How to Tell the Difference Between Herpes and Pimples (With Photos)
What Does Herpes Look Like?
This is a very common question. People with Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) symptoms often confuse them with common skin problems such as a rash, pimples, bug bites, razor burn, shaving cuts, ingrown hairs, or yeast infection.
There are two types of HSV:
- HSV-1 is known as oral herpes, and symptoms appear around the mouth.
- HSV-2 is known as genital herpes, and symptoms appear in the genital area.
These are the symptoms of HSV (and they usually occur in this order):
- Itchiness and rash.
- Reddish, sensitive skin.
- Small blisters that are usually clear, white, or yellow, and filled with clear fluid.
- Flu-like symptoms including fever, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, fatigue, and lack of appetite.
- For HSV-2 only: painful urination.
HSV can spread to the eyes, causing a condition called herpes keratitis. This can cause eye pain, discharge, and a gritty sensation.
The Difference Between Herpes Blisters and Pimples
While herpes blisters do look like pimples, most of the time, it is easy to tell the difference.
Herpes blisters are usually a lot more sensitive to touch. The area may be sensitive even before the initial outbreak. After about a week or more, genital herpes blisters normally start to scab over. Then they turn back into regular, healthy skin once again. Occasionally, the new skin might have a different coloring prior to going back to normal. Subsequent outbreaks are usually less severe and recovery time normally decreases over time.
Genital herpes sores and blisters vary in size, from one to two millimeters. These blisters are filled with a clear liquid and will, at some point, burst open. Herpes sores don't extend deep into the skin as pimples commonly do. Instead, the sores are right on your own skin’s surface. Once they burst, they will scab over.
Differences Between Herpes Blisters and Acne
Sensitive, itching sensation
Only hurts when you poke it
Usually forms in clusters
Pimples can occur alone
Caused by a virus and occurs on the surface of the skin
Caused by trapped oil within the skin
Filled with a clear liquid and will break to form scabs
Filled with white pus
Lie on the surface of the skin.
Tend to skin down deeper into the skin.
If You Still Can't Tell
When in doubt, it’s generally best to see your physician. Don't be ashamed. Genital herpes is extremely common. If you have herpes, it is possible to keep it in check, and understanding your options can help you live with the virus.
Other Helpful Tips
- Time will tell. Herpes occurs in cycles. Take some time to notice what your body is showing you. Pay attention to the herpes blister life cycle and continue to look for any additional symptoms, such as fever or muscle tenderness. If "pimples" with a burning sensation occur in the same area after a period of time, it is probably herpes.
- Evaluate the location. Do the "pimples" occur near your genitals, rectum, or mouth? Those are all common areas for herpes. Herpes symptoms are usually the same no matter where the virus is found on the body, although the location may impact the seriousness of the symptoms.
When in doubt, it’s generally best to see your physician. Don't be ashamed. Genital herpes is extremely common.