Difference Between Herpes and Ingrown Hair

Herpes simplex lesions and tiny abscesses caused by ingrown hair look very similar at the first glance. Many do not know how to differentiate between the two even though there is a simple way. Herpes is a viral infection. Ingrown hair causes pimples because of hair tunnels into the skin. This article will talk about both Herpes and Ingrown Hair and their differences in detail highlighting their clinical features, symptoms, causes, diagnosis, prognosis, and also the course of treatment they require.


Herpes falls into two main categories according to the site of infection: oro-facial herpes and genital herpes. Herpes simplex virus 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2) are responsible for a wide spectrum of disorders. HSV 1 affects mouth, face, eyes, throat, and brain. HSV 2 causes ano-genital herpes. After the virus enters the body, it goes into the nerve cell bodies and remains dormant in ganglions. Antibodies formed against the virus after the first infection, prevent a second infection by the same type. However, the immune system is unable to remove the virus from the body completely.

Oro-facial Herpes: Herpes gingivostomatitis affects the gums and mouth. These are the first herpes symptoms in most of the cases. It causes gum bleeding, sensitive teeth and pain in gums. Herpes sores appear in groups, in the mouth. This comes on more severely than herpes labialis. Herpes labialis presents as groups of characteristic blisters on the lips.

Genital herpes features clusters of papules and vesicle surrounded by inflamed skin, on the outer surface of penis or labia. Herpetic whitlow is a very painful infection on the finger or toe nail cuticles. Herpetic whitlow is transmitted by contact. Fever, headache, swollen lymph node accompany herpetic whitlow. Herpes meningitis and encephalitis is thought to be due to retrograde migration of virus along the nerves to the brain. It affects the temporal lobe mainly. Herpes is the commonest cause of viral meningitis. Herpes esophagitis occurs in immune deficient individuals and feature painful difficult swallowing. Bell’s palsy and Alzheimer disease are known association of herpes.

Analgesics and antivirals are the main methods of treatment for herpes. Barrier methods can prevent herpes. There is a high risk of transmission to the baby if the mother gets infected during the last days of pregnancy. Aciclovir can be given after 36 weeks. Caesarian section is recommended to minimize contact during delivery.

Ingrown Hair

Ingrown facial hair is a condition where a hair curls backwards and grows into the skin. It is common in people with curly hair and in areas frequently shaved. It presents as a painful blister, an infection, a rash or an itchy skin patch. Single ingrown hair causes a single blister. Examination under a magnifying glass is adequate to come to a definitive diagnosis. Ingrown hair can be pulled out with tweezers, exfoliated with facial scrubs and removed by shaving in a different direction.

What is the difference between Herpes and Ingrown Hair?

• There is simple way to clinically differentiate between herpes and ingrown hair. Ingrown hair has a dark shadow or a hair seen in the blister while herpes does not.

• Herpes sore is clear, yellow and cloudy while the abscess due to ingrown hair protrudes out and has overlying scaly skin.

• Herpes lesion has a central depression called an “umbilication” while ingrown hair does not.

• Abscess due to ingrown hair contains yellow, thick, creamy pus while herpes blister contains a clear, yellow and cloudy fluid.

• Herpes needs treatment and lasts long while ingrown hair heals quickly and need minimal treatment.


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