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Ingrown Hair vs Herpes: How to Know the Difference

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It is common for you to get alarmed when you notice odd bumps and blisters around your private parts. These send up a lot of red flags especially when you recently ‘got down’ with someone.  

You may likely find yourself wondering: could this be herpes or just an ingrown hair? You then start a mental calculation on when last you had a proper shave or how long the bump has been there.

Well, before you begin to freak out, you need to understand the difference between these two common sores and what you should or shouldn’t do if you eventually have either of them.

So, to help you know the difference between ingrown hair vs. herpes, this article explores the physical symptoms and appearance of the two.

Ingrown hair: What it looks like

ingrown hair vs herpes

An ingrown hair grows through the skin, rather than growing out of the skin’s upper layer which causes an inflammatory response from the affected skin area. Ingrown hair occurs when a hair that has already been removed begins to grow and curve back into the skin.

Actions such as shaving, waxing or tweezing can cause small, swollen bumps on your skin which increases the risk of having ingrown hairs in the genital area. However, some hairs grow unusually. So, ingrown hairs can occur at any time.

Usually, when hair grows, it pushes through the skin. Sometimes, the hair gets blocked or drift in an unusual direction hindering it from getting through the skin surface. This forms ingrown hairs causing the skin to get irritated.  

Ingrown hairs are a common condition with people with curly or more textured hair on their genital area. These areas very often develop ingrown hairs because of certain hair removal practices which include waxing, plucking or shaving. This condition affects Black people more often because of the natural curl of their hair.

Ingrown hair is of two kinds:

The first kind grows out of the skin initially, and then curls back down, piercing the skin and growing through or inside it. The second kind grows through the hair follicle into the skin and just never shows up on the upper layer.

Both kinds of ingrown hair could cause a fester or a sore that can burst open and form crusts, giving them a semblance to herpes. These bumps easily get inflamed, red and painful or itchy.

Ingrown hairs commonly occur in areas like the beard and pubic area. Genital or oral herpes form here as well and since ingrown hairs very much resemble herpes; they may raise concerns.

Signs that it is just Ingrown Hair

  • Small bumps which are darker than the skin around it (this is called hyperpigmentation)
  • Tiny red bumps in areas you shave, wax or tweeze.
  • Isolated bumps/Single sores
  • Blister-like bumps usually filled with pus
  • Hairs with a loop shape because the tip curves and grows through the skin
  • Bumps with pimple like head
  • Inflammation, burning or stinging.
  • Soreness
  • Itching
  • Tenderness of the bump
  • Produces white pus when it ruptures or is squeezed

Blocked hair follicle can evolve into an infection. This is why few ingrown hairs form into bumps filled with white pus on the surface. When it does develop into an infection, there will be additional soreness and irritation.

Unlike herpes, ingrown hairs form as isolated bumps or lesions. That is, they do not cluster or grow in groups. It is very possible to have more than one ingrown hair all at once and this is likely to happen after you’ve shaved, waxed or tweezed the hair around the penis or vagina.

Upon a closer inspection of an ingrown hair, you may find a thin line or something like a shadow usually at the center of the sore. That is the hair growing inside.

However, not all ingrown hairs can be seen just by taking a closer look, so do not diagnose yourself with herpes and rule out the probability of an ingrown hair because you can’t see a shadow or line.

Typically, Ingrown hairs will go away in their own time, and once the hair is removed or breaks out of the skin, the sore will eventually fade away. In most cases, ingrown hair gets better without any treatment.

Herpes sore: What it really is.

ingrown hair vs herpes

The first thing you need to know about herpes is that it is a virus which causes an infection to manifest in different parts of the body. It is also known as the herpes simplex virus (HSV) and it mainly affects the genitals and the mouth.

This viral infection causes unusual sores and wet-looking blisters to develop and gather around the mouth, penis or vagina.

Does herpes hurt?

Herpes has a remarkable ability to remain dormant without developing any symptoms or signs in a person’s body for years. Other people do have symptoms. Some infected persons may have recurrent outbreaks during the first year of contracting herpes.

In the first phase of the infection, you may likely feel feverish and generally ill.  However, in future outbreaks the symptoms may be milder.

The main characteristics of herpes are sores or blisters on the skin around the mouth, genital areas, and rectum. These blisters or sores look like bumps filled with fluid and can be pretty uncomfortable and painful.

After a few days, they break open, ooze out then crust over and heal. You may experience an itchy feeling before the blisters even begin to appear. 

The blisters will eventually fade on their own (without any treatment), then reappear after a while. When this happens, it is called an outbreak. The initial outbreak appears 4 days after contracting the virus, but in some cases, it might take up to 2 to 12 days or more.

How does One Contract Herpes?

Herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and primarily spreads through sexual contact. The virus in its incipient stage remains dormant in the body and will spring up several times in a year.

So if you happen to find sores or fluid-filled blisters in areas around your genitals, there is a high chance that you have a herpes infection. When you give in to the temptation to pop the sores or blisters, they will crust over.

Is there a cure for herpes?

ingrown hair vs herpes

A permanent cure has not yet been developed for Herpes. However, an antiviral medication may be prescribed by a doctor to reduce the outbreaks.

The medicine can also decrease the severity and duration of the outbreaks, ease the symptoms and lessen the risk of others getting infected by the carrier. Get your Prescription for Genital Herpes Treatment in minutes. Talk to a doctor on KompleteCare now.

Types of herpes      

The two most common herpes simplex viruses are;

  • Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1): Responsible for cold sores or fever blisters on the lips or mouth area and on the face too. It can be transmitted via kissing or sharing of very personal belongings like utensils. It mainly causes oral herpes.  
  • Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2): Responsible for sores and blisters on the genitals. It majorly causes genital herpes and is transmitted via sexual interaction. It can also cause oral herpes as well.

Signs and symptoms of Herpes

Genital herpes causes itching, pain and sores around the infected area. It is possible to not develop any symptoms of herpes, but just because you have no visible sores doesn’t mean you aren’t contagious. For many people with herpes, there are no noticeable symptoms but common symptoms may include:

  • Blisters filled with fluid
  • Difficulty or discomfort when urinating
  • Burning sensation on the skin before the sores or blisters develop
  • Itching
  • Flu like symptoms
  • Headache and body ache
  • Feeling feverish
  • Fatigue
  • Having swollen lymph nodes.
  • Yellow discharge from ruptured sores.
  • Bumps smaller than 2 millimetres.
  • Recurring outbreaks
  • Blister-like wet sores or lesions in clusters
  • Tenderness around the sore

Ingrown hair vs herpes: How to know the difference

It is very tricky to distinguish between ingrown hairs vs. herpes since they both have a striking resemblance. So, relying on checking out herpes vs ingrown hair photos online will not help much.

For instance, ingrown pubic hair pictures may look very similar to genital herpes. The most accurate way to actually tell the difference is to speak with a doctor for professional help.

However, few obvious features set these two apart. It may be ingrown hair if:

  • You shaved, waxed or plucked the area during a few days of noticing the blisters.
  • Blisters and sores appear on areas that come in contact with rubbing or friction
  • There are small bumps that are darker than the surrounding skin
  • The bumps don’t gather in clusters but grow as single sores
  • You have really curly or textured hairs

If it is Herpes:

  • The blisters or lesions appear on the genitals and stay up to 3 weeks.
  • There are swollen lymph nodes. 
  • Pain and burning sensation when urinating. 
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Headaches and feverish feeling
  • Blisters and sores gather in clusters
  • Irritation on the face, lips and mouth
  • The sores don’t heal within 2 to 6 weeks.

Razor bumps vs herpes:

Razor bumps are ingrown hairs that usually occur after shaving. So, the difference between razor bumps and herpes are same as discussed above (ingrown hair vs herpes). Razor bumps can develop on the chin, armpits, genital areas and other places that you shave.

When Should You See A Doctor?

If after running through a mental checklist of your recent activities, you suspect that you have herpes, it is important to talk to a doctor or health professional. The doctor will likely request that you get tested for the herpes virus.

If you are positive for herpes, the doctor will start your treatment immediately and help you select the medication that will lessen the effects of herpes on your health.

Also see a doctor when the recurring outbreaks cause discomfort and intense pain. Herpes isn’t a life threatening condition, but the frequent outbreaks can be frustrating, embarrassing and painful. If the bumps around your genitals don’t leave within two weeks, you should see a doctor immediately.


Whether it’s herpes or ingrown hair that you might be experiencing, you don’t need to panic. Herpes is a common virus and it is very easy to treat with the right medication. But if you are still debating whether it’s ingrown hair or herpes, then simply Consult a Doctor on KompleteCare today for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.


Crystal Raypole (2022); Herpes: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and More – Healthline

Linnea Zielinski (2022) Ingrown Hair vs. Herpes: What Is the Difference? – Health Guide

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Claire Essi is a content creator with special interest in health care and lifestyle improvement. She loves to do academic research and journal writing in her leisure.

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