How to Tell If Your Little Red Facial Bump Is a Pimple or a Cold Sore

If you’ve ever had a pimple pop up in close vicinity to your mouth, chances are you’ve wondered — even if just for a millisecond — if said blemish could actually be a cold sore, a.k.a. oral herpes. It’s not an outlandish thought to have, either. Much like melasma and hyperpigmentation, pimples and cold sores share certain similarities (especially in terms of appearance), which could easily elicit some confusion in someone who’s suffering a breakout, and say, perhaps isn’t up to date on how the two ailments differ.

In actuality, pimples and cold sores share very little in common, making them pretty easy to distinguish from one another once you know what to look for. With that in mind, Allure tapped several dermatologists to find out the differences between pimples and cold sores, what exactly makes them so different from one another, and of course, how you can treat them should they arise. Scroll down for the lowdown

Signs and symptoms

The simplest way to determine whether you have a pimple or a cold sore is to pay close attention to the warning signs. For instance, if you feel a tingling or burning sensation before the blemish even emerges, that’s your body’s way of telling you a cold sore is coming. “Often you may notice tingling, itching, or burning in the area before the blisters appear,” explains Sejal Shah, a New York City-based dermatologist and founder of Smarter Skin Dermatology. This is known as the prodromal phase in the herpes simplex virus, which is when people experience changes in themselves (such as said burning) but haven’t yet acquired any clear-cut symptoms.

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