What is the Main Difference Between Ingrown Hair and Herpes: Causes and Symptoms

Ingrown hair is a skin condition caused by hair removal methods such as shaving and waxing. Herpes is a viral infection causes by herpes simplex virus. Both result in red bumps that resemble pimples. They are entirely different conditions, however.

Causes, symptoms and treatment options for both conditions are very different. It is very important to know the difference between them. This is especially true when you are considering treatment at home. This article examines the main difference between ingrown hair and herpes.

Ingrown hair vs herpes


What causes ingrown hairs? Ingrown hair is basically hair that has grown into skin rather than above it. They mostly develop in people with thick, curly and coarse hair after shaving or waxing. An ingrown hair can develop after hair has exited the follicle only to curl back and pierce the skin. It can also be that hair never makes it through a follicle but is forced to grow sideways and pierce the wall of a follicle. This usually happens when a follicle is clogged with dead skin cells or sebum.

Herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus. The herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1) is responsible for oral herpes in both men and women. It is transferred through oral sex. Herpes simplex type -2 is responsible for genital herpes in males and females. It is the most common type and is transferred through sexual intercourse.


Before ingrown hair bumps appear, you may experience some tingling and itchiness. A day or two afterwards, small, red bumps will appear.

Symptoms of herpes include fever, body aches, headache, difficulty urinating, itchiness and pain. Afterwards, fluid-filled blisters will appear.

6 main differences between ingrown hair and herpes

  • Physical appearance: Ingrown hair bumps the following characteristics
  • Red
  • Black spot at the center
  • Yellow or green at the center when infected

Herpes causes fluid-filled blisters rather than pimple-like bumps.

  • Pain

Ingrown hairs cause pain due to skin irritation. Pain may also be caused by bacterial infection. Since ingrown hairs rarely cause severe infections, it is unlikely that the pain will be intolerable.

Herpes is far more painful than ingrown hairs. As mentioned earlier, herpes causes blisters. Blisters are always very painful, especially when touched.

  • Other symptoms

The only way someone can tell that you have ingrown hairs is by noticing red pimples with dark spots on a recently shaved skin region.

Herpes, on the other hand, brings along a list of other symptoms. These include fever, headaches, general weakness and swelling of lymph nodes.

  • Recurrence

Once you have successful treated an ingrown hair, it will go away for good. Occurrence of another ingrown hair will not have anything to do with a previously treated one.

The virus that causes herpes stays in the body forever. For most of its life, the virus stays inactive. From time to time, it launches attacks when triggered. Some people experience more frequently recurring attacks than others.

  • Fill-in fluid

Normally, ingrown hairs do not contain any fluid. Pus formation occurs after bacterial infection. It is for this reason that an ingrown hair may ooze pus and blood when pricked.

Herpes blisters are filled with a clear fluid. Infected blisters may ooze a yellowish fluid. These blisters readily rupture when pressed.

  • Lifecycle

An ingrown hair remains intact unless opened with a needle for example. If left alone, an ingrown hair will resolve without ever bursting open.

Herpes blisters burst open after some time. After bursting, they release a clear fluid and later develop into ulcers. From there, the ulcers will heal like normal wounds.

How to tell the difference between genital herpes and ingrown hair

Telling the difference between genital herpes and ingrown hair doesn’t require professional skills. Below are tips on how to go about it:

  • First you will need to attain a position that will allow for close physical examination. Since this may require that you use your hands, use a mild cleanser or antibacterial soap to wash your hands first.
  • Closely examine the bumps. Ingrown hairs should have a dry and scaly top. You can sometimes see the ingrown hair as a dark spot in the middle of the bump. Herpes blisters may be yellowish, whitish or clear.
  • A magnifying glass will help you get a better view. This is especially for bumps that are in areas such as the genitals.
  • Gently press the bumps. If they rupture or burst open readily, they most likely are herpes blisters. Ingrown hairs are very intact.
  • Ingrown hairs can only develop in skin regions which contain hair follicles. In the genitals, the pubes, bikini area, penis shaft and vaginal lips are commonly affected. Herpes blisters can develop anywhere in the genital area. This includes on inner vaginal lips which don’t normally grow hair.

Note that ingrown hairs will only occur after hair removal. Herpes may occur even without recent sexual activities.

Ingrown hair vs herpes; treatment

Ingrown hairs do not always require treatment. If left alone, they resolve within 2-4 weeks. You can consider learning how to take care of an ingrown hair in this regard.  Treatment options include warm compressing, using a needle to release the ingrown hair, use of antibiotics, good shaving skills, laser hair removal and home remedies. The best treatment option depends on the severity of the condition.

  • Warm compress – works by drawing either the ingrown hair or pus closer to the surface. To use a warm compress, soak a thick piece of cloth in hot water, wring it out and cover the affected skin for 5 minutes. It is a quite effective ingrown hair bump removal
  • Removal with a sharp device – this is the fastest way to get rid of an ingrown hair under skin. It is not a complicated process. All you require is a sharp needle or tweezers and alcohol to sterilize either. Locate the tip of the ingrown hair, prick the bump and tug the hair out.
  • Medications – topical medications to reduce swelling and get rid of dead skin are available in form of creams and lotions. Salicylic acid ingrown hair removal products are most popular. If necessary, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics and retinoids.
  • Hair removal – the two main ingrown hair removal methods that permanently get rid of hair are laser hair removal and electrolysis. Ask your doctor about them or check for details online.
  • Chemical depilatories – these are acids designed to weaken the structure of hair.
  • Home remedies – good examples include tea tree oil, sugar scrub, aloe vera and baking soda. Most work by easing ingrown hair itchy symptoms, getting rid of dead skin and preventing infection.

Herpes blisters heal even without treatment. In fact, the disease is not curable. However, treatment is usually necessary. It aims to ease the symptoms as well as prevent recurrent attacks. Antiviral medications are the main herpes treatment options. Individuals are advised to practice safe sex to avoid spread.

You can use home remedies such as aloe Vera and essential oils to improve the symptoms of herpes. These remedies should however not be relied on for full treatment.

Without treatment, herpes symptoms can linger for a very long time. With treatment, they may disappear within 6 weeks. Medications also greatly reduce the rate at which outbreaks keep recurring.

Ingrown hairs and herpes have some similarities. For example, both may be characterized by pain and itchiness. On top of that, both conditions will ultimately go away on their own even without treatment. Statistics show that most people who have herpes don’t actually know it. The information contained here will help you tell an ingrown hair from a herpes blister. To confirm diagnosis, it is always a good idea to check with your doctor. You can also take advantage of genital herpes vs. ingrown hair pictures for illustrations on both of these conditions.