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Ingrown Hair Vs. Herpes: How To Tell The Difference

UPGUYS > Blog > Hair > Ingrown Hair vs. Herpes: How to Tell the Difference
The person who wrote this article

Written by the UPGUYS Editorial Team
Published on August 10, 2022

Have you found a bump around your genital area? It's natural to be concerned about what this unwelcome visitor is. And as around half a billion people worldwide live with genital herpes, it is important to learn more about ingrown hair vs. herpes. 

There are different types of herpes, including genital herpes, usually caused by HSV-2. However, sometimes ingrown hairs are mistaken for herpes, which can impact treatment. You want to be able to tell the difference so you can get take the right action to manage symptoms. 

However, unfortunately, it is still hard for people to reach out if they have concerns about genital symptoms. There remains a stigma around issues such as herpes due to a lack of education and understanding.

Read on for everything you need to know about ingrown hair vs. herpes to take control of your health. 

In this article, we talk about the following:

What Is Herpes? 

The Herpes Simplex Virus causes herpes. Most commonly, genital herpes is caused by the HSV-2 strain, but it can also be caused by HSV-1, which is usually associated with cold sores. Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is passed on through sexual contact, including kissing, oral, vaginal, and anal sex. 

Symptoms of Herpes

Herpes has a variety of different symptoms, with differences between oral herpes and genital herpes too. Some of the most common symptoms of genitals herpes include:

  1. Tingling, itching, and burning before sores appear 
  2. Headache, fever, and other flu-like symptoms
  3. Small bumps, usually smaller than 2 millimetres 
  4. Tenderness around bumps 
  5. Pain when urinating 
  6. Clusters of sores or lesions similar to small water blisters
  7. Discharge from sore breaks 
  8. Repeated outbreaks

The bumps can appear around your genitals, anus, or inner thighs. Not everyone has symptoms of the virus, and you can spend years with it before symptoms occur.

Like with erectile dysfunction, there is still misunderstanding and stigma about the issue, but understanding it means you can quickly deal with it. 

Other people experience outbreaks of herpes that gradually subside once they have control over symptoms. 

What Is Ingrown Hair?

Ingrown hairs are caused by blocked hair follicles that can become infected and grow back into the skin. You are more susceptible to them if you shave, pluck, or wax your pubic hair. Ingrown hairs are also a common cause of red and tender bumps around your genital area. 

Read more: Ingrown Hair Removal: A Guide To Getting Rid Of Ingrown Hairs

Symptoms of Ingrown Hairs 

Many men are concerned about hair loss, but also, many prefer to have less public hair. Common symptoms of ingrown hairs include:

  1. Isolated small red bumps, sometimes with pus-filled heads 
  2. Itchiness and inflammation 
  3. Tenderness around bumps 
  4. White pus when popped 

Sometimes ingrown hairs are also called razor bumps due to their occurrence after hair removal, which many men do due to concerns about hair and appearance.

When you look at ingrown hair closely, you may notice a thin black line, which is the hair causing the sore. However, this is not always the case. 

Herpes vs. Ingrown Hair Differences

It can be difficult to tell the difference between herpes vs. ingrown hair, no matter their region. However, several differences can help you distinguish between the two. They include:

  1. Activity before you notice bumps
  2. Pain level
  3. Other symptoms 
  4. Repeated outbreaks 
  5. Groups of lesions or separate lesions

If you have recently shaved your public hair, ingrown hairs could be more likely. In contrast, herpes can occur at any time. If you have recently had a new partner or engaged in sexual contact, it could be herpes, although, as noted, symptoms can begin years after you contract the virus.

Ingrown hairs can cause pain if you apply pressure, but herpes sores can cause more severe pain. Once they pop, you may also experience pain while urinating, depending on where the herpes outbreak is. 

You should also consider if you are experiencing multiple outbreaks and your other symptoms.

Ingrown hairs tend to be isolated, whereas herpes outbreaks can include multiple sores in specific areas, such as your testicles. 

Distinguish Ingrown Hair vs. Herpes

Once you know the differences between ingrown hair vs. herpes, it is easier to distinguish between them. There are some similarities, such as the fact both can reduce sexual enjoyment until you deal with the issue. 

The key factors that distinguish ingrown hairs from herpes are:

  • Type of sores
  • Pus 
  • How they develop
  • Long-term symptoms 

Ingrown hairs may have a thin line or shadow in the bump, which herpes sores do not have and are usually in groups. Ingrown hairs can also occur anywhere on your body, especially in areas you shave, wax, or pluck. If there is white pus, it can indicate ingrown hairs, whereas herpes sores can produce watery discharge once they burst.

Both ingrown hairs and herpes can cause itching before they occur, but if you are experiencing burning and other flu-like symptoms, it is more likely to be herpes.

What Else Can Be Mistaken for Ingrown Hair?

Around 46% of surveyed men do not perform self-exams, but checking your genitals regularly for any abnormal signs is essential. It is not just to check for ingrown hairs but other issues too. Sometimes other issues can be mistaken for ingrown hairs; these include:

  1. Public lice (crabs)
  2. Syphilis 
  3. Fungal infections such as ringworm
  4. Genital warts 
  5. Molluscum contagiosum

It's important to be aware that there are various causes of sores and bumps around your genital area. The more regularly you check, the quicker you can take action to control the issue. You can then get back to safely enjoying sex and feeling comfortable. 

Final Words: Do I Need to See a Doctor?

Now you know the differences between ingrown hair vs. herpes. But what action should you take once you understand your issue?

Ingrown hairs tend to go away on their own, and you can speed up the healing process at home. However, if you notice the bump worsening in any way, you should see your doctor. 

Herpes does not have a cure, but various treatments are available to help manage symptoms. Your healthcare provider will be able to diagnose herpes and provide recommendations based on your specific case.

This article is written for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information provided in the articles cannot and should not replace advice from a healthcare professional. Talk to your healthcare provider about any physical or mental health concerns or the risks and benefits of any treatment or medication.