Ingrown Hair vs. Pimple: Know the Difference

Discover the differences between ingrown hair and pimples. Learn causes, treatments, and prevention strategies for clear, healthy skin.

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What Are Ingrown Hairs

Learn about their causes, symptoms, treatments, and prevention.

What is an ingrown hair?

Ingrown Hair

Ingrown hair occurs when hair grows back and curls beneath the skin instead of growing up from the follicle. This can lead to the formation of small, raised bumps. Ingrown hair bumps commonly appear after hair removal (often after shaving or waxing) – particularly in the underarm and bikini areas for women.

What causes ingrown hair?

Shaving Stomach with Venus Razor

Poor hair removal techniques and inadequate prep and aftercare before shaving and waxing can be a main cause of ingrown hairs. Hair removal mistakes that can cause ingrown hair include not exfoliating beforehand, shaving against the grain, using dull razor blades and not using shaving cream or gel for lubrication.

When hair is cut below the skin’s surface, it means the hair is more likely to become trapped under the skin when it grows back – forming an ingrown hair.

What is a pimple?

Soften hair with water or bath

Pimples are small inflammations which commonly appear as red bumps on skin. There are a few different types of pimples, including whiteheads, blackheads, pustules, and papules.

Pimples form when a pore or hair follicle becomes blocked, often by sebum (excess oil), bacteria, and dead skin cells. When a pore becomes clogged, it can get inflamed and form a head of pus.

What causes pimples?

4 oval 5 bladed razor heads with a blue lubrastrips, female legs in a bubbly bath, woman applying brown scrubbing product to her skin, woman wiping off hair removal product from her leg

Pimples are caused when hair follicles become clogged with dead skin cells, excess oil, and bacteria. This combination creates a prime environment for the growth of bacteria, leading to inflammation and the formation of a pimple.

The body's natural immune response triggers an inflammatory reaction, causing redness, swelling, and the characteristic raised red bumps on the skin's surface.

You can get pimples from shaving, but some simple steps can help prevent them. Learn more about shaving with acne on skin.

What is the difference between an ingrown hair and a pimple?

Venus Deluxe Smooth Sensitive Razor

They often have a similar appearance, so it can be hard to tell the difference between ingrown hair and pimples. How do you tell which red bumps on the skin are which?

Ingrown hair vs pimples

Ingrown hair Pimple
What is it? Ingrown hair curls under the skin rather than growing upwards above the skin surface, usually after hair removal. Pimples are small inflammations on the skin caused by blocked pores.
Appearance Small, raised bumps on the skin. Hair may be visible trapped beneath the skin. Red bumps on skin with or without a white or yellow pus-filled head.
Symptoms Itching, tenderness, inflamed bumps on the skin. Redness, pain when touched, pus formation, inflamed bumps on the skin.
Common causes Hair removal, often due to poor technique or lack of skin prep and aftercare. Clogged pores with sebum and bacteria.

How to treat ingrown hair and pimples

Soften hair with water or bath

To treat both ingrown hair and pimples, you can apply antiseptic creams to treat infection and reduce inflammation. Make sure you keep the area clean and moisturized to protect the skin from external bacteria.

Ingrown hair treatment

Ingrown hair treatment is essential to stop the bumps from getting infected and becoming inflamed. Treat ingrown hair with gentle exfoliation to release trapped hair using a scrub. You can also use a warm compress to reduce inflammation and soften the skin.

When the hair emerges from the skin, you can gently pull it out all the way using tweezers. Avoid plucking the hair out entirely, as the skin might heal over the hair follicle again. Do not squeeze the ingrown hair or break the skin, as this can cause infection.

Pimple treatment

The golden rule for treating pimples is don’t. squeeze. them. We know it’s tempting, but this will only make them worse – the skin takes longer to heal and may get infected.

Instead, apply a cold compress to reduce redness and inflammation. You can also use a pimple treatment with zit-zapping ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide to reduce the appearance of the pimple.

How to prevent ingrown hair and pimples

Woman exfoliating her skin

It’s much easier to prevent ingrown hair and pimples than it is to treat them.

Proper skincare, gentle exfoliation, and avoiding pore-clogging products can help prevent and manage pimples and red bumps on the skin.

How to prevent ingrown hairs after shaving

Woman with applied shaving gel on her legs shaving with Venus razor

Follow these essential steps to prevent ingrown hair after shaving:

  • Exfoliate – use an exfoliating scrub to remove dead skin cells before shaving
  • Use a sharp, clean razor – blunt razor blades can pull and irritate your skin
  • Cleanse the skin – wash your skin before and after shaving to prevent infection
  • Use shaving gel – apply a shaving cream or gel for a smooth shave in the shower
  • Shave in the direction of hair growth – not against the grain
  • Use as few strokes of the razor as possible
  • Rinse the razor blade between strokes
  • Avoid tight clothing – this can irritate the skin

These steps need to be followed whether you’re a seasoned shaver or shaving for the first time – everyone can get ingrown hairs.

How to prevent pimples

Woman posing in her underwear

Everyone’s skin is different, and some people are more susceptible to pimples than others. However, there are a few simple steps you can follow to help prevent pimples.

  • Cleanse your skin twice a day
  • Moisturise – if your skin is dry, it will produce more oil
  • Use non-comedogenic products – these won’t clog your pores
  • Drink plenty of water – if you’re well-hydrated, your skin will produce less oil

Ingrown Hair vs Pimples FAQs

How to tell if you have an ingrown hair or pimple?

Not sure if you’ve got an ingrown hair or a pimple? Look closely at the bump – if it’s an ingrown hair, you should be able to see part of the hair trapped beneath the skin’s surface.

Can an ingrown hair turn into a pimple?

If you don’t treat an ingrown hair, the red bump can turn into a pimple. The small ingrown hair bump can get bigger, redder and more painful, and may even fill with pus.

How long do ingrown hairs last?

Ingrown hairs tend to last for a week or two before they heal. However, if it becomes infected, it can last much longer.