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 two out of three Australians diagnosed with some form of skin cancer before their 70th birthday, 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...
Left: this image shows the difference between a normal and 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:
As a comparison, here are the signs of the most common forms of skin cancer:
Above: Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma:
Above: Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma:
Above: melanoma comes in many different forms
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!
Unfortunately, Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world: so much so, melanoma is often referred to as our ‘national cancer’.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.
Source: 1. Melanoma Institute Australia: https://www.melanoma.org.au/understanding-melanoma/melanoma-facts-and-statistics/
Note: This quick questionnaire is designed to give you an idea of your personal skin cancer risk factors.
It isn’t intended to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis – please contact us if you have any questions about your skin cancer risk.
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