Ingrown Hair vs. Herpes: What Are the Differences?

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Ingrown hairs and HSV 1 or 2 (herpes) have much in common. They look like red bumps in the genital or anal region, are filled with fluid, and can be painful. However, there are key differences between the two conditions. For example, ingrown hair cysts often appear singularly, whereas herpes blisters grow in clusters.

This article discusses the similarities and differences between ingrown hairs and herpes.

A woman with a pink razor shaving her bikini line

Evgen_Prozhyrko / Getty Images


From red bumps to inflammation and itching, ingrown hairs and herpes can often look and feel similar. Both conditions are painful and affect the genital or anal areas.

Ingrown hairs have external pus-filled blisters that appear singularly and may have a dark mark or shadow in their center, indicating pubic hair growing under the skin. They typically clear up within a week.

Herpes lesions can be internal and external, with fluid-filled blisters and sores that often occur in clusters. They do not have a dark center and take longer to heal. Other symptoms of herpes include:


Although some symptoms of genital herpes and ingrown hairs are similar, the cause of each condition is different.

Ingrown Hair

Ingrown hairs usually appear after hair removal, such as shaving, tweezing, or waxing. Because the hair is shortened or removed, the sharp tip of a new follicle can grow into and under the skin instead of up and out. Ingrown hair may also be referred to as razor burn or shaving bumps.


Herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). HSV-1 causes cold sores and spreads through kissing, touching, and oral sex. HSV-2 is transmitted by sexual contact and causes blisters in and around the genitals.

Diagnosis: How Do I Know If This Bump Is Herpes or Ingrown Hair?

Diagnosing a genital red mark comes down to a few key factors regarding recent history, other bodily symptoms, and healing time. Schedule a visit to your healthcare provider or local clinic for an official diagnosis.

Ingrown Hair

An ingrown hair is usually large, irritated, red, and painful. Because of the location, sweat and build-up can cause the clogged follicle to become infected. This is one key distinction in diagnosing ingrown hair. The puss that comes out of it will be white instead of a herpes lesion with a clear or yellow fluid.

You'll notice more ingrown hairs after grooming, so if spots occur immediately after waxing or shaving, it's probably not herpes. The last factor you can consider is the length of time a cyst takes to heal. Ingrown hairs should begin to clear up within a week. Herpes outbreaks last two to four weeks.


If you've recently been sexually active with a new partner, herpes transmission could have occurred. But since herpes can lay dormant in the body for years without symptoms, this isn't the only diagnostic tool you should use. Look for other signs, as well. For example, do you have a fever? A headache? Does it burn when you pee?


Treatments vary drastically between ingrown hairs and herpes, so getting a proper diagnosis is critical. While the discomfort of each condition can be managed with home remedies, herpes has no cure and can easily be transmitted to sexual partners.

Ingrown Hair

Ingrown hair usually heals within a week or so. Speak with a healthcare provider if it looks badly infected or lasts longer than two weeks. They can prescribe antibiotics. To help ease pain and shorten healing time, consider these at-home treatment methods:

  • Use a warm compress on the area several times daily to soften the skin.
  • Keep the area clean to prevent infection.
  • Stop shaving the area while it heals.
  • Avoid popping or pinching the cyst.


Once diagnosed, the treatment methods are put in place to help prevent outbreaks and transmission. Prescription treatments include oral antivirals that can be used daily to prevent future outbreaks and shedding.

For immediate relief from outbreaks, consider these home remedies:

  • Try over-the-counter (OTC) antiviral creams, hydrocortisone creams, or oral pain relievers.
  • Use a cold compress or ice pack to reduce redness and pain.
  • Soak the sores in a sitz or lukewarm bath with tea tree oil or Epsom salt.
  • Avoid touching or scratching the sores.
  • Keep the sores clean and dry.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands.


Prevention methods for these two conditions are considerably different. Preventing ingrown hair is a matter of strategic hair removal and grooming. Preventing the spread or outbreak of herpes is a daily and personal health responsibility.

Ingrown Hair

Dead cells on the skin's surface can clog hair follicles and cause ingrown hair. Some people regularly experience ingrown cysts after routine hair removal. To prevent cysts from developing, consider adding the following to your hair removal routine or look into permanent removal.

  • Gently exfoliate before shaving to remove dead skin cells.
  • Use clean, sharp single-blade or electric razors.
  • Always shave in the direction of hair growth.
  • Try to put some time between close shaves.
  • Moisturize after shaving.


Preventing herpes starts with sexual health education and safer sex practices. Knowing exactly how and when herpes can be transmitted is key to keeping yourself and others safe. Get smart about contraception. If you're interested in sexual activity, implement a strict condom policy, regular testing, and open communication with sexual partners.

If you're already diagnosed, antiviral drugs can help reduce the risk of flare-ups and lessen the risk of transmission. If you have open and active sores avoid sex, kissing, oral, or sharing objects like drinking glasses.


Even though blisters of genital herpes and ingrown hairs may look similar, the underlying conditions are very different. Ingrown hair is a temporary skin condition that will clear up in about a week. Herpes is a chronic STI with no cure. Diagnosing genital blisters can be tricky. If you recently waxed, you may rule out herpes. On the other hand, if you were sexually active with a new partner, you might have contracted an STI. Either way, schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional to get tested and officially diagnosed.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Vassantachart JM, Menter A. Recurrent lumbosacral herpes simplex virus infectionBaylor University Medical Center Proceedings. 2016;29(1), 48-49. doi:10.1080/08998280.2016.11929356

  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Genital herpes.

  3. Ogunbiyi A. Pseudofolliculitis barbae; current treatment optionsClin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2019;12:241-247. doi:10.2147/CCID.S149250

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital herpes – CDC fact sheet (detailed).

  5. Cedars Sinai. Ingrown hairs.

  6. Sauerbrei A. Herpes genitalis: diagnosis, treatment and preventionGeburtshilfe Frauenheilkd. 2016;76(12):1310-1317. doi:10.1080/08998280.2016.11929356

  7. National Health Service. Ingrown hairs.