Cold sores, on the other hand, are caused by the herpes simplex virus. “The virus is contagious and is transmitted by direct with an active lesion. Once you have the herpes virus, it establishes life-long latency in nerve cells and can be reactivated in the future,” she says. Translation: Once you have it, you’ll likely have flare-ups—often in the same area (like your lips)—for your whole life. “Triggers of reactivation include stress, sun, fever, and cosmetic procedures such as laser treatments and chemical peels.”
Cold sore or pimple: What is it?
You can tell the difference between the two by seeing how the lesion looks when it’s first forming. “Cold sores typically start as a cluster of small fluid filled bumps at the edge of the lip, which then become open sores,” says Caufield. There’s often a tingling or burning sensation that goes with it. Then as the cold sore begins to heal, it will often form a scab. This isn’t generally the case with pimples (unless you popped or picked at it!).
If the bump keeps showing up in the exact same spot, and it’s the only area on your face that looks like that, it’s probably a cold sore. “If you have similar lesions on other areas of the face, it may be a flare of acne,” says Caufield. If you’re still unsure, it’s smart to go see a dermatologist before you begin a treatment plan.
Watch: The Best DIY Blackhead Treatments, According To Derms
Okay…how do you treat them?
For acne, prevention is always key. “This is best achieved with a nightly retinoid cream, which is now over the counter,” says Caufield. “Anti-bacterial washes such as benzoyl peroxide can be preventative as well.” If you get a pimple despite your efforts, try dabbing it with benzoyl peroxide cream or another favourite acne spot treatment.
There is no cure for the herpes virus, so the best way to treat cold sores is with medication that helps reduce their duration and symptoms. “The best treatment is a short course of an oral anti-viral medication prescribed by your doctor, most commonly valacyclovir,” says Caufield. You should start taking the meds as soon possible after the outbreak, ideally within a day or two, in order to see the best results. According to Caufield, over-the-counter topical medications for cold sores may help, but aren’t as effective as the anti-virals. Check out these other natural ways you can help treat and prevent them as well.
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