Here’s Exactly How to Get Rid of a Lip Pimple, According to Dermatologists

Women's Health posted "19 Best Acne Body Washes to Get Rid of Pimples." According to Visha Skincare founder, Dr. Purvisha Patel, acne medications that keeps skin clean and pores unclogged are best to treat and to prevent painful lip blemishes.

Let’s be real for a sec. There are few things worse than staring in the mirror in the morning, starting your regular skincare routine, and noticing the Mount Olympus-sized pimple that's decided to take up real estate on your lips. *Cues shriek.*

Pimples are a real downer, especially when you’ve just perfected your skincare game. But even though we can’t technically ~control~ when we get pimples, there are ways—simple adjustments, let’s call them—to deal with and prevent them for the future. And lip pimples are somehow more…personal. (IDK about you, but I’m always wondering if my coworker is staring at it while we’re having a conversation.)

Meet Our Experts: Dr. Purvisha Patel, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare, Dr. Hadley King, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist specializing in medical and cosmetic dermatology in New York City, and Dr. Lian Mack, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist at GlamDerm in New York

So, in the name of beauty, keep reading to learn what causes lip pimples, how you can tell if it’s a pimple versus a cold sore, how to treat them, and how to prevent them, with some dermatologist-approved tips.

Why Do I Have a Pimple On My Lip?

A few different things can cause lip pimples to pop up, but it mainly happens when the pores are blocked around the lip edges or places where there’s hair, says Dr. Purvisha Patel, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare. “There can be bacteria or fungal growth form within a hair follicle, or it can be just a ball of oil called a milial cyst,” she adds.

As for how the pores become blocked in the first place, lip pimples form similarly to other acne, say Dr. Hadley King, MD, FAAD, and Dr. Lian Mack, MD, FAAD. Causes can include:

  • Genetics
  • Hormones
  • Comedogenic topical products (aka oil-filled products, lip balms, or lip glosses)
  • Diet (like sugars and starches), and
  • The buildup of bacteria, oil, and dead skin cells

“Essentially, oil becomes trapped in the pore which results in an overgrowth of bacteria, which in turn, creates an inflammatory reaction in the skin,” Dr. Mack adds.

    Lip pimples will appear any place there are sebaceous glands, which can be found in the edges of the lips and the lip line, or the vermillion border, Dr. King and Dr. Mack explain. However, they can also appear in corners and above and below the lips as well, since there are hair follicles there that can lead to follicular occlusion, and, in turn, cause pimples to pop up there, Dr. Patel says.

    Is My Lip Blemish Is a Pimple Or a Cold Sore?

    Lip pimples and cold sores appear very differently. Cold sores look blister-like, while pimples are bumps that have a black or white top, Dr. Patel says. “Cold sores usually start off with a tingling or burning sensation prior to developing into painful vesicles or fluid-filled bumps,” Dr. Mack adds. Meanwhile, lip pimples don’t have the same sensation before, but they can feel tender after they appear.

    Cold sores can also form inside the mouth, in addition to on or around the lips, and they’re caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), says Dr. King. "If it's a primary outbreak, the symptoms are generally more severe: burning and tingling followed by painful sores, fever, body aches, headache, swollen lymph nodes," she adds. (If it's an old infection flaring up, the symptoms are usually just the burning or tingling before the cold sore developments.) The cold sore will crust over and heal within one to two weeks.

    How to Get Rid Of Lip Pimples

    Topical anti-acne medications are probably the move, Dr. King and Dr. Patel say. They recommend products with active ingredients like retinoids, salicylic acid, and benzoyl peroxide, but they also recommend hydrocortisone cream if the pimple is itchy.

    You can also use a pimple patch or a charcoal mask “to help unclog the pore and reduce inflammation,” Dr. Mack says. And if a pimple is super inflamed, you can get an intralesional cortisone injection from your dermatologist.

    How Can I Prevent Lip Pimples?

    Practice regular use of the same aforementioned anti-acne medications to help clear up your skin, and wash your face with an exfoliating face wash. “This helps open up the pores on your face and limits acne by reducing microbe growth within these follicles,” Dr. Patel says.

    At the same time, try steering clear of comedogenic products (hi, thick lip glosses and balms) since they can be pore-clogging, and turn to ones that are free of oils, while limiting your intake of dairy products, sugars, starches, and high-glycemic foods, Dr. King and Dr. Mack recommend.

    And if you regularly remove hair from that area via waxing or shaving and see that lip pimples appear frequently, Dr. Mack advises switching to a different hair removal method, like a depilatory cream or laser hair removal with your dermatologist.

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