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What Is the Difference Between an Ingrown Hair and a Boil?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 21 March 2014
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An ingrown hair and a boil are two totally different conditions with different symptoms and causes, though both can begin as small bumps on the body. Ingrown hairs occur when a hair starts growing into the skin, and they usually result in very small red bumps. A boil is a kind of skin infection generally caused by the staph bacteria. One major difference between an ingrown hair and a boil is that boils are generally much more severe, producing a larger bump and more serious infection.

Sometimes an ingrown hair can lead to a skin infection, but it is not the same as a boil, and it’s generally smaller. There are exceptions where an ingrown hair and a boil may look very similar, but it isn’t common. Boils can happen in oil glands and hair follicles, and they are caused by a wide variety of different things, many of which are preventable. Ingrown hairs often occur in areas where the clothing confines, like the underwear, and they are often caused when people don’t follow the right procedures during shaving.

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Boils can actually be a sign of some fairly severe disorders, including diabetes and conditions that weaken a person’s immune system. There are also some relatively benign and preventable boil causes, and just about anybody can occasionally develop a boil. One common cause of boils is bad hygiene, which can result in bacterial buildup in certain areas of the body. People can also get boils because of allergic reactions to difference chemicals, and some people are more vulnerable to boils because of dietary issues.

One thing that an ingrown hair and a boil have in common is that they will both often heal without treatment. A boil will gradually become larger, filling with pus until eventually the skin breaks and the pus drains out. After that, a person will generally recover without difficulty, although some people may develop more severe infections requiring antibiotic treatments.

Ingrown hairs often go away without any special efforts. In cases where they don't, it's often easy to deal with them through the use of non-prescription remedies. It’s also generally true that people may have a lot of ingrown hairs for a long time without ever developing any severe pain or discomfort, so individuals may not realize they have a problem with them, especially if the bumps aren't in a readily visible area.

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indigomoth
Post 3

It is possible to get a skin boil even when you do everything right. They don't always come from having poor hygiene.

I've never had one before, but recently I had one right near my eye, even though I wash my face every day.

When I asked the doctor if there was anything I could have done to prevent it he pretty much shrugged and said sometimes they just happen.

It was pretty awful, as it had to be drained twice, and I had to wear a patch over it. And they wouldn't give me a black patch, which would have at least been fun.

Plus it hurt and looked bad, but it is even worse if people think you deserve it for having bad hygiene.

irontoenail
Post 2

Ingrown hairs are awful and some people just get them for what seems like no reason at all. I have always gotten them and never found a real solution for it.

In fact, it is to the point where I think the best thing to do is to go and get a permanent hair removal treatment, like electrolysis. It is supposed to be very painful and expensive, but knowing that there is nothing you can do about excess hair without breaking out into horrible and sometimes painful spots is incredible frustrating.

It's too bad that this society is so hung up over hair. I imagine the best way to avoid ingrown hairs is to not try to remove the hair, but I don't personally feel like that is a viable option.

umbra21
Post 1

Boils can be a particular problem if you are visiting or living in an area without running water.

When I was living in Africa we had to wash ourselves using a bucket of water and a ladle. While I don't think I had any boils, many of the other volunteers experienced them, particularly on their backs where it was difficult to wash thoroughly.

It was pretty awful, as one of the treatments for boils is antibiotics, but we would have to travel quite far to get this prescribed, so people would just grin and bear it.

So, I can tell you that the best boils treatment is to wait until the boil comes to a head, then lance it with a sterile pin, let it drain, and then wash it with salt water.

If you can get a doctor to do it though, that would be much better, as there is less chance of reinfection.

And you don't want to mess around with this, because boils can easily leave scarring.

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