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How to Tell the Difference Between Herpes and Pimples (With Photos)

Updated on March 21, 2017
prodriver08 profile image

My name is Ed, and my passion is helping people overcome the stigma of living with genital herpes. I speak from personal experience.

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:

  1. HSV-1 is known as oral herpes, and symptoms appear around the mouth.
  2. 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.
  • Inflammation.
  • 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.

Herpes Blisters

Herpes blisters are clear, white, or yellow and are filled with clear liquid. They lie right on the surface of the skin.
Herpes blisters are clear, white, or yellow and are filled with clear liquid. They lie right on the surface of the skin.


Pimples may appear alone or as an outbreak and are filled with white pus. Pimple sink deeper into the skin than herpes blisters.
Pimples may appear alone or as an outbreak and are filled with white pus. Pimple sink deeper into the skin than herpes blisters.

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 Symptoms 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.


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    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 6 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Great article with lots of important information about herpes and pimples. Thanks, Stella

    • profile image

      Soooo 5 months ago

      Ok so I've tested positive for hsv2 and experienced a mild outbreak in my genital region. Its confirmed. But Lately (last 6 months) I've noticed frequent pimples around my lower lip. Sometimes 1-3 cm away. My question is, can herpes blisters be "popped?" Because they act like pimples but seem to recur more often then I rmemeber. The best i can benignly attribute them to is the fact I'm sitting in front of my computer cupping my mouth my hand for many hours a day. These pimples are red for a few days before clearing. But never develop into "clusters" of a terrible outbreak. Just one at a time month by month....thanks

    • prodriver08 profile image

      prodriver08 5 months ago from Houston, TX

      Can they be popped? Yes they can. Should they be popped? No they should not. Popping a herpes blister releases a clear liquid that is highly contagious which can easily be spread around the affected area, hands, mouth, etc. It's best to leave them alone and let them heal.

      You don't have to have a cluster of blisters. Many people only experience one blister and sometimes they are so small that they are hard to see.

      I hope that I answered your questions.

      Best of Luck!

    • profile image

      In known 4 months ago

      I'm not for sure what's these things on my arms it's just on my right arm upper arm so what could that be

    • profile image

      Dareke 3 months ago

      I just had sex for the first time and I had asked her if she had anything and she said no cause she had only do e it once before and the dude she did it with I'm pretty sure he didn't get any thing from her or he would of let her know . well a couple of days after I had sex was fine then I shaved the base of my penis a little to hard and the next day I had these little bumps where I did so the looked like pimples so I popes um and there slowly fading away and I also have a few bumped on my but but I usually do get a few pimples on my butt sometimes but I'm still worried there not bunched up or any thing its just 3 small red bumps and their not real close together so does anybody think I have anything?

    • profile image

      John 3 months ago

      Darker my guess would be that you are safe

    • profile image

      anony 3 months ago

      You shaved your weiner? Or the pubes around? Likely razor burn. When I shave my neck I sometimes get razor burn and It gets red and rashy looking. Sometimes they'll be an odd larger bump or two on my neck. By product of shaving.

    • profile image

      Soooo 3 months ago

      The question above posed by Soooo is identical, I mean, IDENTICAL to what I'm experiencing. Can we get a formal answer?

    • profile image

      Josh Rivers 3 months ago

      Hi, I have read Sooooo question above. I have an identical situation, it's IDENTICAL. Will someone please provide a good answer? HSV-2 diagnosed 6 months ago... but the new concern are some pretty questionable oral (wild zits/cold sores) right at the edge of the lip... the pain woke me up last night, it was a pressure type of pain, and it's the second time in a month or so. Never seen these before- really, never... They look red and big, but they pop like regular zits. Very clearly, the content is puss. Much more dense than a liquid- they don't look like oral herpes, they're singular. What is it? What advise is out there for us?

    • prodriver08 profile image

      prodriver08 3 months ago from Houston, TX

      I for one would like no more than to provide a formal answer but how can I based on words alone. It would be totally irresponsible for me to answer this question any further than I have already. If I agree that they are herpes blisters...and they turn out NOT to be then that's bad. If I say...nope...they are not herpes blisters and this person goes out and kisses a baby and spread the virus then that's REALLY bad.

      If you want a definitive answer then you'll need to take decisive steps to find those answers...such as visiting a doctor for a formal test. This article is simply a starting point. Use it and decide for yourself whether or not to seek out a professional opinion and testing.

    • profile image

      Joyce 3 months ago

      Just wondering usually after my periods I get I think pimples they come to a white head I pop them then they are gone by the next day is that herpes or just pimples?

    • profile image

      Sandra 6 weeks ago

      Okay so I shave the vaginal hair because in my mind I want to see if I'm getting an outbreak. Can this cause an outbreak? There's red bumps but it doesn't hurt to pee. Should I wait and see if it's an outbreak or just razor burn/in-grown hair?

    • profile image

      bob white 3 weeks ago

      how long does it take to clear up?? Can I take meds to clear it up??

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