Difference between pimples and ingrown hairs


Many people who think they have acne actually have ingrown hairs. Ingrown hairs are easy to mistake for acne because they look so similar. But their causes and treatments are different, so it is important to identify them precisely in order to treat them correctly.

Do you have acne or ingrown hairs? Here are the differences.

Get Medical Information / Alexandra Gordon


Pimples and ingrown hairs can be due to various causes.

How acne develops

A pimple forms when a plug of oil and dead skin cells blocks the opening of a hair follicle or pore. When time is filled with enough oil and acne-causing bacteria, the pressure can break down the wall of the follicle. All of this material ends up on the surrounding skin, causing irritation, redness, and swelling, resulting in a pimple .

How ingrown hairs develop

Ingrown hairs also develop in hair follicles, but they do not form due to clogged pores. Instead, the hair itself becomes tangled. Hair usually grows directly from the pore. In the case of ingrown hairs, the hair grows towards the skin sideways through the wall of the follicle.

The skin now perceives this hair as a foreign invader. This causes redness, swelling, and sometimes pus. The resulting lump may look like a pimple.


There are clues to help determine if an outbreak is caused by acne or ingrown hair. The location is especially important.

Identify ingrown hair

Bumps in shaved areas are likely ingrown hairs. Shaving, waxing, or tweezers also increases your chances of growing ingrown hairs in this area. As hair grows back, the sharp edge makes it easy to pierce and grow skin.

Since ingrown hairs curl, they are easily redirected and start to grow back into the skin instead of coming out of the pore. In men, ingrown hairs are most often found in the beard area. Men who shave their heads can also develop ingrown hairs on their scalp.

In women, ingrown hairs are most commonly found on the legs, armpits, lips and eyebrows, mainly in all areas where they are shaved with tweezers or wax .

Ingrown hairs, like acne, can be damaging. You can even see hairs just below the surface of the skin or on the swollen head of a blemish.

An ingrown hair is likely if the rash is concentrated in the area where you are shaving.

Definition of acne

If you have pimples in other areas, such as your forehead, chest, or back, it is likely pimples. Pimples can appear in the beard area (in men), but they also develop on other areas of the face, such as the nose and forehead.

Acne is also common on the back, chest, shoulders, and neck. If you have breakouts that you don't shave or pluck, it's most likely acne.

How to treat ingrown hair

If you only have a couple of ingrown hairs, they will heal on their own over time. Using a facial or body scrub in areas where ingrown hairs tend to develop helps keep hair up and prevents growth.

Changing your shaving technique will also help prevent ingrown hairs. Don't try to shave too close, use a good shaving cream.

Probably the best prevention is to stop shaving, waxing, and waxing completely. You will have to decide if you can live with him.

If you have a lot of ingrown hairs, especially if they are very red, sore, and painful, you may need a prescription medicine to control them. Interestingly, the same medications are used to treat ingrown hairs as for acne: tretinoin or topical antibiotics .

And, as with acne, ingrown hairs can cause post- inflammatory hyperpigmentation or darkening of the skin. It can also be treated with tretinoin or azelaic acid .

In severe or persistent cases of ingrown hair, you should see your doctor, especially if you have ingrown hair that is very painful, swollen, and appears infected.

How to treat acne

If you have mild breakouts, just a few pimples, and acne here and there, an over-the-counter acne remedy is a good first step. Try using salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide for a few weeks and see if there is any improvement.

A dermatologist should treat the most swollen or widespread rashes. These types of acne generally do not improve with over-the-counter (OTC) products, so you will likely need prescription medications to control them .

Get the word of drug information

These two skin problems can often look very similar and can be difficult to tell apart. If you are not sure you have acne or ingrown hairs, call your doctor! Your doctor will be able to tell you exactly what is happening to your skin and help you develop a treatment plan.

Frequently asked questions

  • Fine-tuning your shaving pattern can help:

    • Use a single blade razor.
    • Shaving after or during the shower: the steam will help to soften individual hairs.
    • Shave in the direction of hair growth, not against the grain.
    • Use an over-the-counter scrub like salicylic acid regularly to get rid of dead skin cells that can clog pores.

  • The term "razor bumps" generally refers to antenna pseudofolliculitis , a common condition among people with frizzy hair, especially black men who shave their beards and women who shave or pluck the pubic area. It occurs when ingrown hairs cause inflammatory lesions that, if left untreated, can cause keloid (raised) scars .

  • No. Trying to "dig out" an ingrown hair or pustule to get to the hair puts you at risk for infection. Do not shave your hair until it disappears on its own. If it doesn't or it becomes inflamed, see a dermatologist .

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