster of small blisters on the lip, a pimple on the lip may be sore to the touch but lacks the burning feeling of a cold sore. Unlike a cold sore, a pimple usually appears as a solitary mark anywhere on the face or body.

Other irritations on the lips and mouth, such as canker sores and dry lips, also require different treatments, so it’s crucial to identify them correctly. After all, they have one thing in common: They’re on your face. So you want to eliminate them — immediately.

To obtain an accurate diagnosis, the best course of action is to visit your doctor or a pharmacist. However, to save yourself from conducting endless online searches (and sifting through some unpleasant Google image results), read expert advice on how to distinguish between a cold sore and a pimple on your lip, or a canker sore and dry lips — and how to properly treat whatever it may be.

What a Cold Sore Looks Like

Identify it: If you are about to develop a cold sore, the initial sensation you’ll experience is pain or a burning sensation in your lip. Subsequently, small clusters of fluid-filled blisters will appear, usually on the outer edge of one of your lips — a clear indication that you have a cold sore instead of a pimple. Eventually, these blisters will rupture, develop a crust, or form a yellow scab, according to Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology and an associate professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), which is transmitted through direct contact. Therefore, if you have never had a cold sore before, think back. Have you recently kissed or shared a drink with someone who had eruptions on their mouth?

Treat it: Applying an over-the-counter treatment such as Abreva Cold Sore/Blister Treatment (available at Walgreens) at the first sign of symptoms can shorten the healing time and alleviate issues like pain. However, if your outbreaks are severe or very frequent, Dr. Zeichner suggests consulting your doctor about prescription antiviral creams or oral medications, which can prevent future flare-ups.

What a Pimple Looks Like

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Identify it: When trying to differentiate between a cold sore and a pimple around your lip, it can be helpful to pay attention to how the area feels. The initial indication of a pimple is generally slight soreness or tenderness, as opposed to the shooting pain or burning sensation that accompanies a cold sore.

As anyone who has successfully navigated through puberty is aware, they are capable of manifesting in any location on your countenance, not exclusively on your lip. Additionally, they tend to possess a greater degree of firmness when compared to cold sores, as they contain skin oils and deceased skin cells (rather than the translucent liquid found in cold sores). You might inquire, could a pimple resemble a cold sore? Although they can bear some resemblance, one notable disparity is that pimples frequently emerge as solitary entities, as opposed to appearing in clusters.

Treat it: Apply an over-the-counter acne remedy such as Vivant Skin Care BP 10% Gel Medication Acne Treatment (Available at (Dr. Zeichner also suggests using a product with benzoyl peroxide). If there is swelling, an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can also be beneficial, he suggests.

What Chapped Lips Look Like

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ID it: If there is no cold sore or pimple near your lip, the irritation you observe might be chapping. Dry winter air and cold winds can deplete all the moisture from your lips. Extremely severe chapped lip dryness can extend beyond the outer edge of your lips, resulting in excessive peeling, irritation, discomfort, and even cracking or bleeding. If you have redness that is not focused on any specific area or does not seem to have a center (like a whitehead), it is likely due to chapping.

Treat it: Apply a lip balm, such as Carmex Classic Medicated Lip Balm Jar (Available at Target), as frequently as needed, applying a thick layer before going to bed. Additionally, avoid licking your lips or picking at dry skin, as these actions can worsen symptoms.

What a Canker Sore Looks Like

ID it: Canker sores typically develop on the inside of the lip, not the outside, according to Dr. Zeichner. Instead of small, clustered blisters, you will notice one sore or tender white or yellow patch under your tongue, inside your cheeks or lips, on your gums, or on the roof of your mouth. The area surrounding the sore may appear more red than usual. Doctors are not completely certain about the causes of these spots, although injuries (such as biting your cheek), stress, and nutritional deficiencies may play a role.

Treat it: “The most effective treatment is waiting for it to heal naturally,” says Dr. Zeichner. If the area is painful, an oral numbing gel available at the pharmacy, such as Blistex Kanka Soft Brush Tooth/Mouth Pain Gel Oral Anesthetic/Oral Astringent (Available at Walgreens), can help alleviate the pain.

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