The Ultimate Guide to Preventing & Treating Your Ingrown Hairs

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It’s the summertime, which means showing off a little more skin. For some of us this might mean that shaving and waxing our legs, underarms, and pelvic region are now essential parts of our skincare routine. But smooth skin often comes at a price — mainly ingrown hairs. IYKYK.

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,”  Dr. George Bitar, a Washington, DC-based board certified plastic surgeon, tells SheKnows. 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. Dr. Bitar recommends 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.”

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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 wash
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 10 helps reduce inflammation.”

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The quality of your skin also matters when it comes to preventing ingrown hairs. To help prep your skin Dr. Colombo suggests using an OTC retinol cream
or a prescription retinol “followed by a moisturizer on the face and an exfoliating moisturizer such as Cerave SA lotion
or Amlactin lotion
on the body every night keeps the skin exfoliated and less prone to ingrowns.”

However, the ultimate prevention, says Dr. Colombo, is to not shave or wax hairs. “Allowing hairs to grow is one option. If hair has to be removed laser hair removal prevents future ingrowns. Patients typically require 4-6 treatments usually performed monthly. Note that even a few treatments will thin down hairs and significantly help prevent ingrowns.”

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,” Dr. Bitar says. “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.”

Recommended methods of ingrown hairs

So you love (okay, not love but you prefer) shaving or waxing but the ingrown hairs are getting to you. What should you do? Dr. Bitar suggests a few options.

– Switching to an electric razor or clippers. “With the razor, avoiding shaving so close to the skin can be more manageable.”

– Chemical hair remover. “The chemicals in hair removal products, like Nair, may irritate your skin, so test on a small patch of hair first. However, this can help avoid sharp edges from penetrating the skin during regrowth.”

– Laser hair removal. “Laser is highly effective in helping avoid and get rid of ingrown hairs as it targets the source of the problem. The laser directly hits the follicle, or hair root, burning away the ability to produce hair.”

Before you go, check out the skincare brands we wish we’d had as teens:

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