Ingrown hair. The bane of anybody interested in taming unwanted hair, be they male, female, old, or young. I think it is safe to say that we have all experienced them and we have all wished they never happened.
This guide will help you if you want to find out how to get rid of ingrown hair, how to stop them from happening, and how to make sure you don’t make them worse once you spot one.
We made an infographic below that you’ll love, and for the comprehensive version keep reading!
In order to treat and avoid the problem, we have to understand what the problem is.
What is an ingrown hair?
To put things as simply as possible: an ingrown hair is a hair that has curled around and grown back into your skin instead of coming through like it should.
How do I know if I have one?
Ingrown hairs tend to irritate the skin; this makes them easy to spot. An ingrown hair will often leave a raised red bump (or a group of bumps) that looks just like a pimple.
Women tend to get ingrown hairs on legs, bikini lines and their underarms. Men are more susceptible to getting little groups of bumps on their chin after shaving: ingrown facial hair.
They can be painless little red things or they can be unbearable sores. A strong sign that you have one is if the area is itchy or uncomfortable.
Depending on your skin complexion and the thickness of your hair, you could either see a little pus under the redness or even the trapped hair itself.
What causes ingrown hairs?
There are many ways to fall victim to an ingrown hair. They can happen anywhere, though mostly in areas where the skin is waxed or shaved.
The most common reasons for ingrown hairs are:
Dead skin cells
These skin cells remain on your skin and frequently block hair follicles from growing outward. Instead they are forced to grow sideways under the skin, causing an ingrown hair.
Remedy: Exfoliation! The absolute best way to fight dead skin cells is by exfoliating once or twice a week. This clears away dead skin and leaves you ready to eliminate unwanted hairs. At a minimum, you should be using a high quality exfoliating scrub one per week. For best long-term results, look into microdermabrasion.
Shaving, Waxing, and Epilating
It’s probably no surprise that these are the main causes of ingrown hairs. If you shave or epilate, there’s a chance you’ll get one.
Thankfully, this guide will help you limit your ingrown hairs (if not abolish them completely!) and help you deal with them if and when they crop up.
The reason these methods cause ingrown hairs is actually quite different, due to the different ways they deal with hair.
Shaving cuts the hair very close to the surface of the skin, creating a sharp edge. The edge is more likely to get caught instead of growing out correctly due to its sharpness.
Waxing and epilating pulls hairs directly from the root. Because the hair is pulled so quickly, the follicle is damaged. The process also damages a small tube that every hair follicle has connected to it. This tube is responsible for guiding the hair to the surface when it grows back. If the lining of this tube is damaged during hair removal, the new hair’s journey to the surface may not be so smooth.
So are there any hair removal methods that don’t cause ingrown hairs?
The three main methods that are least likely to cause ingrown hairs are depilatory creams, laser hair removal, and IPL.
Depilatory creams actually dissolve the proteins of a hair, causing the tip to be rounded and thus making it easier to grow back correctly. But using a depilatory cream can be an incredibly messy process, with mixed results.
Electrolysis and IPL actually kill the hair follicles, leaving nothing left to grow back and therefore no ingrowns! And in recent years, manufacturers are brought some fantastic home laser hair removal devices to the market.
Remedy: For a permanent solution, check into a home laser hair removal device. Or for a lower cost alternative, invest in a good epilator and make sure to follow all of these great tips how to prevent ingrown hairs!
If you’re getting ingrown hairs regularly, the cause might just be tight clothing.
The fabric of your clothes, if tight against the skin, causes friction and puts pressure on your hair follicles. This makes it far more likely that they’ll curl back instead of growing upwards naturally.
Remedy: In areas where you seem to get a lot of ingrown hairs, try to avoid tight clothing.
It is often said that the way to get a closer shave is to pull the skin taut. While this is true, it also allows for the hair to get caught underneath the skin surface when you let go.
What happens then is that the hair reenters the skin without growing out first.
A cartridge razor also leaves you susceptible to ingrown hairs as the first blade pulls the hair out and the second blade cuts it. This lets the hair draw back under the skin even more!
Remedy: If you can, use a double-edge razor. Experts say that shaving near the end of your shower can dramatically reduce the chances of ingrown hairs. The warm water is vital in softening the hair and soothing the skin. The smoother your shave, the less chance of hair becoming ingrown.
An epilator or waxing doesn’t allow for ingrown hairs to occur like this unless the hair gets broken off, in which case see our Guide to Perfect Epilation. Following our ingrown hair prevention techniques will also save you a lot of grief.
I’ve heard there’s a genetic factor involved, is that true?
Anybody can get an ingrown hair. Unfortunately for those of us with darker or curlier hair, it’s far more likely to occur. Coarse or curly hair is much more susceptible to curling back into the skin, especially after being cut.
So now that we know what ingrown hairs are and what causes them, lets have a look at how to stop ingrown hairs from happening. After that, we’ll see how to remove ingrown hairs.
When it comes to ingrown hairs, which tend to be painful, red, and quite visible, I think it’s safe to say that we’d prefer to just not get them.
We’ve put together a formidable list of NINE ways to keep yourself as free as possible from these annoyances.
1. Change hair removal technique
Everybody is different. Your skin and hair will react to certain hair removal methods differently.
If you wax or epilate, try laser hair removal at home.
They pull hairs directly from the root, leaving them damaged. This means that the hairs grow back weaker and therefore are less likely to become ingrown.
But if the only thing you’re not happy with about the method you’re using is the amount of ingrown hairs you get, then keep reading and try our other steps before making the decision to change techniques.
2. Proper skin care
There are 3 staples we rely on when we think about how to avoid ingrown hairs: exfoliating, cleansing and moisturizing.
This is arguably the most important of the three. Exfoliation is the best way to remove dead skin cells that are left on your body. These dead skin cells are great at blocking hair follicles from growing out through the skin and are a huge cause of ingrown hairs.
If you don’t exfoliate at the moment and get ingrown hairs, this could drastically change things for you. Start using a high quality exfoliating scrub at least once per week.
For the very best long-term result, try out at home microdermabrasion. Today’s devices will give you professional results at home – it’s amazing!
Recommended amount of exfoliation: 1 or 2 times a week. Remember not to exfoliate directly before or after epilating, waxing or shaving as the skin will be too sensitive and more likely to be damaged.
Another great dead skin cell remover, but also when you use a liquid cleanser in a circular motion on your skin it does a fantastic job at both dislodging the tips of ingrown hairs and cleaning your hair follicles making it easier for them to grow.
After exfoliating it’s important that you moisturize. Exfoliation can leave the skin dry and sore (depending on how sensitive your skin is), so it is important to re-hydrate.
The addition of a daily moisturiser to your routine can have a dramatic impact on your skin’s health.
If your skin is dry, it is far more likely that hairs will break at the surface level instead of being pulled entirely when epilating or waxing.
Tip: With all of these products make sure it’s “non-comedogenic”. This means that it will break down the excess oils on your skin but will leave you with the essential nutrients, moisture, and oils that your skin needs.
3. Correct Technique
With shaving, epilating and waxing technique can have a huge impact on the amount of ingrown hairs you get.
When shaving, the most important things to remember if you don’t want ingrowns are:
- Not too close – don’t push down too hard in order to get a smoother shave, this can make the hair shorter than the surrounding skin.
- Not too frequently – give your skin time to recover.
- Use sharp and clean blades – don’t use the same blade too many times and make sure it’s clean! Using a dirty and dull blade is just asking for ingrown hairs.
- Use a double edge razor – as we mentioned before: a double blade increases the chances of ingrown hairs. A single blade is a much cleaner and closer shave anyway. It may take a little while to get used to and is more expensive than normal razors, but the investment pays off.
For some great shaving tips: Lauren Conrad – The Smart Girl’s Guide To Shaving
If you’re getting a professional wax or are waxing at home, technique doesn’t play too much of a role. What’s important is the treatment you give your skin before and after. As long as you exfoliate, moisturise and cleanse there are few technique enhancements that can make a difference.
Epilators are fantastic hair removal devices, but they too can lead to ingrown hairs if not used properly. Follow these steps and you will hopefully be able to reduce your ingrown hairs and even get better results with your epilator!
4. No tight clothes
The fabric of tight clothing puts pressure on your skin and makes it more difficult for the hair follicles to grow outwards properly. They are much more likely to be pushed back under the skin and become ingrown.
Try to avoid wearing this kind of clothing on those problem areas, and especially try to avoid them right after shaving or waxing!
5. Post-Shave Care
6. Get rid of them correctly to prevent them in future
The way you treat an ingrown hair you already have and the way you get rid of it can directly determine whether you get one next time.
Below, we take an in depth look into how to get rid of ingrown hairs properly.
7. Use gentle products
If you have sensitive skin, it is always advised to use gentler products. It avoids irritation and is healthier for your body.
It is the same with ingrown hairs. We recommend you avoid using products that are high in alcohol content or dry your skin up. If your skin is dry it can both cause irritation (increasing the chance of ingrown) and can make ingrown hairs you already have worse.
You can tell if a product isn’t gentle enough for your skin if it makes your skin dry and/or tight. If this is the case, switch to something lighter.
8. Prep your skin accordingly
In our Guide To Perfect Epilation, we outline a skin preparation routine that will leave you ready to kill hairs.
Some additional points to remember:
- Epilate, wax, or shave either at the end or after a shower. This leaves both the skin soothed and the hairs softer. It makes them easier to get rid of and as the removal process is smoother, it’s less likely to result in an ingrown hair.
- Keep up an exfoliation routine! We’re mentioning it again because it really makes a difference.
9. Consider Laser Hair Removal/IPL
We felt like this deserved it’s own point due to the fact that it’s the easiest way to deal with the problem.
If you have the cash, these methods are proven to stamp out ingrown hairs simply because they inhibit hair growth. If there’s no hair growing, there’s no chance of ingrowing. See our review of the Tria 4x: it’s the first device to be approved by the FDA and was actually created by the people behind the professional laser devices used in salons.
We’ve recently tested out all the top at home laser hair removal devices and compared them. Check it out!
Now that we’ve learned a few tricks about how to prevent ingrown hairs, lets move on to how to react when we find one.
Once you discover an ingrown hair, it’s important to deal with it properly.
What not to do…
Under no circumstances should you:
- Pick or scratch at the ingrown hair – it may be tempting, but trust me it’s a bad idea. Oil or bacteria from your fingers could lead to an infected ingrown hair and in the worst case it could lead to a scar.
- Try to squeeze the ingrown hair out – this will merely irritate the skin, which could lead to infection or skin damage.
So if we cant touch them, what do we do?
Ingrown hairs most of the time go away by themselves. For this reason it is recommended to let the hair grow for a couple of days to see if they self correct.
Alternatively, or if it hasn’t gone away after a couple of days this is the best way to take care of the situation:
- Exfoliate 1 or 2 times a day.
- Once again this technique is one of the best ways to battle ingrown hairs. Though we don’t want to exfoliate too hard, keep it gentle.
- By doing this 1 or 2 times a day we will effectively remove all oil, dirt, and dead skin from the trouble area. This may be trapping the hair underneath the skin and could be all you need to set it free!
- Salicylic Acid or Benzoyl Peroxide.
- These are ingredients commonly found in acne medication. After exfoliating it can be a great help to release dirt and other substances that could be blocking your hair.
- By using this and exfoliation, the swelling should go down enough for the hair to be released.
- If you don’t have any acne medication try “The Aspirin Method” – more about that below!
- A warm towel.
- Simply place a warm, wet towel onto the ingrown hair for about 10 minutes. This will soften up the skin, loosen the pores and will encourage the hair to grow out properly.
- Do this a few times a day along with the other treatments and your hair should be free in no time.
After the hair has become free, the redness and swelling should subside quite quickly.
Tip: Avoid plucking the hair until the skin surrounding it is no longer inflamed. Do not pull the hair out immediately! If you pull it out before it has had a chance to grow a bit it could lead to chronic ingrown hair. This is a bad thing. It can result in bacterial infection, skin darkening, and scarring.
What if the hair is still trapped, or there seems to be no change at all?
If this is the case, we have 2 options.
If you can see the hair and it isn’t too deep under the skin we can consider tweezing it to release it.
If you can’t see it, we recommend continuing with the gentle exfoliation, acne cream and the hot towel. This will reduce the inflammation enough to allow the hair to correct its course.
Do not try to pluck the hair if you can’t see it.
If you are concerned, or if you seem to get ingrown hairs in the same place frequently then a doctor would be the best person to see for a solution. Don’t let what happened to poor Marta happen to you!
When to see a doctor: If you feel feverish or redness and warmth starts spreading from the infected area, or if the ingrown hair persists for more than 4 days.
If you can see the hair and would like to try freeing it yourself, this is the way to do it…
Step 2: Sterilise, sterilise, sterilise. It is very important that whatever tool you are using (tweezers with a pointed edge preferably as they are less likely to damage the skin) are properly sterilised. Otherwise you are asking for an infection.
To sterilise your tool, either clean it with some rubbing alcohol or place it in some boiling water for a couple of minutes.
Step 3: Apply a warm towel to the area for 5-10 minutes.
This softens up the skin considerably making everything easier.
Step 4: Release the hair.
Note: do not pull out the hair entirely. This is very likely to cause further irritation and the hair that grows in its place may also become ingrown. You only want to release the hair enough so that it straightens out.
Remember to be very gentle. You are looking for that tiny loop of hair that’s close to the surface. Slowly tug at the hair until it is released.
It could take a while to get the hair out of its loop, so be patient but also not too rough. We don’t want to break the skin.
If you can’t get it, don’t worry. Leave it for a couple of days and try again, if it hasn’t already corrected itself.
Step 5: Treat the inflammation
It’s not quite over just yet. If we want to avoid infection or getting another ingrown hair in the same place we have to treat the inflammation.
First – Wash the area around where your ingrown (now regular!) hair is with warm water and a moisturising soap. This will help to prevent against infections.
Second – Apply some anti-inflammatory cream to the area.
The best type of cream to use in this instance is aloe vera. It is also an antiseptic, which will greatly reduce the chance of infection and future ingrown hairs.
Hydrocortisone cream is also a good option for reducing inflammation.
Finally – Moisturise! Your skin has just been through a trauma. It deserves a little TLC.
Moisturise the area twice a day to help inflammation until your skin is back to its glorious self.
Wait until the hair has grown out a bit and the area is completely normal again before attempting to remove the hair. This may be hard but it really can help if you’re the kind of person to get ingrown hairs a lot.
Avoid any products that may result in inflammation or irritation.
It will also help if you refrain from wearing tight clothing in the area for at least a few days to let the hair and skin recover.
For the more adventurous of you, here are a couple of bonus methods for dealing with ingrown you may not have heard of before:
The Aspirin Method
We all know aspirin is used to reduce inflammation, but we’re going to use it a little differently here.
- Place 2 tablets in about a teaspoon of hot water.
- Mix a little until it becomes a paste.
- Add a teaspoon of honey to the paste.
- Apply the paste to the ingrown hair and the surrounding area.
- Leave it on for 10 minutes.
- Wash it off with warm water.
This should be done once or twice a week.
The salicylic acid in the aspirin is anti-inflammatory and exfoliates the affected area while the honey is both antiseptic, hydrating and bacteria killing.
A surprisingly effective DIY option!
Herbs and Spices
If you want to keep things natural there are a number of useful herbs that are natural anti-inflammatories such as evening primrose oil, fenugreek, turmeric and lavender.
The Milk and Bread Technique
This technique can be used to soothe skin, open up pores and allow for your ingrown hair to be eased out. One of the stranger options but effective nonetheless!
- Warm up a bowl of milk (not too hot).
- Take a slice of bread and dip a little in the milk.
- Place the bread on top of your ingrown hair.
- Leave it there until the milk goes cold.
- Repeat for 10 minutes.
The Egg Membrane
Another method on the more ‘inventive’ side of things, but the membrane of an egg contains anti microbial nutrients that actually give it great healing properties.
- Crack open an egg.
- Do what you will with the yolk and white.
- Peel the membrane from the inside of the eggshell (it’s the white skin-type stuff).
- Lay the membrane ontop of the problem area.
- Leave it there to dry and shrink onto your skin.
- Peel it off!
The goal of this is to actually get rid of the ingrown hair. So if you’re lucky, it might come out when you peel off the membrane!
Hopefully this guide has helped you in some way or another, thanks for reading! We are always looking for new ideas or information so please leave a comment below, we’d love to hear from you.
- NHS – Ingrown Hairs
- WikiHow – 7 Ways To Remove Ingrown Hairs
- WebMD – Ingrown Hairs
- Livestrong – How To Remove Deep Ingrown Hairs
- Youtube – A DIY Life