Ingrown hair vs. herpes: What is the difference?

Ingrown hair and herpes have the same appearance at the early stages. However, they differ in significance and cause. While ingrown hair poses little to no threat, herpes is an infection that can cause symptoms.

Rashes in the armpit caused by herpes simplex virus

Razor bumps or ingrown hair are skin issues that occur after shaving. Both terms are used to describe cases where hair grows back into the skin after shaving, causing the formation of red bumps.

Razor bumps can appear in any body part that can be shaved. The most common places include the underarms, groin, legs, and face.

Herpes, on the other hand, is a viral infection that causes symptoms visible on the skin. Often, herpes and razor bumps are mistaken for each other because they both cause bumps or sores to appear on the skin. However, they are in no way related. So, what differentiates them?

This article will discuss the differences between herpes and ingrown hair or razor bumps, their causes, how to identify them, and when to visit your doctor.

Are you prone to getting razor bumps after shaving? Learn about some natural remedies that may help you get rid of razor bumps.

Causes of ingrown hair (or razor bumps)

Ingrown hair occurs when the sharp edge of the hair grows back into the skin after shaving. The hairs become irritating to the skin, and to try to ward them off, the skin sends out some inflammatory cells.

The inflammatory cells then cause the appearance of red bumps (also called razor bumps) in the affected area. The main thing that causes the hair to grow back is when the razor cuts through the skin or when the hair is too curly.

By learning how to shave without getting razor bumps, you can reduce the chances of such occurrence.

How to identify razor bumps

Razor bumps form small rounded rashes and is usually not accompanied symptoms like fever and headache

Razor bumps can appear like any other bumps. They are not hidden and are easy to identify.

The most typical symptoms of razor bumps include:

  • Small rounded rashes in the jaw, armpits, genital area, and everywhere hair grows in the body
  • Darkening of the skin in the affected area
  • The feeling of tenderness or softness in the affected area when touched
  • Itching and burning sensation
  • Pus-filled lesions
  • Red or inflamed bumps

Causes of herpes

Herpes is a viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Herpes causes sores or blisters in areas like the mouth and genitals.

There are two types of herpes - HSV type 1 and HSV type 2.

HSV type 1 leads to oral herpes and affects the mouth and skin around the mouth region. It also affects the genital area.

HSV type 2 causes genital herpes and is sexually transmitted.

However, oral herpes is more easily diagnosed than genital herpes because most people infected with HSV -2 do not have the typical symptoms.

People contract HSV HSV 1 and HSV 2 in different ways.

The common ways HSV type 1 can be contracted are:

  • Skin contact - Herpes can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. HSV present on the moist skin of the mouth and genitals can be transmitted from one person to another
  • Through sharing food utensils, lip balms, or razors with another person with cold sores
  • Any activity that exposes you to an infected person's saliva like lipsticks and make-up brushes or mouth-to-mouth contact
  • Having oral sex with a person that has the oral herpes virus

HSV type 2 can be contracted by:

  • Having sex without the use of protection (this is the easiest way to get genital herpes)
  • Sharing sex toys with others who have the infection
  • Open sores during breastfeeding
  • Engaging in oral or genital sex with someone infected with herpes

How to identify herpes

Sores caused by herpes simpex virus

The early onset of herpes is usually asymptomatic, and sometimes the virus may remain inactive in the body. However, the easiest way to identify herpes is through its common symptoms. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Cold sores (sometimes filled with fluid) or fever blisters in the lips, tongue, or mouth
  • Sores on your genitals or around your anus
  • Itching, tingling, or burning sensation
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Painful urination
  • A repeated outbreak of the sores
  • Headache

Differences between herpes and ingrown hair

While herpes is a sexually transmitted disease that often occurs after a person comes in sexual contact with an infected person, ingrown hair only occurs when hair grows back into the skin after shaving.

Below is a table highlighting the differences between herpes and ingrown hair.

Herpes vs. ingrown hair


Razor bump or Ingrown Hair


Herpes occurs mainly in the genital or rectal areas and also around the oral region

Razor bumps are found anywhere that hair grows and not limited to the genital and oral areas

Time of occurrence

Herpes can occur at any time so long as a person is infected with the herpes simplex virus

Ingrown hairs or razor bumps occur mainly after shaving


Herpes does not have a permanent cure, it is a lifelong infection that can only be managed or suppressed

Ingrown hair or razor bumps can be permanently treated using both topical medications and natural remedies

Mode of treatment

Herpes cannot be treated or managed at home; it has to be treated by a doctor.

Ingrown hairs can be treated using home remedies or over the counter products.


Herpes always appear as clusters of sores and blisters or brown crusts after the blisters rupture, visible on top of the skin affected

Ingrown hair or razor bumps are small bumps under the skin. They often look like small reddish rashes

Severity of pain

Herpes always causes severe pain in the areas affected

Ingrown hairs causes pain mostly when you apply pressure in the affected area

Frequency of occurrence

Herpes infection can cause regular outbreaks. People with HSV 1 might have up to 2 outbreaks a year, while HSV 2 presents more frequent outbreaks.

Ingrown hairs barely occur at random. They only get triggered when hair grows back into the skin after shaving.

When to see a doctor for bumps or sores in the genital area

Discuss your symptoms with your doctor and get the right diagnosis and treatment

Some genital sores or bumps are harmless, e.g., razor bumps caused by ingrown hair. With some home remedies, razor bumps can be treated.

However, there are some genital bumps or sores that call for concern and will require you to meet your medical doctor. Examples of these sores are the ones caused by herpes, syphilis, and some other sexually transmitted diseases.

If you have a genital bump or sore accompanied by the symptoms listed below, you should pay a quick visit to your doctor.

  • Bumps that bleed
  • Abnormal discharge
  • Destruction of the genital tissues
  • Swelling in the genital area
  • Pelvic pain
  • Sores in the groin
  • Burning sensation in the genital area
  • A small insect crawling through the pubic hair
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Pain when urinating

Wrap up

Bumps or sores in the genital area can be uncomfortable. In some cases (such as razor bumps), they may not cause serious complications. But, in other cases (such as STDs), bumps and sores can mean an underlying health condition.

Although bumps caused by ingrown hair and the ones caused by herpes have a similar appearance, there are ways to differentiate them from each other, as discussed in this article.

Due to the sensitivity of the genital area is, it is advisable to treat bumps in such areas with caution. Therefore, if you notice any unusual sore or bump in the genital area, especially when it is not an after-shave effect, you should pay a quick visit to your health care provider.