Ingrown hairs can be itchy, unsightly, and painful. And an ingrown hair can pop up anywhere you have hair – from your head to your toes. Given this, you might be wondering how to prevent ingrown hairs.
Fortunately, there’s more than one way to keep this kind of skin irritation at bay. Let’s take a closer look.
What are Ingrown Hairs?
An ingrown hair happens when a hair curls around and grows back into the skin surface. Ingrown hairs can appear as little red bumps or a small cyst. Sometimes, you can see the hair trapped beneath the skin’s surface. Other times, it won’t be so obvious.
As it turns out, ingrown hairs are more common in those with curlier hair. But anyone can get one. Ingrown hairs happen when the hair follicle becomes clogged, preventing the hair from growing in its usual direction. This clogging is usually due to a buildup of dead skin cells.
Ingrown hairs are very common after shaving. This is because hair with a coarser, sharper edge is more likely to grow back into the skin.1
How to Handle an Ingrown Hair
If you currently have ingrown hairs, don’t try to pluck them with tweezers. You can easily introduce an infection into the sensitive skin.
Instead, use a warm washcloth soaked in warm (not hot) water and gently press onto the ingrown hairs to soften the skin’s surface. Use slow, circular motions with the washcloth to gently exfoliate the area for about 15 seconds.
Then, apply a natural antiseptic, like tea tree oil, and leave it alone.
What if my Ingrown Hair has Become Infected?
Sometimes, ingrown hairs can become infected. An infected ingrown hair will fill with pus. It may be raised and red, similar to a pimple. This is usually harmless, and can be dealt with easily at home by:
- Applying a natural antiseptic, like tea tree oil or witch hazel
- Using an over-the-counter topical antiseptic
- Using a hydrocortisone cream to relieve itching
- If the infection worsens, see your doctor or dermatologist.2
Is Waxing Ingrown Hairs a Good Idea?
Ingrown hairs almost always occur in places where you remove hair, whether by shaving or waxing – and even electrolysis. So, switching from shaving to waxing to try to prevent ingrown hairs isn’t necessarily going to work. However, there may be some good news for waxing enthusiasts.
Shaving causes ingrown hairs because it cuts the hair at a sharp angle, making it more likely to grow inward. Waxing, on the other hand, removes the entire hair, so you’re not left with a sharp edge.3
Now ingrown hairs are still possible once that hair grows back after a wax – especially if you’re suffering from clogged pores. But some people may find that waxing presents them with less ingrown hairs. So it’s at least worth a try!
How to Prevent Ingrown Hairs
The key to getting rid of ingrown hairs (and preventing their return) is to keep the area clean, clear, and unclogged.
The best way to do this is by focusing on products that remove dead skin cells. Exfoliation may help. You should also prep your skin by exfoliating the area right before you plan to shave or wax.
Exfoliating products that soften and remove dead skin cells include:
- Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs), like lactic acid or glycolic acid
- Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs), like salicylic acid
- A good body brush or loofah scrub
- A traditional exfoliating scrub
- A retinoid cream4
- You can also use a little baking soda paste to gently exfoliate the area. Mix enough baking soda and warm water to form a thick, spreadable paste. Then, apply it as you would an exfoliating scrub. Gently massage the exfoliation paste into your skin, and rinse.
A Few Shaving Tips
If you need to shave, there are a few things you can do to help prevent ingrown hairs.
- Always shave using a sharp razor blade to get a nice close shave. Using a dull razor means you’ll likely have to go over the same spot multiple times, causing even more irritation.
- Shave in the direction your hair grows as it’s less likely to create a pointy angle.
- Nourish delicate skin post shave or wax with a good moisturizing cream. Moisturized skin is more flexible than dry skin, allowing hair to grow out more effectively.5
If you suffer from continuous, painful ingrown hairs, you may want to consider laser hair removal. Over time, laser hair removal destroys the ability of a hair follicle to produce hair, and so you’ll eventually see less and less hair growth in that region.
Preventing Ingrown Hairs
So, how to prevent ingrown hairs? Well, you can certainly lessen the chance of painful ingrown hair bumps, and the redness and irritated skin that comes with them, by taking better care of your “hair removal zone.” A simple exfoliation may help remove those dead skin cells, lessening the chance that you’ll end up with an infection.
If you’re suffering from seemingly endless ingrown hairs and irritation, you should also speak to your dermatologist about your options, including laser hair removal.
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