Online Dermatologist > Ingrown Hair Vs Herpes

Ingrown Hair Vs Herpes: Spotting the Differences

by | Nov 9, 2023 | Blog, Hair, Sexual Health

Interpreting sexuality with safe for work graphics - purpose: stds vs ingrown hair in genital area<br />

Key Takeaways

  • Ingrown hairs are usually single, pus-filled bumps with a central hair, while genital herpes presents as clusters of blisters with possible systemic symptoms like fever.
  • Recent shaving or sexual activity can provide clues to whether bumps are ingrown hairs or herpes.
  • Proper shaving techniques can prevent ingrown hairs, and safe sex practices along with antiviral medications can reduce herpes transmission risks.
  • Always seek medical advice if you’re unsure or if symptoms persist.

Razor Burn or Herpes: Eva’s Skin Confusion

Eva’s story starts on an ordinary Thursday with two seemingly minor decisions: she uses a dull razor to shave and later that night, has unprotected sex. By the weekend, what she assumes is just razor burn from the shave or chafing from her hike in the searing heat turns into an annoying irritation. The true nature of the irritation becomes a puzzle when, by Tuesday, small bumps form a troubling cluster on her skin.


There’s no pain, only a persistent irritation that doesn’t quite fit her Google search results for razor burn. The pictures of ingrown hairs don’t match perfectly, and the images of genital herpes leave her with more questions than answers. Conflicted and concerned, especially with no knowledge of her new partner’s STD status, she turns to an online dermatology consultation in search of answers.


Eva uploads pictures and describes her situation in detail, the digital consultation bridging the gap between her concerns and medical expertise. The dermatologist’s response comes with the kind of straightforwardness that cuts through the noise of her anxiety. They suspect genital herpes and suggest that antiviral medication could help, especially if started early. They recommend an in-person follow-up with an STD clinic or a dermatologist for a definitive diagnosis.


Eva’s case illustrates a common scenario encountered in dermatological practice. It underscores not just the challenge patients face in distinguishing between conditions like ingrown hairs and genital herpes, but also the crucial role of timely medical consultation. For readers, it’s a reminder that while self-diagnosis can be tempting, professional guidance is invaluable.


The confusion that often arises between ingrown hairs and genital herpes in the genital and anal regions is a common challenge. Ingrown hairs and herpes, specifically HSV-1 or HSV-2, can present with similar symptoms [1], creating a source of uncertainty and concern. Distinguishing between these two conditions is critical for appropriate treatment and peace of mind.

Ingrown hairs typically appear individually, each centered over a hair follicle. In contrast, herpes blisters tend to form clusters, with multiple blisters close together. Both types of sores can be painful, but ingrown hairs usually resolve within a few days or, at most, less than a week.

Ingrown Hairs vs. Genital Herpes: Visual Differences and Causes

The distinguishing factor between ingrown hairs and genital herpes lies in their visual appearance. Ingrown hairs appear as isolated, pus-filled blisters with a dark center, while genital herpes forms clusters of fluid-filled blisters without a dark center.

Ingrown hairs occur when a regrowing hair, curls into the skin rather than growing outward as it should. This is a common side effect of shaving, tweezing, and waxing. Tiny, painful lumps on the skin can form when a hair grows back into itself, leading to inflammation and the formation of a blister.

Genital herpes, on the other hand, is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) infecting the skin and mucous membranes, Oral herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), while genital herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) [2], resulting in the formation of blisters and sores in clusters that might recur over time, although most HSV infections go unrecognized or undiagnosed since they don’t show any outward signs of illness. This fundamental difference in their origin contributes to their distinct visual presentations.


Accompanying Symptoms associated with Ingrown Hairs vs Genital Herpes


Ingrown Hairs

Irritation or discomfort may accompany the treatment of ingrown hairs. Hair becoming caught under the skin causes irritation and pus-filled blisters, which can be very uncomfortable. Although it is common for the pain and suffering to be confined to the affected area, especially after shaving, it can also occur in scalp, legs, armpits, axis pubis chest, nose.

Some extra hair growth may occur in those who have higher than average levels of sex hormones [3]. Ingrown hair will go away on its own within 1-2 weeks. But if it doesn’t, you could have an infection (which can cause pus to form), darkened skin, scarring, pain or itching.

Ingrown hair that doesn’t clear up can lead to:

  • Bacterial infection (from scratching)
  • Patches of skin that are darker than usual (post inflammatory hyperpigmentation)
  • Raised scars that are darker than surrounding skin (keloids)
  • Pseudofolliculitis barbae, also known as razor bumps
  • Fine depressed scars (grooves) [4]


Genital Herpes

In the case of genital herpes, the accompanying symptoms can be more varied and pronounced. Individuals with genital herpes, caused by herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), may experience pain during urination especially in women, body aches, fever, and an unusual discharge. These symptoms often occur alongside the formation of clusters of fluid-filled blisters and sores, which can cause significant discomfort and distress. Blisters that break and hurt. These can be on your buttocks, thighs, or rectal area or along your genitals. Rarely, blisters may form in the urethra, where urine leaves the body [5].

It’s important to note that genital herpes symptoms can vary in severity from person to person, and some individuals may not experience noticeable symptoms, leading to undiagnosed infections. Understanding these accompanying symptoms is crucial for distinguishing between ingrown hairs and herpes, as they offer valuable insights into the nature of the condition and the need for medical consultation.


Diagnostic Clues


Recent Activities can offer valuable insights into the nature of the condition.

When dealing with ingrown hairs, it’s essential to consider recent activities related to hair removal. These activities, such as shaving, waxing, or tweezing, can often lead to the development of ingrown hairs. If the individual has recently engaged in any of these hair removal methods, it may serve as a diagnostic clue.

On the other hand, in the case of genital herpes, recent sexual activity plays a significant role. Herpes outbreaks can be triggered or exacerbated by sexual intercourse. If an individual has engaged in recent sexual activity and subsequently experiences symptoms like painful blisters or sores in the genital area, it may indicate a herpes outbreak. Understanding the relevance of recent activities is essential for distinguishing between ingrown hairs and herpes [6].


Importance of consulting a healthcare professional for accurate diagnosis[7]

When it comes to diagnosing these conditions, consulting a healthcare professional is of utmost importance. In the case of ingrown hairs, while the visual appearance and discomfort can offer strong clues, a medical examination is necessary to confirm the diagnosis. A healthcare professional can examine the affected area, ensuring that there are no signs of infection or more severe conditions. They may also provide guidance on safe methods for hair removal to prevent future ingrown hairs.

For individuals experiencing symptoms of genital herpes, a medical examination is indispensable. Visual clues, such as the presence of blisters, can be highly suggestive of herpes. However, only a healthcare professional can provide an accurate diagnosis through tests and examinations. Herpes testing involves swabs, blood tests, and physical examinations to determine the presence of the virus and the appropriate course of action.

Consulting a healthcare professional ensures that the correct diagnosis is made, leading to the accurate treatment.


Treatment Overview


Treatment for Ingrown Hairs

When dealing with ingrown hairs, treatment often begins with home remedies. Individuals can take steps to alleviate discomfort and facilitate the natural healing process. This may include warm compresses to reduce inflammation, gentle exfoliation to release trapped hairs, and keeping the affected area clean to prevent infection. Over-the-counter creams or ointments can also be used to soothe the skin.

However, if home remedies don’t provide relief or if the ingrown hair becomes infected, it’s crucial to seek medical help. A healthcare professional can safely extract the ingrown hair and provide any necessary treatment for infection. In severe cases, ingrown hairs may require antibiotics [8].


Treatment for Genital Herpes

The management of genital herpes often involves antiviral treatments. Antiviral medications can help control and reduce the severity of herpes outbreaks. These medications, prescribed by a healthcare professional, work by inhibiting the replication of the herpes virus. It’s important to note that while antiviral treatments can help manage outbreaks, there is no cure for herpes [9]. The virus remains in the body and can cause recurrent outbreaks, but antiviral medications can reduce the frequency and severity of these episodes.

Seeking professional medical advice is essential for determining the appropriate antiviral treatment and ensuring the management of genital herpes. A healthcare provider can guide individuals on the correct use of these medications and offer advice on managing herpes effectively. Treatment overview serves as a critical component in the journey of understanding and managing these conditions, offering individuals insights into the available treatment options and when to seek professional guidance.


Prevention Essentials


Ingrown Hairs

To prevent ingrown hairs, individuals can adopt proper shaving techniques. This includes using a sharp, clean razor, shaving in the direction of hair growth, and avoiding shaving too closely to the skin. Exfoliating the skin before shaving can help prevent hair from becoming trapped beneath the surface [10]. Additionally, keeping the skin well-moisturized can reduce the likelihood of ingrown hairs.


Genital Herpes

Preventing the spread of genital herpes involves practicing safe sex. This means using latex or polyurethane condoms consistently and correctly during sexual intercourse. It’s essential for individuals with herpes to communicate with their partners about their condition to ensure safe sexual practices [11].

For those with recurrent outbreaks, considering antiviral medication may be a preventive measure. These medications can help reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks, making it an option for individuals looking to manage their condition and reduce the risk of transmission.

Prevention essentials are key in maintaining overall health and well-being, and these strategies provide individuals with the tools to minimize the risk of ingrown hairs and genital herpes, promoting a healthier and more informed approach to their healthcare [12].

When to See a doctor

Knowing when to seek medical advice is crucial when dealing with symptoms that could be related to ingrown hairs or genital herpes. If individuals are unsure about the nature of the bumps, discomfort, or sores they are experiencing, it is strongly recommended to consult a healthcare professional [13]. Healthcare providers have the knowledge and expertise to accurately diagnose and differentiate between these conditions.

Furthermore, if symptoms worsen or persist over time, it’s an indication that medical attention is necessary. For ingrown hairs, persistent discomfort or signs of infection should prompt a visit to the doctor. In the case of genital herpes, recurrent or severe outbreaks, or the emergence of new or concerning symptoms, should also be evaluated by a healthcare professional. Seeking medical advice ensures that individuals receive the appropriate diagnosis and treatment, leading to effective healthcare management. It’s a proactive step in taking control of one’s health and well-being.


Note: “Eva” is a fictional name used for storytelling purposes in this blog post. At First Derm, we prioritize your privacy and do not collect or share any personally identifiable information through our consultations. The scenario presented is a composite of real-life cases and does not point to any individual’s private medical history. It is used here to illustrate common situations in dermatological practice and to emphasize the importance of professional guidance.



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  3. Watson S. Ingrown Hair. WebMD. Published February 2012. Accessed November 4, 2023.
  4. Ingrown hair | NCH Healthcare System. NCH Healthcare System. Published January 30, 2010. Accessed November 4, 2023.
  5. Saling J. Common Symptoms of Genital Herpes. WebMD. Published January 18, 2012. Accessed November 5, 2023.
  6. Laverse, Jaleel H, Evans DTP, Sundaresan M. Sexual history: its importance in averting detrimental misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis. BMJ Case Reports. Published 2017. Accessed November 5, 2023.
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  8. Zuber Tj, Pfenninger Jl. Management of ingrown toenails. American Family Physician. 2017. Accessed November 5, 2023.
  9. Johnston C. Diagnosis and Management of Genital Herpes: Key Questions and Review of the Evidence for the 2021 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Sexually Transmitted Infections Treatment Guidelines. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2022;74(Supplement_2): S134-S143. doi:
  10. Wanitphakdeedecha, Alster T. Physical means of treating unwanted hair. Dermatologic Therapy. Published 2013. Accessed November 6, 2023.
  11. Handsfield. Public health strategies to prevent genital herpes: Where do we stand? Current Infectious Disease Reports. 2016. Accessed November 6, 2023.
  12. Swanson Jm, Chen Wc. The prevention and management of genital herpes: a community health approach. Journal of Community Health Nursing. Published 2022. Accessed November 6, 2023.
  13. Barton S. Herpes management and prophylaxis. Dermatologia clinica. 2018. Accessed November 6, 2023.

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