During the course of your normal hygiene routine, you feel a bump “down there.” You kind of palpate it a bit, hoping it’s something you can rub off. It isn’t. That’s scary and worry sets in. What is it? Sex is part of your life, but you always use condoms. Did one of them fail you and you’re now infected with genital warts? Or maybe it’s an ingrown hair. Friends warned you that could happen when you shave pubic hair. But what’s the difference between genital warts vs ingrown hair and how can you know which one your bumps are?
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Are My Bumps Genital Warts or Ingrown Hair?
A variety of lumps and bumps can come and go on and around your sex organs. Two very common bumps are genital warts and ingrown hair. Although they can appear in the same parts of your body, they are different.
The ways in which ingrown hair differs from genital warts include:
- Long-term consequences.
Once you understand the differences, you’ll be better able to determine whether you have a genital wart or ingrown hair.
Causes of Ingrown Hair and Genital Warts
Each strand of hair grows from a little sac called a follicle. Follicles are located beneath the surface layers of skin. Normally, each hair grows upward through the skin from the follicle. An ingrown hair is one that has curved downward and is growing back toward the follicle. That blocks the follicle and it can become infected. An infected follicle often swells, creating a bump on the skin.
Ingrown hair has many causes, including, but not limited to:
- Friction from clothing,
- Curly hair.
Sometimes a particular hair will curl back on itself for no apparent reason.
- Hydrate your skin first.
- Apply lubricating cream or gel.
- Use a sharp single-blade razor.
- Use as few razor strokes as possible.
- Rinse the razor after each stroke.
Cooling your skin after shaving will soothe it and make it more difficult for hair to curl inward.
Genital warts are an STI, or sexually transmitted infection. Many sexually active people are infected with the human papillomavirus, or HPV. An HPV infection is the cause of genital warts. You’ll find more information about genital warts symptoms here.
Differences in Appearance
Because of their location, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish an ingrown hair from a genital wart. You might consider taking a picture of the bump with your cell phone and getting a closer look at it that way.
An ingrown hair forms a small bump that can look like a pimple. It’s usually red, and the area around it may also be red. The center of the bump might be yellowish, which means the follicle is filled with pus.
Men rarely have an ingrown hair on their genitals. Their bumps usually appear where they shave regularly, such as their faces and necks. However, as more men engage in “manscaping,” they’re finding ingrown hair in more places. Ingrown hair on women is often in their pubic area, their armpits, and on their legs.
Genital warts usually affect men and women equally. Warts generally have a bumpy surface, but may be smooth. Colors vary greatly. You may spot just one wart, or you may have a cluster of them that can look like a tiny cauliflower. Warts can be very small or very large.
Although they’re named after your genitalia because that’s where they most often appear, genital warts can be found on other parts of your body. The underlying virus is transmitted when your skin touches the skin of an infected person. There is no cure for HPV, but your immune system can resist or suppress it.
Differences in Symptoms
If your bump hurts, especially if you touch it, then it’s likely an ingrown hair. That’s because the pus in the follicle has caused it to swell. The swelling then presses against the many nerves in your skin. The bump itself usually feels hard or solid. The skin around the bump might also be very tender to the touch. Occasionally an ingrown hair can feel itchy.
Many genital warts are symptomless and don’t hurt. They can be itchy. If the wart is located in a place where it’s irritated by clothing or friction from sex, it might bleed. Warts may feel soft when pressed, although some feel hard. For information about early genital warts, read this article.
Why Is Ingrown Hair Confused With Genital Warts?
Even knowing the differences in appearance and symptoms of genital warts vs ingrown hair, it’s easy to confuse the two. The descriptions included above are general and can vary greatly from individual to individual and from bump to bump.
If you have a genital wart that becomes irritated, so that it is reddish and painful, it can easily be mistaken for an ingrown hair. An ingrown hair can be a flesh-colored bump that doesn’t happen to swell or hurt. Then it can be confused with a genital wart.
Purchase pure organic apple cider vinegar. Use a cotton swab to dab a drop of vinegar on each of your bumps. You may want to smear petroleum jelly or thick lotion around your bumps first so that you don’t irritate healthy skin with the vinegar. If the bumps turn white, they are genital warts. If not, they’re something else.
Ingrown hair can often be treated at home. It’s important to not pick at the bump or scratch it, as you’ll only make it worse by doing so. If you can see the hair, you may be able to pluck it with tweezers. If you see dead skin, try to remove it by gentle washing, so that you can see the offending hair and remove it.
Exfoliating around the bump may also help bring the hair to the surface. You can also apply anti-inflammatory creams to help reduce the redness and swelling. That might allow the hair enough room to straighten and resume growing upward. Once that happens or you’re able to remove the hair, using a hot compress will help drain any remaining pus from the follicle.
If you are unable to remove the hair, or if a cyst has developed, then you need to consult a health care practitioner. There are prescription creams that will get rid of any accumulated dead skin cells to help unblock the follicle. A doctor can also safely drain pus from the follicle so that it can heal. If the bump has become seriously infected, your doctor may prescribe one or more antibiotics.
Genital warts should be removed by a medical professional. It’s inadvisable to use over-the-counter wart removal creams, as they aren’t meant for sensitive areas like your genitalia and can make warts worse. Warts can return after removal. You’ll find answers to your questions about genital warts vs herpes here.
Prevention: Naturally, you’d like to know how to prevent ingrown hair or genital warts. The answer for both is the same: stop doing what causes them. That, however, is not practical for most people.
Exfoliating regularly and using moisturizers can help prevent ingrown hair. Some professionals suggest hydrating your skin before shaving. That softens the hair and reduces the tendency to curl and grow inward.
Unless you want to cease all sexual activity, you’re at risk of contracting HPV. You can decrease the risk by using condoms, having only one sex partner, and keeping your immune system strong.
The Consequences of Ingrown Hair vs Genital Warts
An ingrown hair usually doesn’t have any long-term consequences. However, some individuals experience a darkening of the skin in the area. This is called hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation may fade on its own over time. If it doesn’t fade and you find it unsightly, your health care professional can suggest remedies that will make it less visible.
If your ingrown hair was seriously infected, you may experience scarring, especially if a cyst formed. Consult a board-certified dermatologist for measures to reduce the visibility of the scar.
Genital warts can potentially haunt you for many years, if not the rest of your life. If you have a strong immune system, your body can eventually throw off the underlying HPV infection. Your immune system can also help you avoid becoming reinfected, especially if you practice safe sex.
Although there are many differences between ingrown hair and genital warts, it’s always possible to confuse one for the other. An untreated ingrown hair has the potential of becoming seriously infected. Genital warts are highly contagious. You’re well advised to consult a medical professional for a correct diagnosis and the appropriate treatment.