What is an ingrown hair?
An ingrown hair is a body hair that has turned back on itself instead of growing in a straight line from the follicle. This turned hair grows sideways into the skin causing pain and swelling. In some cases, ingrown hairs can lead to scarring, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation better known as skin discolouration, and infections.
It appears as small bumps under the skin, often with a dark spot in the centre which is the ingrown hair. To make it worse, more than one of these can develop at once leading to a painful cluster.
What causes ingrown hair?
Hair that has been cut short or snapped off can develop a sharp pointed tip that is able to pierce the skin. There are some common causes other than this, but these bumps are often created by hair removal techniques that are used to get rid of ingrown hair.
A bad shaving technique can create ingrown hair. Shaving against the hair direction can force it back into the follicles where the sharp tip can enter the skin and grow in the wrong direction.
Waxing can snap hair so that a pointed end remains just below the skin surface. This hair may grow sideway or turn back, puncturing the skin with its sharply waxed tip.
Tight restrictive clothing can cause hair breakage. The broken tips of hair can be pushed back into the pore or forced to grow sideways by rubbing. The leg lines of briefs are a prime example of where ingrown hair can be caused by rubbing clothes. If you have recently shaved or waxed your bikini line the risk is also increased.
Ingrowth can occur naturally as a result of blocked pores. Excess sebum (natural skin grease) and flaky skin can cause a blockage that prevents hair growing from a follicle. Skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema can block skin and give rise to ingrowth too.
How to prevent ingrown hair?
Preventing an ingrown hair is better than trying to remove one. If you are prone to it, you’ll need to keep on top of prevention techniques and use them regularly to get rid of ingrown hair. Here are some useful tips:
- Exfoliation is a great way to get rid of ingrown hair and prevent its growth. Exfoliate your whole body twice a week paying particular attention to the areas you shave and those that are coarsely haired as this removes any dry skin, oils or dirt that could trap hair and force them sideways.
- A glove, brush, rough flannel or specialist exfoliator will do the job and get your skin glowing.
- Dry brushing is exfoliation but without the water and you do this by taking a body brush or dry flannel and rubbing your skin in a circular motion to remove bumps and dead skin. It may also help get rid of ingrown hair that is forming.
- If you want to keep shaving your skin, try going in the direction of hair growth instead of against it. You might not get such a smooth finish, but it will keep hair pointing forwards and out of the pore line.
- Use a good quality cream or gel to get a smooth shave and try not to shave very closely as this opens the pores and allows an infection to enter. (Read: All you need to know about various hair removal methods)
- Waxing can cause ingrown hair too, so stop waxing or at least get a professional to do the job as this will cut down on the risk of breakage that causes ingrowth.
- People who experience a lot of ingrowth like to use a specialist exfoliator which are liquids made for use after shaving or waxing.
- Moisturising the skin adequately after shaving or waxing can also help prevent ingrowth.
If you have less body hair and can reduce the need to shave or wax, then you reduce the risk of ingrown hair. Options for body hair removal without shaving or waxing include:
- A hair minimising spray is an underrated hair removal method and eliminates the need to shave or wax body hair. When used regularly, hair minimising sprays inhibit hair growth by slowing down the cycle. They can be used on the face and body and long term use can lead to permanent hair removal.
- Laser hair removal can help prevent ingrown hair too. Once this was only available in salons, but now you can buy a home laser hair removal device to deal with body hair. Laser hair removal works by pulsing light into the follicle to change how it forms and stops hair from re-growing. Laser hair removal can permanently stop body hair and help you get rid of ingrown hair.
- Electrolysis is another option used to remove hair permanently by destroying hair follicles so that hair cannot break through. Electrolysis can only be carried out by a trained professional at a salon so it can be expensive, take a long time and is irreversible once the treatment has been done.
Shaving tips for men to get rid of ingrown hair
Most men have experienced razor bumps or ingrown hair at some point in their life. If you have curly hair, you are more prone to ingrown hair when you shave. Since you cannot skip shaving all the time, there are a few precautions you can take to keep ingrown hair at bay. If you are fond of sporting a beard, here are some beard care tips for you.
- Use a sharp razor, preferably a single blade one.
- Wet your skin and use a good quality gel before your shaving routine. Massage the gel properly to soften the hair and prepare your skin for shaving.
- Shave in the direction of your hair growth and do not reverse shave to prevent curling of hair.
- Avoid too many strokes as it not only opens pores causing ingrowth but also damages your skin leading to acne and blemishes.
- Rinsing the razor after every stroke helps get rid of the hair stuck in the blades and gives a cleaner shave in the next stroke.
- If possible, leave some stubble as a very clean shave opens pores through which bacteria enter and create bumps of ingrown hair.
How to get rid of ingrown hair?
It is important to get rid of ingrown hair because if left untreated, they can lead to an infection or scarring. Sometimes they will dislodge on their own but you can encourage and speed up the process by following these steps:
- Take a warm cloth and hold it over the affected spot. The warmth will open the pore and potentially remove or straighten the trapped hair.
- Take a toothbrush or rough flannel and rub it in a circular motion around spots to dislodge tips that are stuck in the skin.
- Use a handful of salt or sugar in oil to exfoliate the area and open up blocked pores.
If these methods don’t work you can try to get rid of ingrown hair manually. Take a sterile needle or tweezers and pull the hair tip so that it lies straight, there is no need to remove it totally. Don’t dig into the skin as you could cause an infection. If it won’t straighten use the hot compress method above to help. Be persistent but gentle to get rid of ingrown hair!
How to treat ingrown hair?
The best way to get rid of ingrown hair is to use the preventative methods mentioned above but if it’s too late for that try to catch them early before they become painful or unsightly.
It is tempting to be rough with an ingrowth but trying to yank it out by digging around under your skin can make it look worse. Rough treatment may also infect the pore whereas gentle treatment may encourage it out, so don’t scratch or pick this hair. You can use a natural solution to help get rid of ingrown hair.
Available treatments for ingrown hair include:
Use a hot flannel or exfoliation to try and dislodge the tip of the hair before straightening it with tweezers. If this doesn’t work wait for a few hours and try again. You can also dab antiseptic cream on the bump and cover it with a plaster as it will encourage the pore to open and make ingrown hair removal easy.
These are made to treat and get rid of ingrown hair. Exfoliation formulas can prevent ingrowth from developing if you use them after shaving but if you notice an affected spot use the formula to treat the area. Dab the ingrown hair cream formula on the affected area several times a day. They can be used on the face, neck and bikini lines. These are particularly effective after a man has shaved his face because they soothe and get rid of ingrown hair bumps.
This type of exfoliator is not a scrub but a lotion that’s applied with a cotton wool pad. The best quality ones include antibacterial properties and moisturisers to reduce swelling and redness and help protect against the ingrowth. You can use them up to 12 hours after waxing, plucking, tweezing or shaving your skin to lessen the chances of ingrowth and reduce the discomfort of existing ones.
If the affected area gets sore and infected, use an antibacterial wash and apply a topical antibacterial cream. If a painful pus filled bump appears and you can’t control it you should see your doctor for advice.
The Final Word
Ingrown hair removal is a common problem, there are millions of men and women who remove body hair with shaving and waxing techniques and many of them experience ingrowth as a result. If you regularly experience ingrown hair, it’s worth considering preventative measures and using a suitable treatment on a regular basis to get rid of ingrown hair. If yours are particularly bad, consider switching to a permanent hair removal method such as laser hair removal or get organised with a cream to prevent any bumps from worsening.