An ingrown hair is a hair that grows inside the skin and not at the surface. Here is some information to avoid the unpleasantness of ingrown hairs.
What is an ingrown hair?
An ingrown hair occurs when the hair curls back and grows under the skin instead of piercing the skin and growing outside of it. This causes the appearance of a small red and inflamed bump where the hair should normally come out of the skin.
Most of the time, the problem caused by an ingrown hair is esthetic. However, ingrown hairs can cause irritation and unpleasant itching, and sometimes, even pain. In some cases, they can also become infected. An ingrown hair can also leave a scar, especially if it has been scratched.
Although it can appear anywhere on the body where hair grows, ingrown hairs usually occur in areas that are subjected to shaving and hair removal, such as the face and neck in men. In women, they often occur on the legs, pubic area, and armpits.
What are the causes and risk factors?
People who shave or wax are likely to have ingrown hairs. Although anyone can have them, they are more likely to occur if your hair is curly or thick. Curly hair has a tendency to spiral back under the skin. Individuals with a lot of hair growth or who have coarse skin are also more at risk.
Moreover, the accumulation of dead skin cells due to lack of exfoliation can promote ingrown hairs. Very dry skin can also make it more difficult for hair to pierce the skin. Additionally, cleaning skin with products that are irritating to the skin or rubbing the skin vigorously can cause an irritation, which promotes the occurrence of ingrown hairs.
Although these factors increase the risk, the main cause of ingrown hairs remains an inadequate shaving or hair removal technique.
How can ingrown hairs be prevented?
Ingrown hair prevention is achieved mainly through adequate skin care and proper shaving or hair removal technique. Here are some practical tips:
- Regularly exfoliate and moisturize your skin.
- Maintain excellent hygiene. Use a gentle soap to clean your skin and your shaving (i.e. razor blades) or hair removal (depilation head) equipment before use.
- If shaving or waxing cannot be avoided, space sessions to the maximum. Give your skin a break whenever possible.
- When shaving, use a razor with a single blade. Multi-blade razors cut the hair under the skin, which promotes the occurrence of ingrown hairs.
- Wet the skin with warm water and apply a shaving gel or cream before shaving.
- When shaving, glide the razor in the direction of the hair growth and not in the opposite direction.
- Pass the razor as few times as possible over the same area. The more times you shave over the same area, the more the hairs are likely to curl back under the skin.
- Rinse the razor blade after each stroke.
- If you do your own waxing or have it done by a professional, consider changing the method you use. Several techniques exist—electric epilator, warm wax (with strips), sugar wax, etc. Choose the method that best suits you and which is least likely to cause ingrown hairs.
- If possible, use a depilatory cream instead of a razor to eliminate unwanted hair. The best-case scenario is to use a permanent hair removal technique such as laser or electrolysis to get rid of ingrown hairs permanently.
How should ingrown hairs be treated?
If you notice the presence of ingrown hairs despite applying the above-mentioned prevention techniques, do not despair! They often disappear on their own. Moreover, gentle exfoliation may help the hair to pierce the skin on its own. It is important not to manipulate the skin to try to get the hair out, as this increases the risk of irritation and infection. Refrain from using your nails, tweezers or a needle. Some estheticians know how to remove an ingrown hair, but be careful. It requires expertise and especially, the use of sterile equipment.
If an ingrown hair persists, becomes infected or forms a cyst, it is preferable to consult a healthcare professional such as a doctor or dermatologist. A small medical procedure can be done to remove the hair, for instance, using a sterile needle. In some cases, a topical or oral antibiotic may be necessary if the ingrown hair is infected.
Other treatments can also help reduce irritation and inflammation related to ingrown hairs, such as cortisone-based creams. When in doubt as to what you should do to prevent or treat ingrown hairs, do not hesitate to speak to your pharmacist, who can recommend over-the-counter products or direct you to a doctor if needed.
As you can see, there are several solutions at your disposal to remedy the problem, so don’t let it rub you the wrong way and prepare for battle against ingrown hairs!