Ingrown Hair or Herpes

When you have an ingrown hair, you may notice that it appears like herpes lesions. Shaving your upper legs or genital region can cause red bumps to form that may appear like herpes. In reality, many instances of red bumps are actually due to skin irritation and ingrown hair. Unless you have herpes, these red bumps are not a cause for alarm. If you do have herpes, it is most likely due to a sexual relationship or other intimate activity that has spread the virus from another person.

The Difference Between Herpes and an Ingrown Hair

It is extremely common for an ingrown hair to look like genital herpes. Fortunately, an ingrown hair is much more likely than herpes, so you probably do not have a sexually transmitted disease. The only way to know for sure is to get a blood test from a medical practitioner to make sure that the sores are not caused by HSV-2. If they are, you will need to do a far different treatment than you would with an ingrown hair. Blood testing, a medical history and a culture sample can be used to diagnose herpes.


Herpes is normally caused by Herpes simplex type 1 or Herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2) viruses. These viruses are normally spread from person-to-person through sex, oral sex or other types of fluid exchange. Once you have herpes, the virus can remain in you nervous system for years without actually appearing. Since both of the HSV viruses are extremely common, it is thought that up to half of the population of the United States has herpes. While many of these individuals may never have physical symptoms, other infected individuals may develop immediate symptoms.


If you do have herpes, you may be given an oral antiviral treatment. By taking a daily dose of this medication, you can prevent yourself from spreading herpes and decrease the duration of an outbreak. To prevent herpes, you should practice safe sex using a condom or practice sexual abstinence. If you have herpes, always make sure to tell your partner before you have sex and take appropriate precautions to prevent it from spreading.


An Ingrown Hair

Almost everyone will have an ingrown hair at some point in their life. This is caused when the skin becomes inflamed and a hair grows from the affected area. Instead of breaking the surface, the hair remains under the skin and a red bump begins to form. These normally heal fairly quickly, and are more common among people with curly hair or African-Americans. Typically, an ingrown hair occurs after shaving too frequently or too closely to the skin.

When you have an ingrown hair, you should use a moisturizer before shaving. You should also shave in the direction of hair growth because this will prevent ingrown hairs from forming. Ideally, you should avoid shaving too often because this causes the skin to become irritated and increases the chances of an ingrown hair developing. You can try using laser hair removal and avoiding tight clothes to prevent the skin from becoming inflamed.

Telling the Difference

A herpes lesion and an ingrown hair will normally fade on their own without any extra medical help. Normally, a herpes lesion will return every month or two since these occur in stages. With an ingrown hair, the bump will fade away permanently once it has permanently healed. If you want to figure out if you have herpes or an ingrown hair before you go to the doctor, you can conduct a self examine. You will need a mirror, soap, water, a towel and a cotton ball.

Wash Your Hands First

Whether you have an ingrown hair or herpes, you do not want to spread any infection. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before you inspect your skin.

Inspect the Lesion

The next step is to use a mirror to examine the blister. Normally, an ingrown hair will have a dark shadow that shows where the hair is growing. Since the hair may have curled beneath the skin or grown sideways, the shadow may not be the same shape as the other hairs on your skin. If you are looking at a herpes lesion, you will not see a dark line from a hair. Be careful not to touch the blister because this can spread the infection if it is herpes or cause an infection in an ingrown hair.

Look at the Size

Normally, herpes will be smaller than an ingrown hair. It may look yellow-ish, clear or cloudy and will often be about one to two millimeters in size. A herpes lesion will normally have a dimple in the middle, and an ingrown hair will not. In comparison, an ingrown hair will appear like a pimple and will often be covered in dead skin.

Try Touching It

If you do not see a hair inside or under the lesion, you can try touching it with a cotton ball. You want to use a cotton ball to make sure that your hands do not touch the lesion if it ruptures. If the lesion does burst, notice the color of the pus. Yellow pus is from a herpes blister while white, waxy or solid pus is from an ingrown hair.

You do not want your skin to become infected after picking at your blisters. Throw away any of the cotton balls that you have used, disinfect any surfaces that you have touched and make sure to wash your hands again.


  1. If you have herpes and have sex with someone else that has herpes too will it cause an outbreak even if you are taking medication and know they aren’t?

    • If you have herpes or any sexually transmitted disease, then you should always be direct and honest with any sexual partners that you may have. It is possible to spread herpes if you have sexual intercourse. It is possible that having sexual intercourse with someone who is not treating their disease will cause an outbreak or cause you to contract a new strain of disease. Best of luck, Jos!

  2. Hello I haven’t had anal sex but recently did have unprotected sex I do suffer from hemorrhoids and when I was checking I have Like three Bumps I popped one and it was all white and it has white one looks swollen can it be Herpes?

      • It is possible that you are describing ingrown hairs. It is possible that you are describing a sexually transmitted disease. You do not have to have anal sex to have symptoms appear in that area. If you are concerned that you may have a disease, then do not have sexual intercourse at this time. Speak with a medical professional for a diagnosis and treatment. Best of luck, Stephanie!

    • It is possible that you are describing ingrown hairs. It is possible that you are describing a sexually transmitted disease. You do not have to have anal sex to have symptoms appear in that area. If you are concerned that you may have a disease, then do not have sexual intercourse at this time. Speak with a medical professional for a diagnosis and treatment. Best of luck, Stephanie!

  3. I have a small ulcer on my labia. It looks like a little bit of skin has come off, but isn’t deep at all. And didn’t have any discharge/pus. It only hurts when touched. Could this be herpes or is it just a chafe or an ingrown hair? It is a little swollen because my panties are rubbing against it.

    • It is possible that this is a symptom of an STI or ingrown hair. You will want to continue to monitor your symptoms at this time. Make an appointment with a medical professional, as they will be able to diagnose and treat your condition. Best of luck, Paranoid!

  4. I have been with the same partner for ~ 3 years, but just recently I noticed a white pump under my pubic hair, looking like a big white head. I’m not sure how long it’s been there, but it felt like an ingrown hair when I actually touched it in the shower, a little sensitive. But there’s only one bump, and I’ve seen a lot of images of clusters. I read that smelly discharge could be a symptom, I have always had discharge and frequent UTIs/Yeast Infections in college (2013-2017), but those have subsided if I go pee after sex, and change out of gym clothes immediately. I haven’t noticed anything suspicious on my partner’s penis. Do you believe this is just another ingrown hair, or could it be more?

    • It is possible that the white bump is a symptom of an ingrown hair. If you have reason to believe that your partner may have a sexually transmitted disease, then you may want to speak with a medical professional. Make an appointment with a doctor for diagnosis and potential treatment. Best of luck, Anon!


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