You Asked, We Answered: What are the differences between genital herpes and an ingrown hair?


What is the difference in symptoms and appearance of genital herpes versus ingrown hair?

Answered by Kay Elting, APRN

This can be a tricky question and confusing at times, so let’s try to break it down. Both can start with redness, itching or burning sensations and can occur almost anywhere on the body. If this is in an area that you shave or have hair removal, it can be from a hair follicle that becomes inflamed, and this can be from bacteria, fungus or a virus.  When this develops in the genital area, it can be more concerning, especially if you have had a new partner or did not use protection. 

Typically,ingrown hair can come from an infected hair follicle. It may be reddened, raised, warm to the touch or look like pimples on the skin and you may notice a hair at the center of the area.  This can be common from shaving or products used to shave – soap or cream. We advise using a clean washcloth with warm water to apply to the area several times daily and do not shave until healed or you could irritate the skin more or spread the infection.

Herpes lesions can occur anywhere on your body and may take longer to heal. You may also have other symptoms like a fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes and in general not feeling well. These areas may be reddened, itchy or painful also, but may appear more like a scratch or open area. Once you have a herpes virus, this stays with you for the remainder of your life. Herpes can be treated and managed with medications but cannot be “cured.” Many people can have herpes and may never express symptoms or even know they have it. The best advice I can give is to always use protection when with a new partner in the form of condoms or dental dams. Having unprotected sex increases your risk for herpes and many other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). 

If you are experiencing any pain or burning in the genital area, we encourage you to come to the health center for an examination and discuss your symptoms with a provider. Testing can be completed to determine the cause of your symptoms, and treatment ordered if needed.