How To Know If A Lip Pimple Is Just A Pimple — So You Can Zap It, Fast

Besides all the holiday cheer and awesome sales, wintertime does have its downsides — and we're not just talking about commuting in snowfall. There's the constant cloud of sickness that looms between October and February that no amount of Emergen-C can ward off. Then, there's the super dry skin from blasting the heat all day and night. But our biggest cold-weather annoyance: lip pimples. Yes, those painful bumps that pop up at the most inopportune moments (like before a big date) and send us into a WebMD spiral: Is that a pimple? A cold sore? Is it contagious? But before you panic, let's discuss.
With so much information on the Internet, it's hard to know what that spot on your lip line actually is — or what to do next. We spoke with dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, to break it down once and for all — so you can stop googling and shrink it, fast.
What's the deal with lip pimples?
"The border of the lip contains high numbers of oil glands, which is why some people have prominent white bumps around the mouth and on the lips themselves. When these glands are blocked, oil may get trapped beneath, forming a pimple. Usually, they look like a white spot. In some cases, the pimple may become inflamed, tender, and red."
How can you tell the difference between a lip pimple and a cold sore?
"Cold sores are actually skin infections caused by a herpes virus. Before an outbreak, people typically develop burning or stinging in the skin followed by a red rash that forms a cluster of blisters. As these blisters rupture on their own, the area forms a scab. It typically takes about one week for cold sores to go away. Once you are infected by the virus, your body can heal, but the virus is stored within your nerves."
Do lip products cause lip pimples?
"Heavy lip balms and ointments that are spread to the skin around the lip may increase your risk of pimples. Also, as hormones change during your menstrual cycle, you are at risk for a pimple around the mouth — just like you are for anywhere else on the face."
What are the best steps to take at the first signs of a lip pimple?
"The same rules apply to pimples around the lips as they do to pimples on the face. Red angry bumps should not be picked. For those, you should visit your dermatologist for a Cortizone shot in the office. At home, I recommend combining 2% salicylic acid, 2.5%-10% benzoyl peroxide, and 1% hydrocortisone cream. Mix all three ingredients in the palm of your hand, then spot treat to the pimple."
Is it OK to cover the bump up with concealer?
"Cosmetic camouflage is important to many, and fine to do so long as the pimple is not open and raw."
What are the best ways to prevent lip acne in the future?
"Don’t overdraw your lips with lipsticks. Remove heavy makeup as soon as possible. Stick with oil-free foundations or [ones containing] salicylic acid, especially during the summertime. And consider washing your face with a salicylic acid cleanser, which helps remove excess oil from the skin and exfoliate skin cells."

More from Skin Care

R29 Original Series