If you ever waxed or shaved, you may have noticed that upon hair regrowth, some hair does not make it out through the dermis and creates little bumps under the skin. Lucky you if you have just one or two. If you have sensitive skin and thin body hair, then you may get a full on outbreak of ingrown hair.
Ingrown hair does not discriminate. Legs, underarms, upper lip or pubic area, anywhere you remove your hair may become the ideal ground for ingrown hairs. While they can, most of the time, be removed rather easily, it is not always the case. And while you do not always have control over those undesirables, you can do a few things to treat and prevent them.
What Are Ingrown Hairs?
An ingrown hair grows back into the skin instead of rising up from it. There may be a few reasons why hair does not go through the dermis as it should. For example, it is possible that dead skin is clogging a hair follicle. Thus the hair will grow sideways under the skin rather than up and out. Cutting naturally curly hair too short can make it difficult for the hair to pierce the skin, causing an ingrown hair.
An ingrown hair will not go unnoticed for long. Not only will it be irritating to the skin but you may also notice red bumps (or even a group of bumps) that may look like little pimples. You may feel some itching and discomfort and even pain if you fidget with it. Word of advice, do not touch it too much or you risk infecting it.
As mentioned early, ingrown hairs do not discriminate. They may appear anywhere on your body but can usually be found where you shave or wax. Those areas include the face and neck, the scalp, the legs, the armpits, the chest, the back and the pubic area. Pubic ingrown hair is very common.
What causes ingrown hair outbreaks?
There are several causes behind ingrown hair outbreaks, their frequency and whose individuals are more likely to get ingrown hairs. Basically, anyone can get them. The problem is however more common in people with curly and coarse hair. Indeed, curly hair is more likely to bend back and re-enter the skin.
People with high levels of certain sex hormones are more likely to have more hair than usual. Thus, this can make them more likely to get ingrown hairs. Even more so after shaving and waxing.
Razor bumps, also called pseudofolliculitis, are a specific type of ingrown hair that people with thick or curly hair are more likely to get. They are very common in the beard area after shaving, waxing or tweezing. Indeed, the hair grows back with a sharper edge. Thus, it can poke back through the skin and get draped under the dermis.
Repetitive waxing contributes to hair growth reduction but will also make the hair thinner and thinner. Furthermore, waxing removes the hair in the opposite direction of growth. This can also cause ingrown hair as the hair would not be able to pierce the skin.
How to treat them?
In most cases, ingrown hairs do not need treatment. Indeed, they will often clear out on their own. However, if the hair is not able to get through the skin on its own, you may want to try one of the following treatments.
- Stop removing the hair on that area. One big cause of ingrown hair outbreaks is hair removal, whether it be waxing, shaving or tweezing. The hair either has a sharp edge, curls back inside the skin or grows in the right direction. Carrying on with hair removal will just make the area more sensitive and incur more ingrown hair. Stop until all the ingrowns hairs are gone.
- Apply warm compresses. You can also rub a wet washcloth or soft toothbrush in a circular motion over the skin to try and break the thin layer that is blocking the hair from getting out.
- Gently remove the hair. If you suffer from an outbreak and have a lot of ingrown hairs, we do not advise that you try to remove them all. You can do it should you have one or two. Use sterile tweezers to gently pull the hair once it emerges above the skin.Try to not pluck it entirely or the skill will heal over it.
- Remove dead skin. If the hair is stuck under a thin layer of skin or the follicle is clogged with dead skin, you may want to exfoliate to remove the skin. You may exfoliate a few times a week for a gentler treatment as exfoliating too much may irritate your skin
- Use retinoids. Retinoids can speed up the clearing of dead skin and therefore let hair pierce through the skin. You will need a prescription from your doctor however. Do not take retinoids should you be pregnant.
However you decide to treat your ingrown hairs, remember to always wash and disinfect the area as well as use sterile tools to avoid infection. Act on a superficial level to remove them. Do not dig into the skin or you will risk infection. If you are unable to remove ingrown hair superficially or they do not go easily, consult your doctor.
Are ingrown hairs dangerous?
Since most ingrown hairs will clear up on their own and won’t require treatment, they are mostly risk-free. However, should they infect and bring complications, they may become dangerous. Amongst risks, you have:
- An infection
- Darkened skin
Some doctors believe that ingrown hairs can evolve to cause pilonidal cysts. They are pockets of hair and skin debris that can happen at the base of the tailbone and between the buttocks. As they can be very swollen and painful, they must be removed. Surgery may be the best option in that case.
How to prevent them?
As ingrown hairs mostly happen after waxing or shaving, the best way to indeed prevent them would be to stop removing unwanted body hair. However, this would not sit well with a lot of people. Thus, there are still other things you can do to prevent outbreaks.
. Exfoliating the skin where you intend to shave or wax will help remove dead skin cells. Therefore, you minimize the risks of the hair follicles clogging up and not letting the hair out. Exfoliate a few times a week for maximum efficiency.
Use a single-bladed razor. Should you decide to keep on shaving, make sure you pick a razor designed to reduce the risks of ingrown hair. Single-bladed razors are perfect for that.
Consider laser hair removal. For ingrown hair to happen, you need hair. Therefore, if there is not hair follicle to produce hair that may stay stuck below the skin, you remove the risk. Since laser hair removal damages the hair follicle and stops hair growth, you also are safe from ever getting ingrown hair again.
Chemical creams may also reduce the risks of ingrown hair but they are very irritating and damaging to the skin. Just like laser hair removal, electrolysis may be a good solution to reduce the risks of ingrown hair. However, it is more expensive, more painful and more expensive.
Some areas are more prone to ingrown hair. Such is the case with pubic hair. Due to chafing against underwear and trousers, the area may be more sensitive and they could become painful or even infected. Following the tips above should help you both treat and prevent ingrown hair.