Ultimate Guide to Preventing & Treating Ingrown Hairs

Those itchy red and sometimes pus-filled bumps can be a pain to deal with. According to board certified dermatologist, Dr. Morgana Colombo, MD, ingrown hair occurs when a hair that’s been removed starts to grow back and curves into the skin thanks to all the shaving, tweezing or waxing that we do.

The good news is, we don’t have to stop hair removal altogether. There are a few very useful techniques and products to help us get rid of our ingrown hairs so we can show off our smooth skin bump-free. 

Why do we get ingrown hairs? 

As the hair reenters the skin, your body will react to it as a foreign body causing irritation and redness. Ingrown hairs can be caused by tweezing, waxing, shaving, or any form of hair removal. However, hair type and its direction of growth can also cause ingrown hairs. For example, tightly wound curls come from curved hair follicles. As you shave, you create a new, sharper edge on the hair, making it easier to pierce the skin. 

Ingrown hairs not only look cringe, but they can lead to scarring and hyperpigmentation, and in rare instances, can lead to folliculitis.

What are some things that people can do to help prevent them?

If you’re someone who prefers to shave, it’s all about the technique. Not shaving too close to the skin, using a single-blade razor washing the skin before hair removal, and using shaving gel or cream to soften the hair. Additionally, avoid pulling on the skin when shaving to avoid drawing the hair back into the skin. Be sure to shave in the direction of your hair growth, rinsing the blade after each stroke. 

Beforehand, Dr. Colombo recommends applying a warm towel for a few minutes prior to shaving to the area to be shaved can be helpful. “Using a combination of 5 percent benzoyl peroxide cream
mixed with Aveeno shaving gel prior to shaving face or body to coat the skin is beneficial. Post-shaving applying a mild topical corticosteroid cream such as Cortizone 10helps reduce inflammation.”

How to treat ingrown hairs

First, you must be sure to exfoliate the skin to eliminate any excess dead skin and help it release the trapped hairs. You can use lukewarm water and wash the affected areas in small, circular motions with a washcloth, exfoliating brush, gel, or scrub.

Another method he recommends is removing the ingrown hair that has looped back into the skin by gently pulling it out with sterile tweezers, a pin, or a needle. Dr. Colombo suggests that using a topical exfoliating agent such as retinol or glycolic acid cream on the face, or ammonium lactate or salicylic acid lotion on the body can help soothe the skin.

What can happen if ingrown hairs become infected?

“When ingrown hairs become infected or inflamed by an acne-like bump, a pus bump or a cyst may form ( aka folliculitis),” Dr. Colombo says. “Those can be painful and extremely uncomfortable and unsightly. Treatment is with prescription topical antibiotics or oral antibiotics.”