Pimples vs Herpes: Appearance, Symptoms and Treatments

herpes on the lips, part of a woman's face with finger on lips with herpes, beauty concept
Medically reviewed by Dr. Ola Tarabzuni

Key Takeaways

  • Differentiating bumps: Pimples are small, pus-filled bumps, while herpes presents tender blisters.
  • Symptoms tell everything: Pimples are less painful, whereas herpes causes discomfort and flu-like symptoms.
  • Seek professional help: Accurate diagnosis is crucial. Treatments vary, but early intervention ensures effective care.

Ever wondered how these pimples know the exact time to appear when your most awaited occasion comes? Well, we still are figuring this out, but what if, instead of a face, they decide to appear on the genital area? Will we simply call them genital pimples or genital herpes?

Let’s learn in a bit of detail about genital herpes vs pimples, their appearance, symptoms and treatment.
Difference between Herpes and Pimples:

Pimples or herpes in their original form will look like bulging red skin, mostly inflamed, and will sometimes be filled with liquid. It will be itchy to the skin and sometimes cause extreme pain.

According to WHO most HSV infections are asymptomatic or unrecognized, but symptoms of herpes include painful blisters or ulcers that can recur over time.

We will differentiate genital pimples from herpes by the location of its origin, appearance, color and consistency of the fluid-filled pimple.

Genital Pimples

Genital pimples are similar to pimples that can occur on other parts of the body. Genital pimples can sometimes have a white or yellowish center, resembling a typical pimple. Genital pimples have no origin related to viral causes. It mostly is the colonization of bacteria along with dirt and oil.

Genital pimples can appear in the genital area, which includes the vulva, penis, scrotum, and around the anus. They are known to occur in pubic regions.

What STD causes pimple like bumps? Ask an Online Doctor

Genital Herpes

Herpes in the genital area is small and filled with crystal fluid. The blisters typically have a red base clustered at one specific site. When the blisters rupture, they can form shallow ulcers or open sores that may crust over as they heal. It gets transferred from the direct contact of fluids during sexual intercourse. According to a report in the World health organization (WHO) journal, more than 500 million people worldwide are suffering from genital herpes.

Genital herpes basically affects the anal areas. In women, blisters can occur on the vulva, vagina, and cervix. They can appear mostly on the penis and scrotum in men.

Symptoms of Genital pimples and Herpes

Let’s distinguish the symptoms of genital pimples vs herpes. They both have distinct features and symptoms and need a proper medical evaluation to diagnose the actual cause by a medical practitioner. An estimated 3.7 billion people under age 50 (67%) globally have herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) infection, the main cause of oral herpes.

Let’s look into the presenting symptoms and stages of genital herpes.

Symptoms of Pimples

Genital pimples also called folliculitis can present with the following symptoms:

  • Firm to the touch: The pimples are usually firm and can be felt underneath the skin.
  • Whiteheads or pus-filled: Some genital pimples may have a white peak or whitehead at the center when filled with pus.
  • Circular and reddish appearance: The pimples may have a circular shape and appear reddish due to inflammation.
  • Possible pus discharge: When the pimples rupture or break open, they may ooze pus, which can be a thick white liquid.
  • Singular or clustered: Genital pimples can occur individually or in clusters.
  • May be associated with hair follicles: In some cases, genital pimples are related to hair follicles, and they can be linked to conditions like folliculitis or hair follicle infections.
  • Typically not very painful: Genital pimples are usually not overly painful unless they are put under pressure or irritated.
  • Common in areas with sweat glands and sebum production: These pimples are often found in regions with higher concentrations of sweat glands and increased sebum production, such as the genital and pubic areas.

Symptoms of Herpes

The symptoms of genital herpes can vary from person to person, and some individuals may have few to no symptoms at all. However, when symptoms do occur, they typically appear in two main stages:

Stage 1: Initial Outbreak

Within 2 to 14 days after initial exposure to the herpes simplex virus (HSV), mostly through sexual activity, flu-like symptoms may develop, including fever, headache, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes.

  • Tingling, itching, or burning sensations can be felt in the genital area.
  • Small or red tiny fluid-filled blisters may appear on or around the genitals.
  • These blisters may pop up, forming painful ulcers.

Stage 2: Ongoing or Recurrent outbreak

Recurrent outbreaks have shorter half-lives.

You may experience tingling or itching in the genital area before the appearance of new blisters.
Clusters of small, fluid-filled blisters may reappear on or around the genitals or anus.

What triggers genital herpes outbreaks? Speak with Online Doctor

Causes of Genital Pimples

The first and main cause of genital pimples is the colonization of bacteria.

Propionibacterium acnes is the class of bacterium responsible for the maintenance of healthy skin and one of its taxonomic classification Cutibacterium acnes (C.acnes) play a major role in formation of the pimples.

The bacteria becomes the cause of the pimples when skin pores become clogged by dirt, dust or oil. These bacterias multiply and divide to give a pus-like appearance to the clogged pore, resulting in pimple formation.

On popping a pimple, it might cause a stinging pain and will leak out just like herpes but it’s better to avoid popping either pimple or herpes to inhibit the spread of pus and viruses

Causes of Genital Herpes

Herpes is a disease caused by herpes simplex virus, a sexually transmitted virus. It exists in two different forms :

  1. HSV-1
  2. HSV-2

HSV-1 is not the cause of genital herpes as it causes the infection of the mouth by close personal contact including kissing an infected individual.

HSV-2 can spread through contact with an infected individual’s sexual fluids, or by coming in contact with an infected herpes blister’s fluid. It is also termed a cold sore and presents itself in the form of clusters with a white pointy bulged head. It can also affect the mouth and surrounding areas in case or oral sex.

Herpes vs. Pimples: Diagnosis

Diagnosing the difference between herpes and genital pimples requires a thorough evaluation by a healthcare provider. Here’s how it can be diagnosed.

Diagnosing Genital Pimples

Diagnosing genital pimples involves a physical examination by a healthcare provider.
Your healthcare providers may ask:

  • About any recent changes in hygiene practices
  • Exposure to potential irritants or allergens.
  • Perform a visual inspection of the affected area to assess the appearance of the bumps or pimples.

If there is uncertainty about the diagnosis, additional tests including blood tests/antibody tests may be conducted as per the direction of the physician.

Diagnosing Genital Herpes

Diagnosing herpes also involves a combination of medical and physical examination. Your healthcare provider may prescribe laboratory tests, such as viral culture, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, or herpes serology (blood test).


Genital pimples and herpes both can be diagnosed and treated by supportive care using benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid applied on a clean surface.

Acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir are antiviral medications that are usually prescribed by healthcare professionals for the treatment of genital herpes.

Lifestyle modifications including good hygiene and protected intercourse can also contribute to changes in the overall condition of herpes and pimples.

As per WHO, genital herpes is treatable but not curable.

This clearly means that it can be medically improved including the pain and its symptoms but can not be totally curable. The probability of the disease presenting itself again is possible.

Does HPV cause pimples? Consult an Online Doctor

Consult a Doctor

It’s essential to get tested during an active outbreak in the case of genital herpes when the virus is more likely to be detectable. However, keep in mind that herpes can also be diagnosed through blood tests even when no active symptoms are present.

FAQs About Pimples and Herpes

What are the early stages of facial herpes?

There are 2 stages. First is the initial stage where the outbreak happens along with tingling sensations. Later, they will develop into the form of clusters. 

Does genital herpes hurt to touch?

Yes, they do if they are in their final stage. They don’t hurt touching in their initial stage.

How long should bloody stool last?

Bloody stool shouldn’t last more than a few days. If it persists, it’s good to get medical consultation from a professional healthcare individual or provider.

Can a pimple turn into a herpes sore?

No, it can not as both have different origins of cause. Pimple is caused by the bacteria named Cutibacterium Acnes and Herpes is caused by Herpes simplex virus.

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