The Difference Between Acne and Ingrown Hairs

We work directly with new patients every day to help them clear their skin. After looking over some recent consults, there were a handful of misconceptions that repeatedly came up. One of them in particular was that patients were mistaking ingrown hairs as acne. I’ve put together a small post that should help everyone and anyone distinguish between the two.


How are ingrown hairs different from acne?

In acne, dead skin cells and your natural oil block the pore opening. Inside of the blocked pore, bacteria begins to replicate. Your body attacks this tiny infection which causes redness and inflammation.

Ingrown hairs occurs when something in your follicle (AKA your pore) causes the hair inside of it to grow sideways. In a healthy pore, the hair grows straight up and out of the follicle. An ingrown hair occurs when the hair begins growing into the follicular wall (the side of your pore). Your body doesn’t like this and responds with a similar swelling and redness to reduce any bacteria that gets into your skin.

Ingrown hairs are more common in people with coarse and/or curly hair. Why? Ingrown hairs primarily occur from shaving. When coarse hair is shaved, the remaining end is particularly sharp and can more easily penetrate your pore. Likewise, curly hair is more likely to grow into the follicular wall because it bends from the base, all the way inside of the pore. This allows it to easily divert into your skin. And once it’s in, in continues to grow into a curl, further pushing it awkwardly into your pore.

How to distinguish between acne and ingrown hairs:

In most, distinguishing between the two can be as easy as noticing where and when you get small reddish bumps. If you’re noticing these bumps in a place where you consistently shave, try not shaving for a couple of days and see if you get any new blemishes. If you don’t, the blemishes that exist are most likely ingrown hairs.

If the bumps consistently pop up, particularly in areas that you don’t shave, they could be acne.

We’ve noticed that males tend to get ingrown hairs on their neck and jawline. Females tend to get ingrown hairs on their legs, upper lip, and groin area. Essentially, these are the places where each gender shaves.

Below is a male with inflamed ingrown hairs on his neckline:

ingrown hairs
Here is a male with inflamed acne on his cheek and neck:

acne and ingrown hairs YoDerm

How to avoid and treat ingrown hairs:

To avoid ingrown hairs, try to improve your shaving habits and haircare. Before shaving, make sure the hair is as soft as possible; ideally shave after a shower. We also recommend applying some Jojoba oil before your shaving cream, which can smoothen the shave without clogging your pores.

If you get some ingrown hairs, most of the time they’ll go away on their own. However, if one is sticking around, it’s best to visit a dermatologist. If left untreated an ingrown hair can become increasingly infected and may have to be removed using a sterile needle or scalpel. Many of the same medications that treat ingrown hairs are the same for inflammatory acne which include tretinoin (Retin-A) and antibiotics so you may be able to kill two birds with one treatment!

I hope that clears some things up for anyone trying to figure out what kind of lesion they have. Leave any questions or comments below and I’ll try to get to them ASAP. Good luck getting clear!


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