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

Updated on May 26, 2018
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.

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.

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.

Pictures of Herpes Blisters

Click thumbnail to view full-size
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.
Herpes blisters are clear, white, or yellow and are filled with clear liquid. They lie right on the surface of the skin.

HSV Symptoms

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.

Pictures of Pimples

Click thumbnail to view full-size
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.
Pimples may appear alone or as an outbreak and are filled with white pus. Pimple sink deeper into the skin than herpes blisters.

Can You Pop Herpes Like Pimples?

What Comes Out When You Pop a Herpes Sore?

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.


This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to be used to diagnose. When in doubt, it’s best to see your physician. Don't be ashamed. Genital herpes is extremely common.


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    • profile image

      Angel 5 weeks ago

      I have a rash in a cluster with inflammation and it's red but it's not filled with puss also I never had it before it started 1 week ago also I shaved when it started to pop up please help im afraid to let my parents know

    • profile image

      Maria2 4 months ago

      My son is 30 years old and got hsv-2 and he dosen't want to live anymore. I am really worrie about it. Please i need an advice.

    • profile image

      Noone 8 months ago

      Do any medical professionals answer these

    • profile image

      anon 8 months ago

      I'm getting small like pimples in clusters and it has white puss is it for sure a pimple and not herpes

    • profile image

      Anon 8 months ago

      Glad to know I don't have herpes

      WITH these descriptions and images, it's definitely acne due to shaving

    • profile image

      Unknown 9 months ago

      I had unprotected sex about 12 hours ago. It was in a pool, and I went home and showered afterwards, however about 4 hours ago, before bed, i itched. And about an hour or two after it itched, I noticed a pimple. It's hard to tell if it's a herpes blister. It doesn't burn, just itch. I've tired looking to check for clear liquid stuff as said in the chart above. But still it's hard to tell. Should I be worried? Please help..

    • profile image

      jones 9 months ago

      Great article.While many other sites have described the same thing again and again,this article has provided the most important and clarifying information.thanks.

    • profile image

      IDJFIONSDFNJOSDNFJ 9 months ago


    • profile image

      nisha 9 months ago

      Can I get hsv2 first outbreak after 10 year of infection?

    • profile image

      Gaby1980 10 months ago

      Question? I was diagnose with HSV2 and HSV1 and I have noticed i have a pimple in my outer lips (vagina) and I'm so confused because It looks like a pimple and it does not itch or hurt. But i dont know if it can be an outbreak. Can someone help me to answer my question?

    • profile image

      Guest1 10 months ago

      The most informative article and described exactly what I've been searching all over the internet for

    • profile image

      vikensh grice 11 months ago

      i think i might have herpes but the bisters are all clustered inside my left nostril

    • profile image

      Dee 12 months ago

      I have hsv2. Had one sore on my lip they didn't spread or hurt it was just uncomfortable. Doc have mw acyclovir n i take it daily as a suppressive medicine that was last August. I started on acyclovir to avoid the 2 pills a day. Monday I felt a raise under my skin that was slightly tender but not to tgw point I cant touch it. I'm the cuff of my butt. It is now ednesday and it has popped open, the raise under the skin is gone. I have acyclovir cream and i put organic are vinegar on it. I know herpes comes in clusters but my 1st discovery was 1 sore over a year ago and now this. I'm wondering if it's another for its red now that it's busted open, was blood on a napkin when I patted it. Is this an outbreak or?

    • profile image

      bob white 15 months ago

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

    • profile image

      Sandra 15 months 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

      Joyce 17 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?

    • prodriver08 profile image

      prodriver08 18 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

      Josh Rivers 18 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?

    • profile image

      Soooo 18 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

      anony 18 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

      John 18 months ago

      Darker my guess would be that you are safe

    • profile image

      Dareke 18 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

      In known 18 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

    • prodriver08 profile image

      prodriver08 20 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

      Soooo 20 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

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 20 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

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


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