Human beings are obsessed with hair removal. Unfortunately, every part of our bodies we decide to shave, pluck, or wax is at risk of developing ingrown hairs. And while far from being medically dangerous, they can be annoying, embarrassing, and painful. Keep reading to learn more about what causes ingrown hairs, how to treat them, and how to reduce your risk.
An ingrown hair might look like a pimple, a whitehead, a group of bumps, or even an angry, boil-like blemish. If you take a closer look, you might be able to see the hair growing beneath the skin.
No matter what it looks like, it can be itchy, painful, uncomfortable, and embarrassing (especially an ingrown pubic hair).
What is it?
Sometimes a single hair (or multiple hairs) will grow around and back into the skin. Instead of pushing out of the skin like a normal hair, it will grow underneath. This causes your skin to react as if something had penetrated it (like a splinter). The area around the hair becomes inflamed.
Why does it happen?
Short hairs and new hairs are the only hairs at risk of growing into the skin; therefore, most ingrown hairs are caused by hair removal techniques such as:
In some cases, a hair is forced back into the skin because the follicle is clogged with debris and dead skin cells, preventing it from growing normally.
It can happen to anyone, but those with curly hair are most at risk.
African Americans, Latinos, and other individuals with coarse hair often experience “pseudofolliculitis” (usually called “razor bumps”), which is really a collection of ingrown hair that occurs after hair removal.
Where does it happen?
An ingrown hair can occur on any part of the body that has undergone hair removal. The two most common places are the face (for men) and the bikini area (for women).
Men who shave their faces frequently are more likely to suffer bumps on their chin, cheeks, or neck.
Women have the same problem in the pubic area because that hair tends to be coarse and curly. Other common areas are the legs, armpits, and buttocks.
The only guaranteed way to prevent ingrown hairs is to avoid all removal methods. This, for obvious reasons, isn’t always possible.
Exfoliating regularly will help prevent clogged follicles and encourage hairs that have already grown inwards to break free. You can exfoliate with a scrub or washcloth. I like to use salt scrubs because they exfoliate, tighten, and minimize discoloration.
Consider the microscopic effects of shaving: when you shave, your razor transforms each individual hair into a sharp blade that is easily able to poke back into the skin and grow the wrong way.
This is why shaving can cause ingrown hairs. Pulling the skin taut while shaving or shaving without lubrication can make the problem worse.
Think about an old-timey barbershop: men were shaved with a single razor and it worked just fine. Today we have an insane amount of shaving options from razors that vibrate to razors that come pre-lubricated.
Be kind to your hair: avoid the fancy stuff and choose a sharp razor with a single blade. When you shave, use warm water and plenty of soap/shaving cream.
Minimize your strokes for effective shaving and rinse the blade often. To reduce irritation post-shave, lay a cool washcloth over the area.
A final note about shaving: shaving short hair or shaving close will increase the risk that hairs will grow improperly.
Epilating has grown in popularity over the years as an effective and inexpensive way to remove unwanted hair. Unfortunately, epilation has a habit of causing ingrown hairs (more so than other methods).
To decrease your risk, be sure to epilate “against the grain” or opposite the direction your hair grows. Use a smooth, consistent motion.
Clean the area regularly with exfoliating scrub (not directly before epilating) and use a hydrating lotion.
Most men shy away from waxing, but woman have accepted the bikini wax as a necessary evil.
Exfoliate the area a few days before waxing and for the three days immediately following the procedure. This will wash away dead cells and debris and allow hair to grow properly.
Directly after the wax session, hydrate the area with a lotion containing alpha hydroxy acids.
Are there any methods that don’t cause ingrown hair?
You might want to think about changing methods if bumps have become a recurrent problem. Laser hair removal uses light energy to attack hair follicles under the skin, discouraging growth and damaging the follicle permanently.
Laser method does not cause bumps. For a cheap alternative, you can try a depilatory cream that dissolves hairs.
How to get rid of ingrown hair
Honestly, there’s not much you can do to get rid of an unwanted bumps. The worst thing you can do is to pluck or pick at it. This often leads to scarring and infection. Instead, treat it with Tend Skin Liquid or anything including acetylsalicylic acid.
If you see redness or inflammation, use a soothing lotion or oil containing aloe.
In some cases, the problem will go away on its own. If the area becomes infected, you may want to consider ingrown hair removal – in which case a doctor will use a scalpel or needle to remove the hair.
You can perform this removal on your own with a sterile needle and tweezers. Other treatment methods include:
- Steroid cream to fight inflammation
- Antibiotics to treat infection
- Retinoids/ Retin A to remove dead skin cells and minimize pigment changes
Your first strategy should be to follow the advice listed above for whatever method you currently use to remove unwanted hair. If that doesn’t work, I suggest trying a new method.
Like I mentioned above, epilating is far more likely to cause ingrown hairs than shaving or waxing.
Laser hair removal, while expensive and limited to certain skin types, won’t leave you with bumps.