Ingrown Hair vs. Herpes: How to Spot the Difference

When distinguishing between ingrown hair vs. herpes, it can be difficult to tell the difference. Let’s learn how to tell them apart.

An ingrown hair is nothing more than a harmless skin irritation, while herpes, which is more annoying and symptomatic, is transmitted through sexual relations.

Note that if you don’t follow good hygiene habits, an ingrown hair can develop into a boil.

If you have herpes, you’ll want to find out as soon as possible so that you don’t spread it to another person.

Also, finding out that it’s just an ingrown hair will eliminate your anxiety and allow you to enjoy life again.

Ingrown Hair vs. Herpes

The fact of the matter is ingrown hairs can look like genital herpes. They can appear so similar that some medical professionals can’t distinguish between them without medical tests.

The key difference is that herpes lesions look like “watery clusters”, whereas ingrown hairs consist of a single sore.



Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex type 1 and herpes simplex type 2 viruses.

HSV-2 (herpes simplex type 2) is often spread through genitalia-to-genitalia contact. HSV-1, on the other hand, is spread through oral sex or kissing.

The herpes virus can remain in your nervous system for years without any noticeable symptoms.

The worst part? They’re very common (it’s estimated that nearly 50% of people in the United States are infected).

As you can see from the picture, herpes looks like watery clusters that don’t have a specific origin.

Treatment Options

For people with genital herpes, you can take an oral antiviral medication. There are also drugs that help prevent you from spreading it to other people.

The best way to prevent yourself from getting herpes is to practice safe sex (a.k.a. use condoms).

Ingrown Hair

Home-Remedies-for-Ingrown-HairIngrown Hair

Next in this ingrown hair vs herpes comparison, we’re going to talk about the dreaded ingrown hair.

An ingrown is nothing more than a hair that’s grown into the skin. This can lead to pain, inflammation, and sometimes, infection.

Fortunately, ingrown hairs aren’t life-threatening and go away on their own if you leave them alone. As you can see from the picture, an ingrown hair is an isolated lesion.

Unlike herpes, there are not “clusters” present. Ingrown hairs are extremely common, and happen whenever you shave.

The best way to prevent them is to shave in the direction of your hair growth (not against it).

Treatment Options

If you have an ingrown hair, let it be. Don’t scratch or pick at it (that’s how you get it infected).

The best thing you can do is leave it alone. Most ingrown hairs will go away on their own within a few days to a week.

Distinguishing Between Ingrown Hairs and Herpes – More Tips

The first major difference between the two is that herpes is generally recurring. It can go away without medical attention but then return a few weeks/months later.

Ingrown hairs aren’t recurring. Once they go away, they’re gone for good. Let’s learn how to do a self-exam at home so that you don’t need to spend money trying to see whether you have herpes or an ingrown hair.

How to Perform an At-Home Self-Exam

Wash your hands thoroughly before performing the steps you’re about to learn. You don’t want to infect your lesion and make it worse.

Using a magnifying glass, examine your blister. If it’s an ingrown hair, you should see a shadowy line. That’s because ingrown hairs tend to curl backwards into the skin.

Since herpes lesions do not involve hair, you won’t see the same dark, shadowy line.

According to the American Family Physician (AAFP), herpes lesions are typically smaller than 2 millimeters. Additionally, blisters caused by herpes are yellow, cloudy, and clear.

This differs from pimples caused by ingrown hairs. Those are often covered with dead skin and don’t share the same visual features.

Another thing to look at is the color of the substance coming out of the lesion. For example, if it’s herpes, then yellow discharge will come out. But if it’s an ingrown hair, white puss will come out.

Finally, as we mentioned earlier, ingrown hairs typically consist of a single pimple whereas herpes lesions appear in clusters.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Herpes Virus

Hopefully, this ingrown hair vs herpes comparison has helped you determine what you have. If you think you might have herpes, you probably have a lot of questions.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the herpes virus.

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Question: Where Does the Herpes Virus Live in the Body?

Answer: After infecting your body, the herpes virus will remain in your nervous system (specifically the sensory nerve ganglia).

Remember that you can have herpes for years without ever having a single symptom.

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Question: How Common is Genital Herpes?

Answer: Earlier we said that genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex type 2 virus. According to the CDC, about 50 million U.S. adults are infected with this virus.

It tends to be most common in women, as well as in people who have had sex with more than five people.

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Question: Can You Spread Genital Herpes?

Answer: Absolutely. This is why it’s very important to practice safe sex. Even if your partner isn’t showing any symptoms of herpes, they could still have it.

Likewise, you could be infected yourself and spread it to other people without knowing it.

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Question: Can Genital Herpes Be Treated?

Answer: There are drugs that can treat genital herpes. These include acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir.

Taking these drugs not only reduce viral replication, but can also reduce the number of outbreaks you experience (as well as the symptoms).

Unfortunately, they don’t cure the virus.

Bottom Line

Hopefully, this article has helped you distinguish between ingrown hairs and herpes.

To summarize, herpes is recurring and appears in clusters whereas ingrown hairs are not recurring and appear as individual lesions.

If after reading this article you’re still unsure, schedule a visit with your doctor. They’ll be able to give you a precise answer.

Ask a Question: If you want to ask a medical doctor a question that hasn't been answered in one of our articles go to: Ask a Medical Doctor About your Symptoms

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1 Comment

  • I have issue with ingrown hair an they don’t look like blister like the picture I seen what herpies look like but when I get a infected hair I hope it’s infected hair it hurts like pressure needs to be popped like pimple when it does it bleeds so I keep bandaidcon it until it pops on it’s on sometimes it has smell so does a infected hair do this what I said

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