It’s natural to feel some unease when discovering a bump in your genital area. However, it can be hard to determine when that bump may be an STI, such as herpes, or when it is only an ingrown hair. Both of these conditions can result in bumps in the genital region, but there are some key differences between the two.
The biggest distinguisher is the number of bumps. Herpes typically appears in clusters, while ingrown hairs appear as isolated bumps, sometimes surrounded by smaller red bumps (razor burn). It can still be hard to tell the two apart, though, especially since those with herpes often do not know they have it. An online doctor is a great resource to determine what is causing your genital bump, and what treatment option is best.
Table of Contents
- What Is Herpes?
- What Are Ingrown Hairs?
- Herpes or Ingrown Hair: How to Tell the Difference?
- The Difference Between Herpes and Ingrown Hairs
- When to See a Doctor?
- Key Takeaways
What Is Herpes?
Herpes is a type of virus that can cause sores on your genitals or your mouth. It’s a very common infection that remains in your body for life, and the WHO estimates that 11% of people have genital herpes.
There are two viruses that can cause herpes: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Both of these viruses can cause sores that appear around your vulva, vagina, anus, cervix, scrotum, penis, inner thighs, butt, mouth, lips, throat, and (rarely) your eyes. These symptoms can also recur periodically.
Herpes is spread through skin-to-skin contact with areas that are infected, most often from vaginal sex, anal sex, oral sex, and kissing.
What Are Ingrown Hairs?
Ingrown hairs occur when your hair grows back into the skin instead of up to the surface, as it is supposed to. It most often happens when the hair has been waxed, shaved, or plucked.
Some people are more susceptible to ingrown hairs. For example, those with thick or curly hair are more likely to develop ingrown hairs than those with thin hair.
Additionally, there are certain places on the body where ingrown hairs are more common. Namely, public hairs often develop into ingrown hairs because they are coarser than hair in other parts of the body.
Herpes or Ingrown Hair: How to Tell the Difference?
Herpes and ingrown hairs can both cause bumps in the genital area, which can leave someone questioning what the cause of their genital bump is. Using the following distinguishers of ingrown hairs and herpes can help to determine what condition is affecting you.
The symptoms of herpes include outbreaks of painful, itchy blisters or sores that come and go. In many cases, those with herpes don’t even notice the sores or mistake them for something else. In fact, it’s estimated that 87.4% of those infected with HSV-2 never received a clinical diagnosis.
The sores appear to be watery or blister-like, and they are typically smaller than 2 millimeters. There may also be yellow discharge if the sore ruptures and the sores may be tender when touched.
Besides sores, those with herpes may also experience a headache or fever.
Ingrown Hair or Razor Burn Symptoms
When the hair grows back into the skin, the body responds as though it is a foreign object, causing symptoms such as itching, pain, redness, and swelling.
The bumps of an ingrown hair may appear to have a pimple-like head. If the sore is squeezed or if it ruptures, there will be white pus.
Razor burn is another common result of shaving, and it causes clusters of small, dark, or red bumps around hair follicles. The skin around these bumps is also usually red and inflamed.
The Difference Between Herpes and Ingrown Hairs
Herpes outbreaks always appear in clusters or groups, whereas ingrown hairs appear as a single sore or isolated bump. While you can have more than one ingrown hair at once, they still remain as isolated bumps.
Additionally, you can often see a shadow or line in the center of an ingrown hair, which is often the hair causing the problem. However, the ingrown hair is not always visible from the outside, so you should not use this as the only way to differentiate between ingrown hairs and herpes.
There is no cure for herpes, but certain medications can help ease your symptoms and lower the risk of passing the virus on to someone else.
Despite the discomfort that herpes can sometimes cause, it is not a dangerous condition, and people with it can live perfectly healthy lives.
Ingrown Hair Treatment
In most cases, no intervention on your part is needed to treat an ingrown hair, and it will clear up on its own. However, if the ingrown hair does not grow back through the skin, there are some steps you can take to help.
Gently exfoliating the area around the ingrown hair can help clear away dead skin cells and return the hair to above the skin.
You can also help the area heal by gently pulling the hair out. You will not want to pluck the hair out completely, but when it starts to emerge from the skin, use tweezers to gently pull the hair out of the skin. It is important not to dig into your skin, though, as this may cause an infection.
When to See a Doctor?
If your ingrown hair becomes infected, your bumps may become painful and filled with pus. Visiting a doctor can help you get an antibiotic ointment or wash to treat the infection, while more severe infections may require an oral antibiotic.
If your genital bumps continue to appear or do not go away in two weeks, it is best to see a doctor to discuss what might be the cause of them.
Get Help From an Online Doctor
With DrHouse, you can meet with an online doctor in just 15 minutes. During your appointment, you can discuss your symptoms, the frequency of your symptoms, and any other concerns you may have. Your doctor can prescribe medication to help treat your condition and set your mind at ease concerning the cause of your genital bumps.
Two common causes of genital bumps are herpes and ingrown hairs. Despite their similar abilities to produce genital bumps, these two conditions are very different and require different treatments.
Herpes results from a viral infection that is spread from skin-to-skin contact. There is no cure for it, but medication is available to ease symptoms and prevent the risk of passing on the infection. In comparison, an ingrown hair occurs when hair does not grow correctly and often clears up on its own.
If you are unsure of the cause of your genital bump, it is best to visit a doctor. An online doctor is a great resource for quickly meeting with a doctor, expressing your concerns, and determining the cause of your genital bump.
- Wald A, Zeh J, Selke S, et al. Reactivation of genital herpes simplex virus type 2 infection in asymptomatic seropositive persons. New Engl J Med, 2000. 342(12): 844–50. PMID: 10727588.
- Fanfair RN, Zaidi A, Taylor LD, Xu F, Gottlieb S, Markowitz L. Trends in seroprevalence of herpes simplex virus type 2 among non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites aged 14 to 49 years–United States, 1988 to 2010. Sex Transm Dis, 2013. 40(11):860-4. Doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1097/OLQ.0000000000000043.
- Genital Herpes: Basic Fact Sheet. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm
- Herpes simplex virus. (2022). Retrieved 18 June 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/herpes-simplex-virus
- Tyring, S. (2008). Single-day treatment for orolabial and genital herpes: a brief review of pathogenesis and pharmacology. Therapeutics And Clinical Risk Management, Volume 4, 409-417. doi: . https://doi.org/10.2147/tcrm.s1664
- Ingrown Hairs. (2019). Retrieved 18 June 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/ingrown-hairs