Skin Cancer, Melanoma Awareness, Preventative Tips

Is it skin cancer or just an ingrown hair?

Knowing the difference can help you to detect skin cancers or melanoma early

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Team MoleMap Creator
Posted 30/06/20
Cancer Or Ingrown Hair 1000

Are you worried about a raised, ‘boil-like’ bump that seems to have grown darker over time? The fact is that any unusual growth on your skin needs to be checked out by a professional. With approximately 4,000 Kiwis diagnosed with melanoma every year (that’s around 13 people every day), it’s vital to take any new or changing spots or moles on your skin seriously and get them checked by skin cancer detection professionals.

That said, don’t panic not every new lump, bump or spot is a sign of skin cancer! In many cases, it could be caused by something very innocuous: an ingrown hair.

What is an ingrown hair?

An ingrown hair is a hair strand that has grown downwards or sideways into the skin. Although anyone can have ingrown hair, it’s most common for people with curly or coarse hair after they shave or wax.

It can also happen when a razor or tweezer unevenly breaks off the hair; this leaves a sharp tip of hair so close to the skin’s surface that’s prone to grow sideways.

Another cause is when dead skin cells clog the hair follicle, forcing the hair tip to grow underneath the skin. When this happens, that area of skin can get irritated and inflamed. Here’s what an infected ingrown hair looks like...

Ingrown Hair Or Skin Cancer

Left: this image shows the difference between a normal hair and an ingrown hair

Source: Skin Answer

An ingrown hair is usually not a big issue; most of the time, it’ll go away on its own. Even if it becomes infected, this is usually easily treated.

Quick tip: If you’re prone to ingrown hairs, try gently washing and exfoliating those areas of your skin regularly – this helps slough off dead skin cells so the hairs can get to the surface of the skin.

Knowing the difference between ingrown hairs and skin cancer

While an ingrown hair may resemble some types of skin cancer at first, there are some telltale differences. For starters, ingrown hairs often appear in clusters of raised red bumps. They also often cause fluid-filled cysts to appear which may feature a white or yellow head (much like an infected pimple), plus they can become itchy and sore.

Skin cancer lesions, on the other hand, tend to appear as single moles or bumps. They are usually pain-free during early stages, and while they may appear crusty, they usually don’t contain any pus.

Some signs of an ingrown hair include:

  • Small, round, solid bumps (often filled with pus) appearing on the chin, cheeks, legs, pubic area, scalp and armpits
  • Darkening skin
  • Embedded hairs beneath the skin
  • Bumps that are painful, tender and/or and itchy

As a comparison, here are the signs of the most common forms of skin cancer:

Types Of Skin Cancer Basal Cell Carcinoma

Above: Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma:

  • A pearly or waxy bump
  • A flat, flesh-coloured or brown scar-like lesion
  • A bleeding or scabby sore that heals and keeps returning
Types Of Skin Cancer Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Above: Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma:

  • A firm, red nodule
  • A flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface
Types Of Skin Cancer Melanoma

Above: Melanoma comes in many forms


  • A large brownish spot with darker speckles
  • A mole that changes in colour, size, or feel; it may also bleed
  • A small lesion with an irregular border and parts that appear red, pink, white, blue, or blue-black
  • A painful lesion that itches or burns
  • Dark lesions on your palms, soles, fingertips or toes, or on mucous membranes lining your mouth, nose, vagina, or anus

If you’ve noticed a ‘lump’ or ‘bump’ with any of the above features, get it checked out straight away. A MoleMap Skin Check is a good solution for this – or a SpotChat , an online consultation with a specialist Melanographers (a trained skin cancer nurse), who can advise whether the spot has features of skin cancer and your next steps. And she can certainly spot if it’s just an ingrown hair!

What’s your skin cancer risk?

Unfortunately, New Zealand has one of the highest incidences of melanoma in the world.1 That’s not great news, but on the upside, melanoma is almost always treatable if it’s detected in the early stages.

That’s why it’s good to know your personal skin cancer risk factor, so you can take the appropriate precautions to protect your skin and have it checked regularly. So why not take a minute to check your skin cancer risk now?

It also pays to self-check your skin regularly – at least every 3 months – or more often if you’re high risk. If you notice any unusual spot or growth on your skin, see your GP or your nearest skin cancer detection clinic as soon as possible.

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Source: 1. Melanoma New Zealand:

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