Ingrown Hair Vs. Herpes: How To Tell The Difference

Ingrown Hair Vs. Herpes: How To Tell The Difference

Herpes is one of the most common conditions, affecting around 572,000 new people every single year in the United States. Infection from the herpes simplex virus often results in the appearance of small, red, fluid-filled blisters, usually around the mouth or genital regions. These blisters are often referred to as cold sores. Due to their small size and red appearance, cold sores can often be mistaken for ingrown hairs. In the following article, we discuss the differences between ingrown hair and herpes and what you should be looking for.

What Is Herpes?

Herpes is a very common virus that produces sores on the genitals and mouth. Herpes is caused by infection from the herpes-simplex virus (HSV). More than half of Americans have oral herpes, and roughly one in six have genital herpes. While it can be annoying and sometimes painful, herpes does not usually cause serious or long-term health complications.

There are two main types of herpes: oral herpes and genital herpes.

Oral Herpes

Oral herpes is caused by infection from herpes-simplex virus type 1. It is often referred to as cold sores or fever blisters. Experts estimate that between 50 and 80 percent of adults in the United States have been infected with oral herpes, though most show no symptoms. Once infected, a person will live with oral herpes for the rest of their life. However, the virus may remain dormant for extended periods of time. Some people with oral herpes will never experience any noticeable symptoms. Others will have occasional outbreaks accompanied by mild physical symptoms.

Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that can result in the appearance of cold sores around the rectum and on the buttocks, genitals, and thighs. It can be spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who carries the virus. Genital herpes is an incredibly prevalent infection.

Genital herpes enters the body through skin abrasions, thin openings of skin tissue on the body. Once it has entered the body, herpes-simplex virus 2 can reside in the body for the rest of a person’s life. Like oral herpes, genital herpes may be dormant at some times and more active at others.

How To Identify Herpes Sores?

A herpes sore usually appears as a small, red bump on the skin, much like an ingrown hair. These bumps, however, will generally be smaller in size and may not have any hair around them. When trying to determine whether you have genital herpes, look for the following common signs:

  • A cluster of blister-like watery sores
  • Repeated outbreaks of these sores
  • Yellow discharge around the sores
  • Headache
  • Fever

How To Identify Ingrown Hair?

Ingrown hairs are common causes of red, itchy bumps around the genital area. Razor burn may also cause these bumps to appear, so it is important to identify the cause of the red blisters. As hair grows, it usually pushes through the skin and appears above it in its normal form. Sometimes, however, the hair fails to break the skin; this causes an ingrown hair to develop.

When looking to determine whether or not you have ingrown hair, be on the watch for the following signs:

  • Small, red bumps with a pimple-like head
  • Itching
  • Tenderness
  • Inflammation and soreness
  • White puss around the affected area

Ingrown hair can block hair follicles and lead to infection. It is this infection that causes white pus-filled bumps to appear on the surface of the skin. An ingrown hair will typically disappear on its own after a few weeks. If it does not, you may want to consult with a doctor about your condition.

Ingrown Hair Vs Genital Herpes

An ingrown hair may initially seem to look like a genital herpes blister. They are of similar size and are fluid-filled. However, ingrown hairs often have small dark hair visible at the center of the bump. If the sores break open, ingrown hairs typically produce  white pus, while the fluid in herpes blisters is clear to yellowish.

Herpes Treatment

Both genital and oral herpes can be frustrating conditions that cause cold sores to reappear often in inconvenient places. Because of this, many patients seek treatment to minimize the size and frequency of these blisters. One of the most effective herpes and cold sore treatments is the medication valacyclovir, an antiviral drug that slows the growth and spread of the herpes virus.

To learn more about how valacyclovir works and its ability to treat cold sores, feel free to take a look at our comprehensive blog here. 

Ingrown Hair Vs. Herpes: How To Tell The Difference: Summary

Ingrown hair and herpes are often mistaken for one another due to the similar appearance of the sores and blisters which they produce. When checking for ingrown hairs, be sure to look closely to see if the hair follicle is still present at the center of the blister. This will let you determine whether the sore is caused by the herpes-simplex virus or ingrown hair.


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