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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.
Ingrown hairs are common in puberty and in those who regularly remove body hair. Coarse hairs cause the most problems, such as hair found on the bikini line, neck and beard area but skin that is frequently shaved or plucked such as the face, legs and armpits are more at risk of ingrown hairs.
Ingrown hairs appear as small bumps under the skin often with a dark spot in the centre which is the ingrown hair. More than one of these can develop at once leading to a painful cluster or widespread ingrown hairs.
What Causes Ingrown Hairs
Hair that has been cut short or snapped off can develop a sharp pointed tip that is able to pierce the skin. There are a few ingrown hair causes but they are usually created by hair removal techniques.
A bad shaving technique can create ingrown hairs. Shaving against hair direction can force hair 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 hairs can be caused by rubbing clothes. If you have recently shaved or waxed your bikini line the risk is increased.
Ingrown hairs 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 create ingrown hairs too.
How to remove an ingrown hair
Ingrown hair removal is important because if they are left it can lead to an infection or scarring. Sometimes they will dislodge on their own but you can encourage and speed up the process:
- Take a warm cloth and hold it over the ingrown hair 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 remove the ingrown hair manually. Take a sterile needle or tweezers and pull the ingrown 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 with ingrown hair removal!
How to prevent ingrown hair
Preventing an ingrown hair is better than trying to remove one. If you are prone to ingrown hairs you’ll need to keep on top of prevention techniques and use them regularly to stop ingrown hairs forming.
Exfoliation is a great way to make sure ingrown hair can’t develop. 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 hairs 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 removes bump and dead skin. It may also remove any ingrown hairs that are forming.
If you want to keep shaving your skin try going with the direction of hair growth instead of against it. You might not get such a smooth finish, but it will keep hairs 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. Waxing can cause ingrown hairs too so stop waxing or at least get a professional to do the job as this will cut down on the breakage that causes ingrown hairs.
People who experience a lot of ingrown hairs like to use a specialist ingrown hair exfoliator which are liquids made for use after shaving or waxing. If you’re prone to ingrown hairs it’s worth trying them out because 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 formation of ingrown hairs. You can use them up to 12 hours after waxing, plucking, tweezing or shaving your skin to lessen the chances of ingrown hairs and reduce the discomfort of existing ones.
If you have less body hair and reduce the need to shave or wax, then you reduce the risk of ingrown hairs. Options include:
- A hair minimising spray which is an underrated hair removal method that eliminates the need to shave or wax body hair. Used regularly hair minimising sprays inhibit hair growth by slowing down the hair growth 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 hairs 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 remove body hair and prevent ingrown hair formation.
- 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.
How to treat ingrown hair
The best way to treat 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 ingrown hair 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 at ingrown hairs use an ingrown hair treatment to help remove them.
Available treatments for ingrown hairs include:
- Tweezers: Using a hot flannel or exfoliation to try and dislodge the tip of the ingrown 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.
An exfoliation formula: These are made to treat and remove ingrown hairs. Exfoliation formulas can prevent ingrown hairs from developing if you use them after shaving but if you notice an ingrown hair 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. Ingrown hair cream formulas are particularly effective after a man has shaved his face because they soothe and treat ingrown hair bumps.
Antibacterial creams: If the ingrown hair 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.
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 ingrown hairs as a result. If you regularly experience ingrown hairs it’s worth considering preventative measures and using an ingrown hair treatment on a regular basis.
If yours are particularly bad, consider switching to a permanent hair removal method such as laser hair removal or get organised with an ingrown hair cream to prevent any bumps worsening.