Ingrown Hair Vs. Herpes: Find the Differences (Including Treatments)

Ingrown Hair/Razor Bump Vs. Herpes or Genital Warts
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The area around your genital region is very delicate and is prone to various types of infections. Bumps, spots, or other types of raised lesions could be the results of something as harmless as an ingrown hair or razor bumps, or  it can be a serious viral infection like herpes or genital warts. It can also be difficult to tell ingrown hairs near your genitals apart from genital herpes bumps and blisters.

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Knowing how to tell the difference between genital herpes and a harmless ingrown hair is very important. Herpes is a highly infectious viral infection that can easily be spread through skin to skin contact. An ingrown hair or razor rash is usually a harmless skin infection resulting from removing hair around the genitals. However, both genital herpes and an ingrown hair can cause similar symptoms like sore bumps around the genitals, redness, itching around the raised lesions, and cause discomfort in the area between your legs.

There is also importance in distinguishing between genital bumps caused by ingrown hairs and genital warts. Genital warts are another type of raised lesion that can sometimes appear around the vagina, penis, or anal region and, like genital herpes, is often spread through sexual contact.

Of course, there is a big difference in how to treat the signs of ingrown hairs and genital herpes or warts. Getting rid of ingrown hairs around the genital region requires using a warm compress or tea tree oil to help the infected bump heal quicker. Treating genital herpes is more complicated because the sores are very infectious and there is no cure for the virus that causes blisters around the genitals.

This article helps you tell the difference between ingrown hairs, genital herpes, and genital warts. You will also find out about some natural remedies that can help treat the symptoms of these frustrating genital conditions.

What are Razor Bumps or Ingrown Hairs?

Razor bumps appear in shaved or waxed areas where one or more hairs have grown back into the skin. This results in pimples forming that may become infected and sometimes fill with pus. If you remove hair around your genitals by waxing or shaving, then there is a chance that ingrown hairs will cause infected skin bumps or spots around your genital area.

According to dermatologist Dr. Gary Cole, aggressive hair removal is usually to blame for razor bumps and ingrown hairs. Dead skin cells can also clog up irritated pores that result in a bacterial skin infection causing small pus bumps. You may also have a razor rash that looks like small dry red bumps around the shaved area.1

What are Genital Herpes and Genital Warts?

Both genital herpes and genital warts are caused by viral infections that are usually passed on through sexual contact and are classed as sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Usually, the HSV-1 causes cold sores or fever blisters around the mouth and HSV-2 causes herpes around the genital region. The viral infection appears as painful sores and blisters around the affected skin area. Along with the genital sores, you may have flu-like symptoms.2

Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and this causes small bumps with a rough surface in the genital area. According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, genital warts are usually difficult to spot and will become noticeable and painful if clusters of warts develop. These warts and skin bumps are also spread through sexual contact.3

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Ingrown Hair or Herpes? 7 Ways to Tell the Difference

The symptoms of herpes near the vaginal area and ingrown hairs are sometimes difficult to tell apart. Sometimes bumps caused by genital herpes will go away on their own whereas you may need to treat razor bump by removing the offending ingrown hair and treat the area with a natural antibacterial remedy.

Here are 7 ways to tell the symptoms of herpes and ingrown hairs apart:

1. Is the bump sore?

One way to tell a herpes bump apart from an infected ingrown hair follicle is the pain it causes.

Dr. Stephanie Gardner on WebMD says that an ingrown hair will cause irritation because of the bacterial infection it may cause. Sometimes, the inflamed pimple can become a large boil that will be sore, but generally, the pain is quite mild in comparison to genital herpes bumps.4

The pain that genital herpes causes will be much worse. Dr. Traci Johnson on WebMD says that genital herpes causes blisters that are very painful and tender when they burst.5

2. Look at the bump close up

There is also a difference between the way bumps caused by ingrown hairs and genital herpes look.

An ingrown hair will cause an acne-like pimple or group of pimples. These are characterized by red, swollen hair follicles that may become filled with pus. If you look closely, you may also be able to see the ingrown hair in the head of the inflamed pimple.4

The difference with genital herpes bumps is that they look more like fluid-filled blisters in the pubic and genital areas and generally there won’t be signs of bacterial skin infections. Once the watery blisters burst, they will crust over and form a scab on the surface.5

3. The surface of the bump is different

Because an ingrown hair causes a pimple-like bump and herpes causes blisters, the surface of the bump will be different. The ingrown hair pimple will look red with a yellow center whereas genital herpes looks more like fluid-filled blisters.

It is easy to tell genital warts apart from herpes or ingrown hair bumps. The American Academy of Dermatology says that genital warts have a raised rough surface and a cluster of genital warts may look like a cauliflower.6

4. Is the bump open or closed?

Observing if the bump remains open or closed is another way to tell herpes apart from a razor bump.

Dr. Stephanie Gardner says that a bump from an ingrown hair should usually go away on its own. Usually, complications from ingrown hairs occur if you pick or scratch them. However, the pimple doesn’t usually burst by itself.4

Blister-like bumps caused by herpes will burst and ooze clear fluid and turn into an ulcer. Once this has happened, a scab will form on the top of the sore while the ulcer under the scab heals – this doesn’t happen with ingrown hairs.

5. Press the bump

Gently pressing the bump will help you identify whether it’s an ingrown hair pimple or a herpes infection. Before touching the area, it’s important to wash your hands to prevent spreading the infection further to your vaginal area.

If the bump ruptures when you press it, bumps from genital herpes will generally release watery clear fluid or yellowish fluid if there is an infection. The pus from razor bump or an ingrown hair follicle will usually be thicker, almost like whitish yellow wax. However, it is recommended to avoid squeezing or forcing out fluid or pus from any kind of bump caused by an infection.

6. Discomfort urinating

Unlike skin problems caused by ingrown hairs around the genitals, bumps caused by the HSV-2 virus may cause pain with urinating. According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, the ulcers from herpes may make peeing sore and uncomfortable.7

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Of course, painful urination could also be a sign of a urinary tract infection. If you notice that your urine is a cloudy color and gives off an unpleasant smell, you should visit your doctor.

7. Flu-like symptoms

The only symptomatic sign of an ingrown hair in the pubic area is a red, inflamed pimple where the hair has grown back into the skin.

One way to tell herpes apart from ingrown hairs is that you often have flu-like symptoms with herpes. Doctors say that you may have a fever, headaches, and swollen lymph nodes in your groin.7

Genital Herpes vs. Genital Warts

It is easier to tell sores caused by genital herpes apart from genital warts. Dr. Melissa Conrad Stöppler on eMedicineHealth says that genital warts look like small raised bumps of skin around the labia and vaginal opening. Although many have a rough surface and appear in clusters, they can also be small flat bumps with a shiny surface.8

Unlike herpes caused by the HSV-2 virus, there are generally no other symptoms with genital warts. However, in some cases, warts around the vagina may itch, have some discharge, and occasionally bleed.

How to Tell Razor Burn and Herpes Apart

Whereas an ingrown hair can cause a large red pimple in a shaved area around your pubic area, razor burn causes a red rash that looks like tiny red dots. According to dermatologist Dr. Amanda Oakley, razor burn is common when shaving curly hair that is thick. The shaved area can look like it has acne and the small pustules may be painful.

Herpes can also cause clusters of small bumps but as already mentioned in this article, genital herpes bumps are filled with watery fluid that burst on their own. They generally don’t look like a red, acne-type rash.

How to Treat Razor Burns and Razor Bumps

If you have established that the bumps in your pubic region are caused by razor bumps or burns and not by genital herpes or genital warts, what can you do to treat them? There are many natural home remedies you can use to ease the discomfort, soothe the irritation, and help the infected skin heal quicker.

Warm compress

One of the fastest ways to get rid of razor burns or bumps from your genital area is to use a warm compress. The warmth from the compress helps to boost healing by increasing blood flow to the affected skin area. It also helps to draw out any infection and may help raise the ingrown hair closer to the surface.

Dr. Debra Jaliman on WebMD recommends a heat pack to help treat infected hair follicles that are red and pus-filled.9

How to use:

This is how to make a warm compress to help treat the symptoms of ingrown hairs and razor burns:

  1. Fill a bowl with hot water and soak a clean washcloth in the water.
  2. Squeeze out the excess liquid (make sure the washcloth is not too hot) and press to the affected skin area in your genitals.
  3. Apply for 10 minutes
  4. Every so often, re-soak the washcloth in the hot water to keep the compress warm.
  5. If you notice the ingrown hair near the surface of the infected razor bump, carefully remove it by putting a sterile needle under the curled hair and lifting it out.
  6. Apply the warm compress daily to the razor burn on your pubic area until your skin has healed.

Remember, never try and dig an ingrown hair out or squeeze hard on the infected hair follicle. This may just cause the infection to go deeper into your skin and cause scarring.

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil can help to treat the symptoms of ingrown hairs due to its antibacterial properties. Tea tree oil has many uses around the house and because it can be used as an antiseptic agent, it is a great natural remedy for infected skin conditions.

According to many studies on the medicinal activity of tea tree oil, it can be used to treat infections that cause pimples. The journal Clinical Microbiology Reviews reported that among its many uses, tea tree oil can be used for acne, killing off bacteria that cause skin infections, and soothing skin inflammation.10

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How to use:

Because the skin around your genital area is very delicate, you should always use diluted tea tree oil to treat genital razor burn. This is how to make your own healing tea tree oil salve at home:

  1. Mix 2-3 drops of tea tree oil in a tablespoon of carrier oil (such as coconut oil, jojoba oil, or sweet almond oil).
  2. Gently massage the healing ointment to the affected skin area and leave for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Rinse off and dry the area completely.
  4. Use everyday after shaving your pubic area to help prevent hair follicles becoming irritated or infected and prevent razor burn.

Baking soda and coconut oil scrub

Another way to get rid of ingrown hairs that are causing razor bumps around your genitals is to make a baking soda and coconut oil exfoliating scrub. There are a number of reasons to use these 2 natural ingredients for treating razor bumps. First, both have antibacterial properties to help prevent hair follicles becoming infected. Second, the grainy texture of baking soda helps to exfoliate dead skin cells.

For example, the journal Pharmaceutical Biology reported that coconut oil helps to reduce inflammation caused by bacterial infections.11 Also, studies into baking soda have shown it to have a natural antibacterial effect.12

How to use:

It is very easy to make your own scrub at home with baking soda and coconut oil to help prevent razor bumps and razor burn. This is what you should do:

  1. Mix 1 tablespoon baking soda and 2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil to create a thick paste.
  2. Gently massage the exfoliating scrub to the affected area to help remove dead skin cells and clear skin infections.
  3. Leave for a few minutes before rinsing off with warm water.
  4. Use 1-2 times a day until you no longer have an itchy rash after shaving your pubic area.

If you have sensitive skin around your genitals, you should use more coconut oil. You can also add 2 drops of tea tree oil to the homemade scrub to help boost the antibacterial properties naturally.

Witch hazel

The naturally-occurring astringent properties of witch hazel make this an excellent natural remedy for pimples around the genitals caused by razor burn. However, witch hazel doesn’t just help to contract infected hair follicles. It helps to reduce inflammation and also is a natural antiseptic.

The Journal of Inflammation reports that witch hazel has been used for centuries to treat many topical skin disorders. The gentle antiseptic and anti-inflammatory cleaning action of witch hazel help to treat skin conditions like acne and inflamed pimples.13

There are also some studies showing that witch hazel has antiviral properties and has been shown to be effective in treating herpes caused by HSV-1.14 Although genital herpes is usually caused by HSV-2, witch hazel may help to reduce some symptoms of genital herpes caused by HSV-1.22

How to use:

It is very easy and simple to use witch hazel for treating razor burns and the effects of ingrown hairs. This is what you should do:

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  1. Soak a cotton pad in pure witch hazel.
  2. Apply directly to the shaved area around your pubic region to help disinfect pimples and ingrown hair bumps.
  3. Repeat 2-3 times a day and continue until all signs of infected hair follicles have gone for good.

Other natural treatments for treating pubic razor burns include aloe vera, an olive oil and sugar scrub, diluted apple cider vinegar, and a tea bag compress. You can find detailed information about them in my article on how to get rid of razor bumps and razor burns naturally.

How to Treat Genital Warts and Herpes

According to various medical sources, it is difficult to treat genital herpes and genital warts. Once a person has the HSV-1, HSV-2 virus, or HPV, there is no way to eliminate it from the body.

According to Dr. Melissa Conrad Stöppler on eMedicineNet, genital warts sometimes go away on their own and doctors may recommend other treatments to remove the warts.15

Dr. Traci Johnson on WebMD says that doctors usually prescribe antiviral creams to reduce the severity of symptoms of genital herpes.5 Usually, the symptoms go away on their own in a week or so.

However, there are some natural remedies that have antiviral properties and may help to treat your symptoms of genital herpes.

Honey

Honey is an amazing natural product that has powerful healing properties. Honey is used to treat a number of skin problems including burns, acne, and infections in skin wounds. However, honey can also be used against the herpes simplex virus.

For example, the journal Medical Science Monitor reported that trial involving using honey to treat herpes simplex sores have proven very successful. Honey was also used to treat genital herpes and was just as effective as acyclovir – a popular pharmaceutical drug used for HSV infections. The researchers concluded that honey is a safe and effective treatment for labial and genital herpes.16

How to use:

The best kind of honey to use is Manuka honey for its healing properties. However, any raw honey will also be effective against the herpes simplex virus. This is how to apply it to your herpes sores:

  • Wash your hands and apply a little honey to your genital sores.
  • Allow to dry before rinsing off with warm water.
  • Apply 2-3 times a day and use every day on your herpes bumps until all signs of the infection have gone.
  • If the blisters burst, use a clean cotton pad to clean the oozing fluid and dispose of after. Always remember to wash your hands.

You can also apply raw honey to razor bumps to help accelerate healing in infected hair follicles around the pubic area.

How to Prevent Razor Bumps, Genital Herpes, and Genital Warts

It is much easier to prevent bumps around your genitals by taking a few practical steps.

How to prevent razor burns

Most razor burns are caused by shaving or waxing techniques that damage the skin. Doctors from WebMD recommend the following to prevent razor burns:17

  • Soften the skin by washing the pubic area with water and a mild soap.
  • Use a sharp, single blade razor.
  • Always shave in the direction of hair growth, never the other way to try and achieve a closer shave.
  • Don’t pull the skin when shaving.
  • Use a good natural moisturizer after shaving.

How to prevent genital herpes

According to Dr. Melissa Conrad Stöppler on MedicineNet, preventing genital herpes is very difficult because the virus can be transmitted even when there is no outbreak. However, if you have an outbreak of herpes, you should wash your hands before and after touching the affected area. You should also avoid sharing clothing that has come into contact with the oozing sores and ulcers.18

How to prevent genital warts

It can also be difficult to avoid transmitting genital warts. However, doctors from WebMD recommend that men always wear condoms when engaging in sexual activity.19

When to See a Doctor

Dr. Melissa Conrad Stöppler on MedicineNet says that if you think that you have genital herpes and this is the first time you have symptoms, you should visit your doctor. However, it’s rare that you need to see a doctor for every outbreak of genital herpes because you just need to treat the symptoms.20

If you have other bumps around your genitals that show signs of infection or discharge, you should see a doctor. Also, if you have a burning sensation when you urinate or severe itching of the vagina, you should always have these symptoms checked out.21

Read my other related articles:

Article Sources

  1. MedicineNet. Ingrown hairs.
  2. CDC. Genital herpes – CDC fact sheet.
  3. MayoClinic. Genital warts.
  4. WebMD. Ingrown hair.
  5. WebMD. Understanding genital herpes – symptoms.
  6. AAD. Genital warts.
  7. MayoClinic. Genital herpes.
  8. eMedicineNet. Genital warts.
  9. WebMD. Boils.
  10. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2006 Jan; 19(1): 50–62.
  11. Pharm Biol.2010 Feb;48(2):151-7.
  12. Compend Contin Educ Dent Suppl.1997;18(21):S17-21;quiz S46.
  13. J Inflamm (Lond). 2011; 8: 27.
  14. Planta Med.1996 Jun;62(3):241-5.
  15. eMedicineNet. Genital warts.
  16. Med Sci Monit.2004 Aug;10(8):MT94-8.
  17. WebMD. Razor burns.
  18. MedicineNet. Genital herpes in women.
  19. WebMD. Genital warts.
  20. MedicineNet. Genital herpes in women.
  21. WebMD. Genital warts.
  22. WebMD. Herpes Simplex: Herpes Type 1 and 2.
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